Safe­ty fears spur FDA to pause check­point com­bo stud­ies by Bris­tol-My­ers, Cel­gene

Two months af­ter the FDA or­dered Mer­ck to slam the brakes on three Keytru­da com­bo stud­ies tar­get­ing mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, alarmed reg­u­la­tors have fol­lowed up by post­ing a stop sign on en­rolling any new pa­tients in Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s three ri­val stud­ies con­cen­trat­ing on the same dis­ease with the same com­bi­na­tion ap­proach­es. And hours lat­er Cel­gene $CELG added that it is be­ing forced to pause 5 com­bo stud­ies us­ing As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi while get­ting slammed with a full hold on one oth­er.

First to be of­fi­cial­ly frozen in place were Mer­ck’s KEYNOTE-183 and KEYNOTE-185 af­ter re­searchers spot­ted a high­er risk of death in the drug arms. Those mul­ti­ple myelo­ma tri­als matched Mer­ck’s block­buster ther­a­py with two drugs from Cel­gene: Po­m­a­lyst and its big drug Revlim­id. The FDA al­so or­dered pa­tients tak­en off of treat­ment in KEYNOTE-023 Co­hort 1, match­ing Keytru­da in com­bi­na­tion with lenalido­mide and dex­am­etha­sone in pa­tients who re­ceived pri­or an­ti-mul­ti­ple myelo­ma treat­ment with an im­munomod­u­la­to­ry (IMiD) treat­ment (lenalido­mide, po­ma­lido­mide or thalido­mide).

Wor­ried by ev­i­dence of safe­ty is­sues, the FDA fol­lowed up Wednes­day evening by or­der­ing a halt to en­roll­ment of new pa­tients in Bris­tol-My­ers’ stud­ies mar­ry­ing Op­di­vo with the same drugs: CA209602 (Check­Mate-602), CA209039 (Check­Mate-039) and CA204142 — al­so mul­ti­ple myelo­ma com­bo stud­ies.

At Cel­gene the dam­age is worse, with a full hold forc­ing re­searchers drop an ear­ly study look­ing at dur­val­um­ab in com­bi­na­tion with lenalido­mide with and with­out low-dose dex­am­etha­sone in mul­ti­ple myelo­ma pa­tients.

Com­bined, therse com­pa­nies have hun­dreds of com­bo stud­ies un­der­way, but reg­u­la­tors clear­ly be­lieve that there’s some oth­er threat to pa­tients in these par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion stud­ies us­ing Cel­gene’s main­stay ther­a­pies. The FDA high­light­ed that con­cern just a week ago, care­ful­ly spelling out their rea­sons for sus­pend­ing the three Mer­ck stud­ies and point­ing out they were hunt­ing down and re­view­ing oth­er, sim­i­lar PD-(L)1 com­bos in the clin­ic.

Bris­tol-My­ers made for a nat­ur­al first stop in that process, with Cel­gene get­ting tagged at vir­tu­al­ly the same time.

The lat­est or­der from the FDA fol­lowed a stun­ning re­ver­sal for Cel­lec­tis, which was slammed with a clin­i­cal hold on Tues­day af­ter the first pa­tient treat­ed in its de­but off-the-shelf CAR-T study died, un­der­scor­ing the un­known risks that still con­front ad­vanced can­cer pa­tients sign­ing up for these ex­per­i­men­tal im­muno-on­col­o­gy tri­als.

Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers are way out front with check­point in­hibitors Keytru­da and Op­di­vo as their PD-1 su­per­stars con­tin­ue to post jaw-drop­ping re­sults in can­cer. Clear­ly, though, as re­searchers con­tin­ue to test the bound­aries of what these new ther­a­pies can do un­ex­pect­ed safe­ty is­sues con­tin­ue to arise, rais­ing ques­tions of just how far de­vel­op­ers should take the drugs.

That same kind of safe­ty is­sue scut­tled Juno’s lead drug, which wound up killing three pa­tients last year af­ter the FDA pre­ma­ture­ly of­fered a green light to re­sume test­ing of its CAR-T af­ter a brief clin­i­cal hold. At this point, reg­u­la­tors ap­pear to be shift­ing their po­si­tion from an en­cour­ag­ing sig­nal to floor it, to a more cau­tious po­si­tion of study­ing safe­ty threats be­fore bar­rel­ing ahead.

For now, safe­ty is still a gray zone in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, as the da­ta con­tin­ues to pour in.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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