FDA pan­el of­fers a wa­ver­ing thumbs up for Eli Lil­ly's 2 mg baric­i­tinib, thumbs down on 4 mg

A large pan­el of out­side rheuma­toid arthri­tis ex­perts gath­ered at the FDA to dis­cuss Eli Lil­ly’s $LLY con­tro­ver­sial re-ap­pli­ca­tion for an ap­proval of baric­i­tinib, vot­ing in lop­sided fa­vor of the ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty of the 2 mg dose of the rheuma­toid arthri­tis drug, but turned their thumbs down on the 4 mg dose.

Ten vot­ed in fa­vor of the risk/ben­e­fit bal­ance of the 2 mg dose, 5 against. The num­bers were re­versed for the 4 mg, falling 10 against and 5 in fa­vor.

Jose Sch­er

These ex­pert votes hinged on a con­sid­er­able amount of con­fu­sion and un­cer­tain­ty, though, which sev­er­al mem­bers were quick to ac­knowl­edge.

Said one mem­ber who vot­ed yes on the ad­e­qua­cy of the safe­ty da­ta of the 2 mg dose: “This whole thing is a house of cards and I could have gone ei­ther way.”

An­oth­er: ”My best guess is yes.”

Er­i­ca Brit­tain: “I vot­ed yes, I could have def­i­nite­ly vot­ed no.”

“We still don’t have enough da­ta,” said one mem­ber who vot­ed in fa­vor of the ad­e­qua­cy of the 2 mg dose.

“I would urge the spon­sor to get as much da­ta as pos­si­ble on the safe­ty side,” com­ment­ed com­mit­tee chair Jose Sch­er, who vot­ed against both the 2 mg and 4 mg dos­es based on in­ad­e­quate safe­ty da­ta.

That all could emerge as a ma­jor headache for Eli Lil­ly and its part­ners at In­cyte $IN­CY, as the com­pa­ny wants to start treat­ment-re­sis­tant pa­tients at 4 mg and then ta­per down to 2 mg if they sta­bi­lize their dis­ease.

Lil­ly’s shares ini­tial­ly dropped 3% in ear­ly trad­ing Tues­day, then man­aged to climb back up in­to the green, bare­ly. In­cyte shares, though, are still down 5% in mid-morn­ing trad­ing.

The pan­el dis­cus­sion in­clud­ed a me­an­der­ing se­ries of com­ments, with some voic­es sup­port­ing an ap­proval to of­fer a new op­tion for pa­tients and a few flag­ging some se­ri­ous safe­ty is­sues and oth­ers un­cer­tain just what was demon­strat­ed by the da­ta on dis­play.

On one point, the ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee found clear con­sen­sus around ef­fi­ca­cy. By a vote of 14 to 1 they con­clud­ed that there was clear ev­i­dence of the “sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence” that backed the drug’s ef­fi­ca­cy, with a unan­i­mous vote in fa­vor of ef­fi­ca­cy as a sec­ond-line ther­a­py af­ter pa­tients had failed on their front­line drug.

Much of the dis­cus­sion, though, cen­tered on the safe­ty of the drug, where reg­u­la­tors raised some of their most se­ri­ous ob­jec­tions to the drug, with a star­tling sig­nal on throm­boem­bolism.

One com­mit­tee mem­ber not­ed a dis­cus­sion con­cern­ing whether rheuma­tol­o­gists are used to look­ing for and mon­i­tor­ing for ad­verse events. But, he added, “rheuma­tol­o­gists do not typ­i­cal­ly look for throm­boem­bol­ic events, that’s not on the list of things that are tra­di­tion­al­ly watched for.”

There was a con­sid­er­able dis­cus­sion whether the com­mit­tee had the da­ta need­ed to make a con­clu­sion on the drug’s safe­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it came to the 2 mg dose. 

“None of these stud­ies are pow­ered to look for rare events,” said Sch­er, high­light­ing stud­ies that weren’t pow­ered to de­ter­mine the risk of throm­boem­bolisms, or blood clots, and not­ing that there was con­sid­er­able con­fu­sion about the da­ta and the con­clu­sions that could be drawn from them — par­tic­u­lar­ly re­lat­ing to the 2 mg dose, where the da­ta were lack­ing.

Baric­i­tinib is a re­mark­able test case for the FDA. Re­ject­ed in 2017 in a stun­ning set­back for a drug that had been billed as a block­buster in the mak­ing, the agency re­versed course and al­lowed Lil­ly to re­file for an ap­proval as a sec­ond-line ther­a­py with­out the added da­ta that had been in­sist­ed on. The agency’s re­view makes clear that while Eli Lil­ly in­ves­ti­ga­tors pro­vid­ed more in­for­ma­tion, none of it ad­dressed their core con­cerns, es­pe­cial­ly re­gard­ing a high­er rate of throm­bo­sis that ap­peared for the first time in the field.

FDA re­view­ers dis­agreed on the da­ta of­fered for the 2 mg and 4 mg dos­es, with some will­ing to wave it through and oth­ers not­ing that the study da­ta for the 2 mg nev­er pro­vid­ed suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion for a de­ci­sion on safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy. There was al­so no con­sis­tent da­ta to back up the 4 mg dose over the 2 mg dose, ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tors. 

Even if it gets an ap­proval now, Lil­ly is go­ing to have an up­hill fight against Pfiz­er’s Xel­janz (to­fac­i­tinib), the first JAK in­hibitor to make it to the mar­ket — with­out the harsh FDA crit­i­cism or is­sues with throm­bo­sis that promise to cap­size Lil­ly’s launch.

Why of­fer an ap­proval now if there are oth­er drugs on the mar­ket that could do as well or bet­ter? And if it is ap­proved, will this drug be re­served for last-chance op­por­tu­ni­ties?

“We know we didn’t make your lives any eas­i­er,” said Sch­er as he turned at the end to the FDA’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

Jacob Van Naarden, Senior VP, CEO of Loxo Oncology at Lilly; President, Lilly Oncology

Eli Lil­ly bags FDA nod for Verzenio in ear­ly breast can­cer, but a con­tro­ver­sial di­ag­nos­tic could dog its roll­out

As Eli Lilly works to consolidate its internal and Loxo teams into an oncology powerhouse, the drug giant is putting high hopes on CDK 4/6 inhibitor Verzenio to help drive the portfolio into the future. Now, the drug has scored a paradigm-altering win in early breast cancer — but will a controversial companion diagnostic hamstring Lilly’s market plans?

The FDA on Wednesday approved CDK 4/6 inhibitor Verzenio in combination with physician’s-choice endocrine therapy to cut the risk of relapse in patients with high-risk HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer, Lilly said in a release.

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As TRIPS coun­cil meets, the IP waiv­er for vac­cines is on life sup­port ahead of a De­cem­ber dead­line

The WTO’s TRIPS Council is meeting today and tomorrow to discuss a Covid-19 vaccine IP waiver that remains divisive and unlikely to be adopted thanks to European opposition, but which proponents still think could unlock more vaccine doses for low and middle-income countries.

Following the meetings this week, it’s expected there will be a better sense if some kind of waiver can be agreed to by December, Tahir Amin, an IP lawyer and co-executive director of I-Mak, told Endpoints News.