FDA re­jects Kala's dry eye drug; Trou­bled In­sys finds a buy­er (of some as­sets) in Hik­ma

Kala Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, one of the pletho­ra of biotechs that trace their roots to the pro­lif­ic lab at MIT led by Bob Langer, on Thurs­day dis­closed that its ex­per­i­men­tal drug for short-term dry eye re­lief did not pass muster with the FDA. Last year, the com­pa­ny post­ed mixed da­ta from two stud­ies — STRIDE 1 and STRIDE 2. Kala $KALA is now bank­ing on the on­go­ing STRIDE 3 study to re­verse its for­tunes. It ex­pects STRIDE 3 to read out by the end of the year, and to re­sub­mit its mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion the first half of 2020.

While dis­ap­point­ing, the CRL is not com­plete­ly un­ex­pect­ed, COO Todd Baze­more said. The com­pa­ny had ini­ti­at­ed STRIDE 3 last year at the ad­vice of the FDA, and is con­fi­dent that they have now got­ten the in­clu­sion/ex­clu­sion cri­te­ria right by screen­ing out pa­tients with un­sta­ble symp­toms. Once they have the da­ta, he added, they can re­file an NDA un­der a type 2 sub­mis­sion, which en­tails a 6-month in­stead of 12-month re­view.

Point­ing to No­var­tis‘ re­cent $5.3 bil­lion pur­chase of Shire’s Xi­idra — whose ap­proval process in­spired Kala to take its chances the first time — Baze­more em­pha­sized the po­ten­tial of KPI-121: “There’s so few prod­ucts in this cat­e­go­ry, it’s a huge un­tapped cat­e­go­ry in which on­ly about a mil­lion and a half of the 30 mil­lion pa­tients are cur­rent­ly be­ing treat­ed with a pre­scrip­tion prod­uct.”

→ Em­bat­tled In­sys, en­gulfed in lit­i­ga­tion and fi­nan­cial­ly starved, has found a buy­er for its unit-dose nasal and sub­lin­gual spray man­u­fac­tur­ing equip­ment, as well as two pipeline prod­ucts — nalox­one nasal spray and ep­i­neph­rine nasal spray — in UK-based Hik­ma. “Hik­ma is the largest sup­pli­er of gener­ic nasal sprays in the US and we have been look­ing for ways to build up­on our strong man­u­fac­tur­ing plat­form and ex­pand our prod­uct port­fo­lio,” said Hik­ma’s pres­i­dent of gener­ics Bri­an Hoff­mann in a state­ment.

→ Los An­ge­les biotech BioVie, which in April post­ed pos­i­tive da­ta from a small study test­ing its in­fu­sion ther­a­py for se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tion of ad­vanced liv­er cir­rho­sis, on Thurs­day amend­ed the terms of its im­pend­ing IPO. The com­pa­ny now plans to raise $15 mil­lion by of­fer­ing 1.3 mil­lion shares for $11.44/share, the as-con­vert­ed last close of its shares on the over-the-counter mar­ket. The com­pa­ny, which plans to list un­der the sym­bol BIVI, had pre­vi­ous­ly filed to of­fer 1.3 mil­lion priced at $11.88/share.

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

News brief­ing: Tiny Vac­cinex's drug flops in PhII Hunt­ing­ton's tri­al, stock craters; Siol­ta nabs $30M Se­ries B to de­vel­op mi­cro­bio­me drug

Siolta Therapeutics, a microbiome company targeting allergic diseases, raked in a $30 million Series B to develop its lead candidate, STMC-103H. The drug, which has been FDA fast-tracked, is headed for proof-of-concept trials, according to the company. Its various indications include allergic asthma, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, and allergy prevention.

The news comes just after the California-based biotech added a prominent biopharma veteran as an advisor: 20-year Gilead CEO John Martin. The biotech also gained Richard Shames as CMO, who came by way of Protagonist Therapeutics.

Samit Hirawat (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Af­ter bruis­ing re­jec­tion, blue­bird and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb land ide-cel pri­or­i­ty re­view. But will it mat­ter for the CVR?

With the clock all but up, the FDA accepted and handed priority review to Bristol Myers Squibb and bluebird bio’s BCMA CAR-T, keeping a narrow window open for Celgene investors to still cash in on the $9 CVR from the $63 billion Celgene merger.

The acceptance comes five months after the two companies weres slammed with a surprise refuse-to-file that threatened to foreclose the CVR entirely. Today’s acceptance sets the FDA decision date for March 27, 2021 – or precisely 4 days before the CVR deadline of March 31. Given the breakthrough designation and strong pivotal data — 81.5% response rate, 35.2% complete response rate — priority review was largely expected.

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Blueprint CEO Jeff Albers (file photo)

Blue­print plots re­turn to FDA with new Ay­vak­it da­ta in rare con­di­tion — and the an­a­lysts cheer

Over a decade after launch, Blueprint Medicines nabbed the first approval for their first drug earlier this year. Now, as they move forward with a Roche-partnered global launch, they’re touting data that could push them into more patients.

The Jeff Albers-led Cambridge biotech released their full pivotal data for Ayvakit in patients with advanced systemic mastocytosis. In one 53-person study, they showed that 76% of patients responded to the drug, 36% had complete responses and that on average their responses lasted for just over 3 years. A smaller, 32-patient study had a 75% response rate and most were still responding after 10.4 months, the last follow-up.

Can a mag­net­ic cell ther­a­py re­place corneal trans­plan­ta­tion? As eight-year jour­ney leads to the clin­ic, two broth­ers un­veil bold vi­sion

Jeff Goldberg was getting acquainted with a brand new way to do corneal transplants when an even newer, even bolder idea hit him.

It was almost 10 years ago, and Goldberg was in his first faculty position at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. Scientists had developed a new way to do cornea transplants where instead of sewing a whole donor cornea — a decades-old practice — they were just engrafting the inner layer of cells.

Embattled CDC director Robert Redfield (AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee de­lays pri­or­i­ty dis­tri­b­u­tion vote; EU re­port­ed­ly in­dem­ni­fy­ing vac­cine mak­ers

A federal committee that advises the CDC was expected to hold a vote Tuesday on a plan regarding the distribution for initial doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines. But that vote has been scrapped.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, won’t be voting until the committee members learn more about which vaccines become available first, the Wall Street Journal reported. The vote could potentially wait until a specific vaccine is authorized before recommending how to dole out the first doses.

Anthony Coyle (Repertoire)

Flag­ship's merged biotech Reper­toire nets ex-Pfiz­er CSO An­tho­ny Coyle as R&D chief

Flagship is building a big-name C-suite at its new, $220 million merged biotech.

Repertoire Immune Medicines, which already boasts former Bioverativ chief John Cox as its CEO, announced yesterday that Anthony Coyle, the former Pfizer CSO and the founding CEO of Pandion, will join as their head of R&D.

“As we progress clinical trials for our multi-clonal T cell candidates in immuno-oncology, Tony’s deep expertise in cellular immunology and novel therapeutic development will help us achieve our vision of creating a new class of transformative medicines for patients,” Cox said in a statement.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists. HHS con­tin­ues to claim Azar “will de­fer com­plete­ly to the FDA"

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a Covid-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.