FDA rushed to ap­prove new drugs in 2019, some­times way ahead of sched­ule. Could that be dan­ger­ous?

While the ros­ter of 48 drugs (plus 4 no­table bi­o­log­ics) the FDA ap­proved in 2019 didn’t break any records with the sheer num­ber it was re­mark­able in one as­pect: The agency reached deep in­to a group of ther­a­pies they didn’t need to make a de­ci­sion on un­til lat­er this year, in some cas­es speed­ing drugs up by months ahead of even pri­or­i­ty re­view dead­lines.

On the sur­face, that’s great news for drug­mak­ers and the pa­tients they hope to help. But ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study on rushed ap­provals, it could al­so spell safe­ty trou­bles down the road.

Lau­ren Co­hen

Back in Ju­ly, a trio of econ­o­mists at NBER crunched the da­ta on drugs OK’d be­fore sup­posed dead­lines such as the end of months, years or be­fore hol­i­days and found that treat­ments ap­proved un­der these ap­par­ent “desk-clear­ing” ef­forts — in which reg­u­la­tors felt the pres­sure of in­for­mal per­for­mance bench­marks — are more like­ly to be as­so­ci­at­ed with post­mar­ket safe­ty is­sues.

“We see about twice as many ad­verse ef­fects,” Lau­ren Co­hen, a pro­fes­sor of fi­nance and en­tre­pre­neur­ial man­age­ment at Har­vard Busi­ness School and one of the au­thors, told the Wall Street Jour­nal.

Co­hen and his col­leagues, Umit Gu­run of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Dal­las and Danielle Li of MIT, con­sid­ered on­ly the surge of ap­provals in De­cem­ber, at the end of each month and be­fore hol­i­days such as Thanks­giv­ing.

In 2019 sev­en out of 48 nov­el chem­i­cal en­ti­ties were ap­proved in De­cem­ber, large­ly in line with the 15% pro­por­tion that the re­searchers not­ed in pre­vi­ous years. But no­tably, 21 OKs came through in Q4, ac­count­ing for 43% of the whole crop.

FDA spokesper­son Nathan Arnold ac­knowl­edged the De­cem­ber jump pat­tern but told the Jour­nal that its share has ac­tu­al­ly di­min­ished from the 1980s.

“While we can­not speak di­rect­ly to the re­sults on in­for­mal dead­lines high­light­ed in this study, FDA has—on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions—in­ves­ti­gat­ed a close­ly re­lat­ed is­sue, which is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween for­mal PDU­FA dead­lines and post­mar­ket safe­ty of drugs,” Arnold added. “We have not found ev­i­dence of such a re­la­tion­ship.”

Drugs that ap­peared to have been ap­proved with lit­tle heed of the PDU­FA dead­lines might be an­oth­er is­sue. Ver­tex’s Trikaf­ta (for cys­tic fi­bro­sis), BeiGene’s Brukin­sa (for man­tle cell lym­phoma), No­var­tis’ Adakveo and Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics’ Oxbry­ta (for sick­le cell dis­ease), as well as Al­ny­lam’s Givlaari (for acute he­pat­ic por­phyr­ia ) and As­traZeneca/Dai­ichi Sankyo’s En­her­tu (for HER+ breast can­cer) all be­longed to that group.

Co­hen, Gu­run and Li pre­scribed a so­lu­tion for the safe­ty con­cerns they spot­ted:

A po­ten­tial pol­i­cy re­sponse to the pat­terns we doc­u­ment is to more care­ful­ly scru­ti­nize drugs that are ap­proved dur­ing such out­put surges. Reg­u­la­tors could, for in­stance, re­view end-of-year de­ci­sions in the fol­low­ing year be­fore pro­vid­ing an ul­ti­mate ap­proval (or lack there­of).

Justin Klee (L) and Joshua Cohen, Amylyx co-CEOs (Cody O'Loughlin/The New York Times; courtesy Amylyx)

Ad­vo­cates, ex­perts cry foul over Amy­lyx's new ALS drug, cit­ing is­sues with price, PhI­II com­mit­ment

Not 24 hours after earning the first ALS drug approval in five years, Amylyx Pharmaceuticals’ Relyvrio is already drawing scrutiny. And it’s coming from multiple fronts.

In an investor call Friday morning, Amylyx revealed that it would charge about $158,000 per year, a price point that immediately drew backlash from ALS advocates and some outside observers. The cost reveal had been highly anticipated in the immediate hours after Thursday evening’s approval, though Amylyx only teased Relyvrio would cost less than previously approved drugs.

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Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Land­mark Amy­lyx OK spurs de­bate; Some... pos­i­tive? Alzheimer's da­ta; Can­cer tri­al bot­tle­neck; Sanofi's CRISPR bet; 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.

After brief stops in Paris and Boston, John Carroll and the Endpoints crew are staying on the road in October with their return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London. The hybrid event fireside chats and panels on mRNA, oncology and the crazy public market. We hope you can join him there.

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Joshua Cohen (L) and Justin Klee, Amylyx co-CEOs

Up­dat­ed: Af­ter long and wind­ing road, FDA ap­proves Amy­lyx's ALS drug in vic­to­ry for pa­tients and ad­vo­ca­cy groups

For just the third time in its 116-year history, the FDA has approved a new treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

US regulators gave the thumbs-up to the drug, known as Relyvrio, in a massive win for patients and their families. The approval, given to Boston-area biotech Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, comes after two years of long and contentious debates over the drug’s effectiveness between advocacy groups and FDA scientists, following the readout of a mid-stage clinical trial in September 2020.

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Up­dat­ed: Al­ny­lam re­in­forces APOL­LO-B patisir­an da­ta be­fore head­ing to the FDA

Weeks after uncorking some mostly positive data for patisiran in transthyretin-mediated (ATTR) amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, Alnylam is bolstering its package with new exploratory and subgroup data before shipping it off to regulators.

The RNAi drug maintained “generally consistent” benefits in efficacy and quality of life across several prespecified subgroups at month 12, Alnylam announced on Friday afternoon, including age, baseline tafamidis use, ATTR amyloidosis type, baseline six-minute walk test score and others.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

#AAO22: J&J’s first look at com­mon eye dis­ease port­fo­lio pads the case for PhII of gene ther­a­py

CHICAGO — While the later-stage drug developers in the geographic atrophy field are near the finish line, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen is taking a more deliberate route, with a treatment that it hopes to be a one-time fix.

The Big Pharma will take its Hemera Biosciences-acquired gene therapy into a Phase II study later this year in patients with GA, a common form of age-related macular degeneration that impacts about five million people worldwide. To get there, Janssen touted early-stage safety data at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual conference Saturday morning, half a day after competitors Apellis and Iveric Bio revealed their own more-detailed Phase III analyses.

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Jerome Durso, Intercept Pharmaceuticals CEO

In­ter­cep­t's OCA fails a PhI­II NASH tri­al, rais­ing fresh doubts about its years­long quest for an OK

Intercept Pharmaceuticals has run into another big setback in its yearslong quest to win an approval for OCA in NASH. The biotech put out word Friday morning that its Phase III REVERSE study failed the primary endpoint for the liver disease, sending its share price into a tailspin.

There was no significant improvement in fibrosis among the patients suffering from cirrhosis who were treated with obeticholic acid, with investigators hunting for a minimum 1-stage histological improvement in the disease after 18 months of therapy.

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Bo Cumbo, new Solid Bio CEO

Sol­id Bio gets a new CEO, $75M cash and drops lead drug as big in­vestors ju­ry-rig a merg­er deal

Three months after Endpoints News broke the story that gene therapy outfit AavantiBio had gutted its CMC group in a reorganization, the biotech’s CEO has helped engineer a merger with struggling penny stock player Solid Bio. And he’s going to remain in charge of the combined operation, as Solid founder Ilan Ganot steps aside.

The merger news this morning features some high-profile investors.

Perceptive Advisors, RA Capital Management and Bain Capital Life Sciences are leading a $75 million raise to add to the pool of cash Solid will have after the tie-up. That will leave Solid $215 million in cash as Bain’s Adam Koppel jumps on the board — enough to pay for ops and get through some key data milestones on their way into 2025.

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