FDA snubs Zo­genix's an­ti-seizure drug, not hap­py with some slop­py, in­ad­e­quate R&D work

Nine months af­ter Zo­genix got a stock ral­ly $ZGNX go­ing by tout­ing late-stage da­ta for a new drug to pre­vent seizures due to Dravet syn­drome, the FDA hand­ed back their mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion with a fail­ing grade on in­ad­e­quate and in­com­plete work. Of­fi­cial­ly, that’s called a refuse-to-file no­tice, which is al­ways em­bar­rass­ing. 

Stephen Farr

It’s not the end of the world, says Zo­genix in a man­ner of speak­ing, but the agency was not hap­py that the biotech had sub­mit­ted an in­cor­rect ver­sion of a dataset with the NDA and fault­ed the com­pa­ny as “cer­tain non-clin­i­cal stud­ies were not sub­mit­ted to al­low as­sess­ment of the chron­ic ad­min­is­tra­tion of fen­flu­ramine.”

In­vestors didn’t like it at all. The biotech, with a mar­ket cap of $2.2 bil­lion, saw its shares tank on the news – plung­ing 32% af­ter the bell.

The EMA, though, hasn’t had any prob­lems with their ap­pli­ca­tion so far, ac­cept­ing it for re­view with an ex­pect­ed de­ci­sion in Q1 2020. And Stifel’s Paul Mat­teis is dis­con­cert­ed by the whole thing.

We find the RTF let­ter for Fin­tepla dis­con­cert­ing, some­what bizarre, and rea­son enough to push back Fin­tepla US rev­enues to 2021 (at a slight­ly re­duced prob­a­bil­i­ty-ad­just­ment), con­ser­v­a­tive­ly as­sum­ing a mean­ing­ful de­lay. That be­ing said, the pre­clin­i­cal tox­i­col­o­gy ask from FDA is le­git­i­mate­ly puz­zling: re­mem­ber, Zo­genix has treat­ed >200 Dravet pa­tients out to 1-year and is cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing a Fin­tepla LGS tri­al that in­cludes an OLE; you’d think that FDA would’ve asked for, or been com­fort­able with, pri­or pre­clin­i­cal tox­i­col­o­gy stud­ies be­fore sign­ing off on the con­duct of ex­ten­sion tri­als.

It was a much dif­fer­ent sto­ry back in the sum­mer of 2018, when com­pa­ny ex­ecs tout­ed pos­i­tive da­ta from their sec­ond Phase III study, not­ing that 43 pa­tients on their drug had a 62.7% drop in seizures, com­pared to 1.2% in the place­bo arm. At that point, the drug was shap­ing up as a di­rect com­peti­tor to GW Phar­ma’s Epid­i­olex, which wowed the in­dus­try with its cannabi­noid ap­proach to re­duc­ing seizures. That drug is billed as a block­buster.

Zo­genix’s drug fen­flu­ramine, you might re­call, was one half of the no­to­ri­ous di­et drug fen-Phen. The biotech says they didn’t see any car­dio is­sues in their small stud­ies, but it does beg the ques­tion on just how high reg­u­la­tors may have raised the bar for an ap­proval — or even ac­cep­tance of an NDA.

“We re­main high­ly con­fi­dent in Fin­tepla’s clin­i­cal pro­file demon­strat­ed in the Phase 3 pro­gram in Dravet syn­drome and are com­mit­ted to ad­vanc­ing the prod­uct can­di­date as a po­ten­tial new treat­ment op­tion for this and oth­er rare and of­ten cat­a­stroph­ic epilep­tic en­cephalopathies,” said CEO Stephen Farr.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: Searching the Pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially,early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Mark Genovese (Stanford via Twitter)

Gilead woos fil­go­tinib clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Stan­ford to lead the charge on NASH, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases

With an FDA OK for the use of filgotinib in rheumatoid arthritis expected to drop any day now, Gilead has recruited a new leader from academia to lead its foray into inflammatory diseases.

Mark Genovese — a longtime Stanford professor and most recently the clinical chief in the division of immunology and rheumatology — was the principal investigator in FINCH 2, one of three studies that supported Gilead’s NDA filing. In his new role as SVP, inflammation, he will oversee the clinical development of the entire portfolio.

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Gilead re­leas­es an­oth­er round of murky remde­sivir re­sults

A month after the NIH declared the first trial on remdesivir in Covid-19 a success, Gilead is out with new results on their antiviral. But although the study met one of its primary endpoints, the data are likely to only add to a growing debate over how effective the drug actually is.

In a Phase III trial, patients given a 5-day dose of remdesivir were 65% more likely to show “clinical improvement” compared to an arm given standard-of-care. The trial, though, gave little indication for whether the drug had an impact on key endpoints such as survival or time-to-recovery. And in a surprising twist, a 10-day dosing arm of remdesivir didn’t lead to a statistically significant improvement over standard of care.

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Bris­tol My­ers Squib­b's just-launched MS drug Zeposia makes the cut in key ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis tri­al

In March, Zeposia became the third oral S1P modulator to secure US approval for multiple sclerosis. Now, the drug has succeeded in a key ulcerative colitis study.

The immunomodulator, akin to others in its class, controls lymphocyte trafficking by limiting the white blood cells to the lymphatic system, in the lymph nodes, and thwarting their ability to jam up lymph nodes — precluding their ability to penetrate the bloodstream and the central nervous system.

Stephen Isaacs, Aduro president and CEO (Aduro)

Once a high fly­er, a stag­ger­ing Aduro is auc­tion­ing off most of the pipeline as CEO Stephen Isaacs hands off the shell to new own­ers

After a drumbeat of failure, setbacks and reorganizations over the last few years, Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs is handing over his largely gutted-out shell of a public company to another biotech company and putting up some questionable assets in a going-out-of-business sale.

Isaacs —who forged a string of high-profile Big Pharma deals along the way — has wrapped a 13-year run at the biotech with one program for kidney disease going to the new owners at Chinook Therapeutics. A host of once-heralded assets like their STING agonist program partnered with Novartis (which dumped their work on ADU-S100 after looking over weak clinical results), the Lilly-allied cGAS-STING inhibitor program and the anti-CD27 program out-licensed to Merck will all be posted for auction under a strategic review process.

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Fangliang Zhang (Imaginechina via AP Images)

The big mon­ey: Poised to make drug R&D his­to­ry, a Chi­na biotech un­veils uni­corn rac­ing am­bi­tions in a bid to raise $350M-plus on Nas­daq

Almost exactly three years after Shanghai-based Legend came out of nowhere to steal the show at ASCO with jaw-dropping data on their BCMA-targeted CAR-T for multiple myeloma, the little player with Big Pharma connections is taking a giant step toward making it big on Wall Street. And this time they want to seal the deal on a global rep after staking out a unicorn valuation in what’s turned out to be a bull market for biotech IPOs — in the middle of a pandemic.

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No­var­tis chips in $10M for IPO-bound part­ner Pli­ant; Tenax shares soar on heart drug da­ta

Novartis is coming in with $10 million to help support the looming IPO of a partner. Pliant Therapeutics posted a new filing with the SEC showing that Novartis is buying the shares at $15, the mid-point of the range. It’s adding several million shares to the offering, bringing the total to around $135 million. Biotech companies have been enjoying quite a run on virtual Wall Street, with investors boosting new offerings to some big hauls.