FDA ush­ers in a new era in can­cer treat­ment with 'his­toric' CAR-T ap­proval for No­var­tis

The FDA has ap­proved the world’s first CAR-T ther­a­py, giv­ing a green light to No­var­tis for Kym­ri­ah (ti­s­agen­le­cleu­cel) in what reg­u­la­tors them­selves de­scribe as an his­toric event.

The ear­ly ap­proval — about a month ahead of the PDU­FA date — came through for cer­tain pe­di­atric and young adult pa­tients with a form of acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia.

No­var­tis set the price for the one-time treat­ment at $475,000, right in line with low-end es­ti­mates and one that will put pres­sure on Gilead to rein in its own price for a ri­val ther­a­py ex­pect­ed to be ap­proved in the near fu­ture.

Scott Got­tlieb, FDA Com­mis­sion­er

None oth­er than FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb did the hon­ors in the agency’s state­ment, not­ing:

We’re en­ter­ing a new fron­tier in med­ical in­no­va­tion with the abil­i­ty to re­pro­gram a pa­tient’s own cells to at­tack a dead­ly can­cer. New tech­nolo­gies such as gene and cell ther­a­pies hold out the po­ten­tial to trans­form med­i­cine and cre­ate an in­flec­tion point in our abil­i­ty to treat and even cure many in­tractable ill­ness­es. At the FDA, we’re com­mit­ted to help­ing ex­pe­dite the de­vel­op­ment and re­view of ground­break­ing treat­ments that have the po­ten­tial to be life-sav­ing.

A group of bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies have been rac­ing to this break­through point. Kite Phar­ma $KITE, new­ly bought out in a $12 bil­lion deal by Gilead $GILD, is com­ing in a close sec­ond with its own ap­pli­ca­tion for axi­cel.

No­var­tis’ in­ves­ti­ga­tors reg­is­tered a game-chang­ing 83% re­mis­sion rate in its piv­otal study.

CAR-T, though, is al­so as­so­ci­at­ed with se­vere and po­ten­tial­ly dead­ly side ef­fects, in­clud­ing lethal in­stances of cy­tokine re­lease syn­drome with some pa­tients dy­ing from brain swelling in sep­a­rate stud­ies from the No­var­tis drug.

Reg­u­la­tors not­ed that they will re­quire spe­cial train­ing for any­one in­volved in de­liv­er­ing this ther­a­py, while ex­pand­ing the ap­proval of Actem­ra (tocilizum­ab) to treat CAR T-cell-in­duced se­vere or life-threat­en­ing CRS in pa­tients 2 years of age or old­er. “In clin­i­cal tri­als in pa­tients treat­ed with CAR-T cells,” the FDA re­port­ed, “69% of pa­tients had com­plete res­o­lu­tion of CRS with­in two weeks fol­low­ing one or two dos­es of Actem­ra.”

This ther­a­py, which is made us­ing a pa­tient’s own im­mune cells, won’t be cheap.

By its own reck­on­ing, the UK’s tough watch dog on drug pric­ing has said that these drugs would be worth up to $649,000 a year, giv­en the young pa­tients it’s tar­get­ing first. An­a­lysts, mean­while, have pegged the price at any­where from $400,000 to $750,000.

In a call with an­a­lysts, No­var­tis ex­ecs said it would keep the price well be­low the high end, set­ting the cost at $475,000 for a drug that will be avail­able in 20 cen­ters with­in one month, and 35 soon af­ter.

In a state­ment the com­pa­ny said it “is col­lab­o­rat­ing with CMS to make an out­comes-based ap­proach avail­able to al­low for pay­ment on­ly when pe­di­atric and young adult ALL pa­tients re­spond to Kym­ri­ah by the end of the first month. Fu­ture po­ten­tial in­di­ca­tions would be re­viewed for the most rel­e­vant out­comes-based ap­proach.”

Joe Jimenez

Said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of No­var­tis:

Five years ago, we be­gan col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and in­vest­ed in fur­ther de­vel­op­ing and bring­ing what we be­lieved would be a par­a­digm-chang­ing im­muno­cel­lu­lar ther­a­py to can­cer pa­tients in dire need. With the ap­proval of Kym­ri­ah, we are once again de­liv­er­ing on our com­mit­ment to change the course of can­cer care.

This ap­proval marks a ma­jor shift in on­col­o­gy, with a tru­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary ap­proach to treat­ing can­cer. That hasn’t es­caped the no­tice of big play­ers and small, with a host of de­vel­op­ers look­ing to do much bet­ter, more safe­ly, with new drugs in the pipeline.

It’s a big day in the biotech world, but it’s just the of­fi­cial start date for a new era.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; 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.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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No­var­tis to pay near­ly $178M in law­suit over BRAF drug — and will be on the hook for roy­al­ty

After a four-year battle over a cancer drug patent, Novartis has been ordered by a California judge to pay a Daiichi Sankyo subsidiary $177.8 million.

Plexxikon filed a lawsuit against the pharma giant in 2017, alledging that Tafinlar, a rival to its melanoma drug Zelboraf that was brought to market in collaboration with Roche, has stepped on its intellectual property. The jury ruled in its favor, adding that the infringement is in fact willful.

Al Sandrock, Biogen R&D chief (Biogen via YouTube)

Bio­gen has a shaky end to H1 with a $542M write-off adding to its woes — but an­a­lysts see big rev­enue ahead for Aduhelm

All eyes at Biogen’s Q2 earnings call Thursday were on Aduhelm, but investors also got a glimpse of what Biogen would have faced had the FDA not opted to approve their controversial Alzheimer’s drug.

That glimpse, revealing a combination of declining sales, growing competition and failed medicines, underscores the stakes of the big biotech’s Aduhelm efforts, as execs punch back at the criticism they’ve engendered in the political and medical world and vigorously pushes its sales staff to roll out the drug as fast as possible.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico)

Bio­gen de­fends slow roll­out of new Alzheimer's drug, crit­i­cizes neg­a­tive me­dia at­ten­tion

As Biogen execs bemoaned the negative media coverage around Aduhelm’s approval a month ago, the biotech isn’t gaining much traction yet in using its new drug, largely due to a lack of insurance coverage, according to an earnings call Thursday.

Management indicated that of the nearly 900 sites that were prepped and ready following Aduhelm’s approval, 325 of those, or about 35%, have completed a positive pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) review or won’t require one. The review is a step some hospitals or health systems take prior to using a new drug. Some major sites, however, have said they won’t participate.