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.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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As­traZeneca-Alex­ion merg­er slides through FTC re­view af­ter sup­posed M&A crack­down pos­es no bar­ri­ers

The AstraZeneca-Alexion megamerger received a good sign Friday, despite warning signs of the tides turning against large M&A pharma deals.

US regulators at the FTC have cleared the acquisition for approval, AstraZeneca announced, all but signing off on the deal to go through once it officially closes in the third quarter. AstraZeneca originally said it was planning to buy out Alexion back in December for $39 billion.

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J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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David Stack, Pacira Biosciences CEO

In high­ly un­usu­al move, Paci­ra sues med­ical jour­nal for li­bel over its non-opi­oid painkiller

A New Jersey biotech whose only approved drug is used as a painkiller after surgeries is suing a scientific journal, its editors and a handful of authors for libel after the publication printed numerous papers and editorials that the company says discredited the drug.

Pacira Biosciences filed the complaint against the American Society of Anesthesiologists in the US District Court for New Jersey on Wednesday afternoon. A February issue of the group’s journal Anesthesiology printed three articles and other content full of “bias” that “seriously disparaged” the drug Exparel, Pacira claimed.

Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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