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.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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FDA de­ci­sion on Ver­tex's CF triple will come just ahead of planned CEO shake­up

Vertex has clinched a priority review for the all-important cystic fibrosis triple that will blaze the trail for treating a large group of patients unhelped by its current drugs.

FDA regulators have set a PDUFA date of March 19, 2020, just a year after the Boston biotech posted positive Phase III results showing that people with two F508del mutations experienced statistically significant improvements in lung function after a 4-week regimen of VX-445, tezacaftor and ivacaftor. After reviewing 24-week data among patients with one F508del mutation and one minimal function mutation — and thoroughly comparing the VX-445 triple with another combo featuring VX-659 on scores like safety, drug-drug interactions, and photosensitivity — Vertex ultimately went with VX-445.

An MIT spin­out kills one of its ‘liv­ing ther­a­peu­tics’ af­ter flunk­ing an ear­ly-stage study — shares rout­ed

Just a few weeks after bagging $80 million in a deal to collaborate with Gingko Bioworks on its special blend of engineered bacteria used for “living therapeutics,” little Synlogic in Boston $SYBX is tossing one of its two clinical programs after watching an early-stage study go down in defeat.

Their Phase Ib/IIa study for SYNB1020 to counter the accumulation of ammonia in the body, a condition called hyperammonemia or urea cycle disorder, floundered at the interim readout, forcing the biotech to kill it and reserve its cash for pipeline therapies with greater potential.

Elan­co to buy Bay­er's an­i­mal health busi­ness for $7.6B, as deal­mak­ing gath­ers steam in the sec­tor

Last week, Elanco explicitly dodged answering questions about its rumored interest in Bayer’s animal health business in its post-earnings call. On Tuesday, the Eli Lilly spinoff disclosed it was purchasing the German drug maker’s veterinary unit in a cash-and-stock deal worth $7.6 billion. 

Elanco $ELAN has been busy on the deal-making front. In April, it laid out plans to swallow its partner, Kansas-based pet therapeutics company Aratana $PETX. A July report by Reuters suggested a potential Bayer deal was being explored, and Bloomberg last week said the deal was imminent, citing sources. 

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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UP­DAT­ED: Pay­back? An­a­lysts say Sarep­ta was blind­sided by an FDA re­jec­tion dri­ven by reg­u­la­to­ry re­venge

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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As­traZeneca's di­a­betes drug Farx­i­ga helps pa­tients with heart dis­ease and with­out di­a­betes in land­mark tri­al

Months ago, data on J&J’s $JNJ Invokana indicated the diabetes drug conferred cardiovascular (CV) benefit in patients who do and do not have preexisting CV disease. On Tuesday, AstraZeneca’s $AZN rival treatment, Farxiga, was shown to cut the risk of CV death or the worsening of heart failure in patients with heart disease, in a landmark trial.

The treatments, in addition to Jardiance from Eli Lilly $LLY, belong to a class of diabetes drugs called sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, which work by curbing the absorption of glucose via the kidneys so that surplus glucose is excreted through urination.

Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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