Flail­ing Mer­ri­mack brings out the ax for an­oth­er big cut­back, lop­ping 60% of a shrink­ing crew as it hunts op­tions

Things at Mer­ri­mack Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $MACK con­tin­ue to go from bad to worse for the fast-dwin­dling band of sur­vivors that now runs the show.

Richard Pe­ters

Just a few weeks af­ter con­ced­ing that MM-121 (serib­an­tum­ab) added to do­c­etax­el did noth­ing for pa­tients with non-small cell lung can­cer, the strug­gling biotech has de­cid­ed to kill all its de­vel­op­ment ef­forts for the drug, eras­ing a tri­al for breast can­cer. And in or­der to con­serve cash in­to 2022, the com­pa­ny is once again slash­ing its work­force in an­oth­er in a se­ries of re­struc­tur­ings, elim­i­nat­ing 60% of its staff in a dra­con­ian cut­back while cir­cling the wag­ons around MM-310.

And they’re pulling out all stops in an ef­fort to find an al­ter­na­tive — work­able — strat­e­gy in the new fu­ture.

Com­ing a lit­tle more than a year af­ter Mer­ri­mack axed MM-141 af­ter it failed a Phase II com­bo study for pan­cre­at­ic can­cer, Mer­ri­mack’s turn­around plan ap­pears to be in tat­ters now.

Bob Mul­roy

Mer­ri­mack launched a “ma­jor re­struc­tur­ing” 2 years ago, see­ing CEO Bob Mul­roy hit the ex­it while lop­ping scores of work­ers from what had been a 306-mem­ber em­ploy­ee ros­ter. In ear­ly 2017 Mer­ri­mack sold its one mar­ket­ed drug — Onivyde, which had a dis­ap­point­ing de­but — to Ipsen. At the be­gin­ning of this year, it was down to about 80 staffers af­ter cut­ting 30% of its work­ers.

An­oth­er 60% cut with one drug in the clin­ic has re­turned the com­pa­ny to start­up sta­tus af­ter burn­ing through $482 mil­lion by the be­gin­ning of 2018 with no prof­its to re­port.

Here’s what CEO Richard Pe­ters had to say in the quar­ter­ly call with an­a­lysts:

In to­tal, this re­struc­tur­ing, to­geth­er with oth­er re­struc­tur­ing and cost cut­ting mea­sures that we could im­ple­ment in the fu­ture, pro­vide us with the po­ten­tial to ex­tend our cash run­way in­to at least the sec­ond half of 2022. In par­al­lel, we have re­tained ex­ter­nal ad­vi­sors to ex­plore strate­gic al­ter­na­tives. These ad­vi­sors will work with me, along with our ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship team, as to­geth­er we will be keen­ly fo­cused on ex­plor­ing strate­gic al­ter­na­tives for the com­pa­ny in the near term.

A lit­tle more than three years ago, the stock was trad­ing at $123. To­day, af­ter a 10% boost on Wednes­day, the stock opened at $4.75.

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

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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New safe­ty da­ta ex­pose po­ten­tial weak­ness as Pfiz­er's abroc­i­tinib takes on Dupix­ent in eczema

Last September, when Pfizer celebrated positive data from a second Phase III study of abrocitinib, many watchers applauded the efficacy but were still waiting to see whether the JAK1 inhibitor is “safe enough to be a formidable competitor to Dupixent,” the clear leader in the atopic dermatitis field. The full slate of safety data are now out and, according to one analyst, the answer is: probably not.