Be­lea­guered Zaf­gen crushed af­ter FDA de­mands force it to dump lead drug

Stymied at the FDA with a lin­ger­ing clin­i­cal hold on its lead obe­si­ty drug, Zaf­gen is dump­ing the ther­a­py and re­treat­ing to a pre­clin­i­cal pro­gram in the pipeline.

The biotech an­nounced af­ter the mar­ket closed on Tues­day that it will now cir­cle the wag­ons around ZGN-1061 af­ter be­lo­ranib was linked with the death of two pa­tients in a piv­otal study. Zaf­gen al­so says it will once again re­duce its ranks, chop­ping 34% of the sur­vivors and cut­ting the pay­roll to 31. The re­or­ga­ni­za­tion is claim­ing the jobs of Patrick Lous­tau, pres­i­dent, and Ali­cia Sec­or, chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer.

Zaf­gen’s al­ready bat­tered shares plunged 50% by mid-morn­ing Wednes­day. Its shares have shed close to 90% of their 52-week high price, leav­ing the mar­ket cap at $93 mil­lion; less than the cash it has on hand.

Zaf­gen strug­gled might­i­ly for months to over­come its prob­lems, but ul­ti­mate­ly the biotech was over­whelmed af­ter a pa­tient died in their Phase III study for Prad­er-Willi syn­drome, which they de­ter­mined was caused by a pul­monary em­bolism. Sub­se­quent­ly an­oth­er pa­tient tak­ing the drug died, al­so from a pul­monary em­bolism, forc­ing the FDA to or­der a com­plete stop to any fur­ther dos­ing.

Zaf­gen cut its near-com­plete stud­ies short, rolling out pos­i­tive da­ta on weight loss and re­fo­cus­ing on rare dis­eases, but it was all for naught. Reg­u­la­tors weren’t in a for­giv­ing mood, or ready to let the de­vel­op­ment pro­gram con­tin­ue the way the biotech had pro­posed. The FDA didn’t fall­en in line with Zaf­gen’s plan to blaze a path for­ward with a new Phase III study tied to a risk mit­i­ga­tion strat­e­gy. In a call with an­a­lysts on Tues­day evening, CEO Tom Hugh­es said that while the agency ap­peared re­cep­tive to its risk mit­i­ga­tion strat­e­gy, reg­u­la­tors de­mand­ed more time for dis­cus­sion and looked for a longer Phase III that would “great­ly ex­tend” the time­line and cost need­ed to be­gin com­mer­cial­iza­tion work.

As is of­ten the case with Zaf­gen, ex­ecs spun the news hard, with Hugh­es dogged­ly in­sist­ing on the pos­i­tive as­pects of start­ing with a clean slate and a new drug. But Zaf­gen is mov­ing from a piv­otal stage back to a pre­clin­i­cal drug that has yet to be test­ed in hu­mans. Hugh­es in­sist­ed that 1061, which has on­ly been test­ed in an­i­mals, is sig­nif­i­cant­ly de-risked, a po­si­tion few ex­pe­ri­enced drug de­vel­op­ers would con­sid­er plau­si­ble, giv­en the ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly high rate of fail­ure for all pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams, let alone the spe­cial de­mands placed on any obe­si­ty drug.

Zaf­gen will still have to con­tend with an­gry in­vestors who watched the share price for the biotech plunge last year as com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives re­fused for sev­er­al days to say just why they had can­celled a planned road show. On­ly af­ter a pro­longed pause did the com­pa­ny re­veal that first death, still try­ing to de­ter­mine whether he was in the drug arm or the place­bo group. Sahm Ad­ran­gi’s Ker­ris­dale Cap­i­tal lat­er mount­ed a short at­tack on the wound­ed com­pa­ny, say­ing that be­lo­ranib had ze­ro chance of ever get­ting an ap­proval and was worth noth­ing more than what the com­pa­ny had in the bank, which they would prob­a­bly squan­der any­way.

An­a­lysts were left to sort through the wreck­age Wednes­day morn­ing. RBC’s Simos Sime­oni­dis de­cid­ed to dis­con­tin­ue cov­er­age of Zaf­gen and oth­er obe­si­ty-re­lat­ed biotechs — which have seen lit­tle that could be con­sid­ered pos­i­tive news in some time — and some oth­er skep­tics ad­just­ed their fore­casts for Zaf­gen’s shares to match the amount of cash the com­pa­ny still has in hand.

CEO Tom Hugh­es’ state­ment:

“Giv­en the height­ened com­plex­i­ty and fu­ture cost of be­lo­ranib de­vel­op­ment, bal­anced against the emerg­ing prod­uct pro­file of ZGN-1061, we be­lieve that the long-term op­por­tu­ni­ty for ZGN-1061 is more ro­bust than for be­lo­ranib. Giv­en our deep knowl­edge of this new and ex­cit­ing drug class, and our strong cash po­si­tion, we be­lieve we are well-po­si­tioned to ad­vance ZGN-1061 as a po­ten­tial new treat­ment for preva­lent obe­si­ty-re­lat­ed in­di­ca­tions.”

From left to right: Lilian Kim, Associate Director Business Development; John Moller, CEO; Yooni Kim, Executive Director, Asia Operations; Michelle Park, Director South Korea Operations.

Novotech CRO sees 26% growth in Asia tri­al ac­tiv­i­ty from biotechs, but still plen­ty of ca­pac­i­ty

As the Asia-Pacific clinical trials sector continues to grow rapidly, Novotech the Asia-Pacific-based CRO is seeing biotech clinical activity up by 26%. But says there is still plenty of capacity in the region that features advanced medical facilities, supportive regulatory environments, and more than 2.3 billion people, largely treatment naïve, living in urban areas.

China, South Korea and Australia have the most studies registered as recruiting or about to recruit according to ClinicalTrials.Gov.

Pfizer, South San Francisco — Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

UP­DAT­ED: Pfiz­er takes aim at a flag­ship fran­chise at Sanofi and Re­gen­eron — and scores a few di­rect hits

Count Pfizer in as a top player in the blockbuster game of JAK1 inhibitors.

Over the weekend the pharma giant posted some stellar Phase III efficacy data for their heavyweight contender abrocitinib in atopic dermatitis (eczema) that lines up ahead of a booming Dupixent (dupilumab), a blockbuster in the portfolios of Regeneron and Sanofi. And they put some real distance ahead of Eli Lilly’s trailing Olumiant, which made a delayed initial arrival on the market for rheumatoid arthritis after the FDA hobbled it with some additional hurdles on safety concerns.

JADE-MONO-1 scores well for Pfizer, teeing up what will be an intensely followed breakdown of the JADE MONO-2 data, which the pharma giant recently top-lined as “similar” to the first Phase III when tested against a placebo — a control group that has been easily outclassed by all the drugs in this market niche.

As of now, Pfizer looks to be equipped to run into the review stage — advantaged by a breakthrough therapy designation that is intended to speed up the regulatory process.

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A preda­tor's world? Top an­a­lyst sees the 'haves' and the 'haven't­s' di­verge as biotech bub­bles form — and col­lapse

Josh Schimmer

We’ve all seen the deluge of cash that’s been pouring into biotech from every angle: VCs, IPOs and follow-ons have generated billions in capital for new and emerging drug developers with ready access to some powerful new tech. But Evercore ISI’s Josh Schimmer is asking where we’re headed from here.

His answer is neither apocalyptic nor universally blissful, but if he’s right — and this is a discussion we’re hearing much, much more about at a time of growing economic and industry uncertainty — we may well be at a crossroads that could affect valuations, M&A and the entire global industry that has formed over the past 5 years.

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US mulls tar­iffs on Swiss drug ex­ports, weigh­ing on No­var­tis and Roche –  re­port

The leading Swiss newspaper has reported that the US is considering placing tariffs on pharmaceuticals from Switzerland. Roche and Novartis stock each fell 1% after the news broke.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported that US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told pharmaceutical representatives the Trump administration was considering the move. Tariffs do not appear to be in the immediate offing, but they would potentially affect Swiss giants Novartis and Roche along with other companies that manufacture in Switzerland, including Merck KGaA and US biotech Biogen, which is currently constructing a new facility in the country.

Neil Kumar, Endpoints

Bridge­Bio drops bid to re­claim Ei­dos af­ter di­rec­tors spurn 3 of­fers

A couple of months ago a newly public BridgeBio turned some heads by disclosing that it had made a bid for subsidiary Eidos Therapeutics in hopes of gobbling up the 34% stake that it doesn’t already own. Two offers later, the parties are calling it off.

A special committee of independent directors at the smaller biotech led by RA Capital’s Rajeev Shah and ex-Portola CEO William Lis first rejected the parent company’s initial offer — which would swap 1.3 BridgeBio shares for each Eidos share — on September 12. In the latest announcement, BridgeBio revealed that it eventually raised the offer to 1.5 shares and made $110 million available for all-cash or mixed consideration options, but Eidos still wasn’t interested.

Mark Foley, Revance

HR vi­o­la­tion push­es Re­vance co-founder out, vault­ing for­mer Zel­tiq chief to the helm

Months after Revance amended the terms of its Botox biosimilar collaboration with Mylan, the Newark, California-based drug developer disclosed its co-founder Dan Browne is stepping down, in what appears to be mysterious circumstances.

The company — which is also developing a rival to Allergan’s formidable Botox franchise — on Monday said Browne is departing “due to misjudgment in handling an employee matter,” that has also culminated in his resignation from Revance’s board of directors.

In-house FDA re­view flags a sus­pi­cious im­bal­ance in deaths as Sh­iono­gi hunts an OK for an­tibi­ot­ic

Shionogi has some big questions to answer if they plan to win an FDA panel’s backing for their new antibiotic.

While investigators have provided positive efficacy data for their new product to treat cases of complex urinary tract infections, an FDA review has flagged an imbalance of deaths between the antibiotic and a control arm. And they want the agency’s outside advisers to take a good hard look at that when they meet on Wednesday.

Cell ther­a­py start­up rais­es $16 mil­lion to fund its quest for the Holy Grail in re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine

In 2006, Shinya Yamanaka shook stem cell research with his discovery that mature cells can be converted into stem cells, relieving a longstanding political-ethical blockage and throwing open medical research on everything from curbing eye degeneration to organ printing.

But that process still has pitfalls, including in risk and scalability, and some researchers are exploring another way first hinted at years ago: new technology to convert mature cells directly into other mature cells without the complex and time-consuming process of first making them into stem cells.

Eye­ing $86M, Galera leads a pack of three mod­est biotech IPOs push­ing past high pro­file stum­bles

Exactly one year after kicking off a pivotal Phase III study for its lead drug — a companion for cancer patients receiving radiotherapy — Galera is looking to the Nasdaq for some new cash to complete the clinical work and fuel its commercial drive.

CEO Mel Sorensen has penciled in an $86 million ask, which was filed on the same day as liver disease company 89bio and rare disease diagnostics shop Centogene. The trio marks the first batch of IPO filings in the wake of two highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing public debuts by BioNTech and Vir, signaling dwindling biotech fervor on Wall Street. 89bio and Centogene are seeking $70 million and $69 million, respectively.