Genen­tech dou­bles down on its PhI­II Alzheimer’s cam­paign for crenezum­ab

An­drea Pfeifer

Roche’s big biotech group Genen­tech is dou­bling down on one of the most promi­nent drugs in late-stage de­vel­op­ment for Alzheimer’s. The com­pa­ny is launch­ing a sec­ond Phase III study of crenezum­ab, ac­cord­ing to its part­ners at AC Im­mune $ACIU, in search of pos­i­tive da­ta in a field lit­tered with the wreck­age of ear­li­er clin­i­cal crash­es.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors for the CREAD2 study will now set out to re­cruit 750 pa­tients with pro­dro­mal or mild Alzheimer’s to test the drug, an­oth­er an­ti-amy­loid be­ta drug de­signed to sweep out tox­ic for­ma­tions that are be­lieved by many to cause the mem­o­ry-wast­ing ill­ness.

CREAD2 will start with all the hall­marks ex­pect­ed in an Alzheimer’s study. It failed a mid-stage pro­gram, but in­ves­ti­ga­tors were able to track a dis­tinct im­pact on cog­ni­tive and func­tion­al scores for pa­tients di­ag­nosed with the ear­li­est stages of this dis­ease. Re­turn­ing to Phase III proved to be a dis­as­trous mis­take for Eli Lil­ly’s solanezum­ab, a three time los­er. But AC Im­mune has been able to win over be­liev­ers that this time a piv­otal ef­fort can suc­ceed.

Jef­feries’ Pe­ter Welford not­ed that the launch of the sec­ond Phase III can now con­form to cur­rent FDA rules de­mand­ing two Phase III stud­ies for an ap­proval. And he out­lined the pro-crenezum­ab ar­gu­ment in a note this morn­ing, com­par­ing Roche’s drug with Lil­ly’s solanezum­ab.

(1) So­la tar­gets Abe­ta monomers on­ly, where­as crenezum­ab al­so tar­gets sol­u­ble Abe­ta oligomers, be­lieved by many to be the most neu­ro­tox­ic, in­hibits Abe­ta ag­gre­ga­tion and pro­motes dis­ag­gre­ga­tion of Abe­ta plaques; (2) The so­la study en­rolled mild AD pa­tients (base­line MMSE 20-26) some of whom may al­ready be too ad­vanced, with “treat­ment” pos­si­bly need­ed years be­fore clin­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions ap­pear as pre­ven­tion. The crenezum­ab Phase III stud­ies are en­rolling milder AD pa­tients, with base­line MMSE 22+ and CDR-GS 0.5 or 1.0. We note that Lil­ly has now al­so aban­doned an on­go­ing tri­al in pro­dro­mal AD; (3) Un­like oth­er promi­nent Abe­ta an­ti­bod­ies such as ad­u­canum­ab and so­la that have an IgG1 back­bone, crenezum­ab con­tains an IgG4 back­bone. Im­por­tant­ly, this IgG4 back­bone re­sults in clear­ance of Abe­ta with­out in­duc­ing an in­flam­ma­to­ry re­sponse, en­abling use of high­er dos­es and a bet­ter side ef­fect pro­file. High­er dos­es should re­sult in in­creased brain ex­po­sure and there­fore po­ten­tial­ly greater ef­fi­ca­cy.

Com­pa­nies in the field can re­ly on bet­ter di­ag­nos­tics to ac­tu­al­ly re­cruit the right pa­tients. But af­ter 15 years of de­feat and dis­as­ter in Alzheimer’s R&D, you can al­so ex­pect to see plen­ty of skep­ti­cism for a drug that al­ready failed hu­man stud­ies.

The litany of set­backs in­cludes Mer­ck’s re­cent de­ci­sion to scut­tle a Phase III study for the in­dus­try-lead­ing BACE drug. But any com­pa­ny which does man­age to get a drug across the fin­ish line can look for­ward to ma­jor sales. Mil­lions of Alzheimer’s pa­tients around the world are des­per­ate for some kind of dis­ease mod­i­fy­ing ther­a­py.

Jef­feries es­ti­mates peak sales for a crenezum­ab at $4.4 bil­lion in 2028, and oth­er an­a­lysts would stretch that fig­ure much high­er.

An­drea Pfeifer, the CEO of AC Im­mune, had this to say:

Giv­en the re­cent dis­ap­point­ing re­sults of oth­er ther­a­pies, all of us in the Alzheimer’s com­mu­ni­ty need to re­dou­ble our ef­forts to com­bat one of so­ci­ety’s biggest chal­lenges. We re­main con­fi­dent about the po­ten­tial of crenezum­ab giv­en it is dis­tinct from oth­er be­ta amy­loid an­ti­bod­ies, pre­dom­i­nant­ly block­ing oligomers in the brain, and has a clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­gram that is us­ing high­er dos­ing and tar­get­ing ear­li­er stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

Robert Forrester, Verastem

Ve­rastem CEO For­rester steps to the ex­it as the board hunts com­mer­cial-savvy ex­ec for the be­lea­guered biotech

Robert For­rester is step­ping down as CEO of Ve­rastem On­col­o­gy $VSTM just 8 months af­ter the com­pa­ny nabbed an ap­proval for du­velis­ib, a PI3K drug with a sto­ried past — and what ap­pears as not much of a fu­ture.

The biotech put out word this morn­ing that For­rester will take an ad­vi­so­ry role with Ve­rastem while COO Dan Pa­ter­son steps up to take charge of the lead­er­ship team and the board looks around for a new CEO.

In starved an­tibi­ot­ic field, Melin­ta soars as FDA grants speedy drug re­view

Such is the state of af­fairs in an­tibi­ot­ic land that the FDA agree­ing to pri­or­i­ty re­view an ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­pand the use of an an­tibi­ot­ic can rock­et up a stock more than two-fold.

On Wednes­day, Melin­ta Ther­a­peu­tics said its ap­proved an­tibi­ot­ic Baxdela had been grant­ed pri­or­i­ty re­view for use in com­mu­ni­ty-ac­quired bac­te­r­i­al pneu­mo­nia (CAPB). The FDA is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by Oc­to­ber 24. Shares of the Con­necti­cut drug­mak­er $ML­NT cat­a­pult­ed, clos­ing up near­ly 224% at $6.41.

Ken Frazier appears before the Senate Committee on Finance for a hearing on prescription drug pricing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 26, 2019. Chris Kleponis for CNP via AP Images

Who’s next in line to suc­ceed Ken Fra­zier as CEO of the Keytru­da-blessed Mer­ck?

When Merck waved off a looming forced retirement for Ken Frazier last September, the board cited flexibility in CEO transition as a key factor in the decision. Having Frazier — who’s also chairman of the company — around beyond his 65th birthday in 2019 would ensure they install the best person at the best time, they said.

The board has evidently begun that process with a clear preference for internal candidates, sources told Bloomberg. CFO Robert Davis, chief marketing officer Michael Nally, and chief commercial officer Frank Clyburn are all in the running, according to an insider.

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Brent Saunders at an Endpoints News event in 2017 — File photo

An­a­lyst call with Al­ler­gan ex­ecs stokes an­tic­i­pa­tion of a plan to split the com­pa­ny in ‘a month or two’

So what’s up at Al­ler­gan?

Ear­li­er this week the ubiq­ui­tous Ever­core ISI an­a­lyst Umer Raf­fat was on the line with com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives to probe in­to the lat­est on the num­bers as well as CEO Brent Saun­ders’ re­cent de­c­la­ra­tion that he’d be do­ing some­thing de­fin­i­tive to help long-suf­fer­ing in­vestors who have watched their shares dwin­dle in val­ue.

He came away with the im­pres­sion that a sig­nif­i­cant com­pa­ny split is on the way. And not on some dis­tant time hori­zon.

In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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