Genen­tech takes aim at Bio­gen and No­var­tis, high­light­ing an ear­ly look at pos­i­tive re­sults for their oral SMA drug from PTC

Af­ter get­ting hit with a set­back that forced the phar­ma gi­ant Roche to aban­don its lead drug for spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy, com­pa­ny ex­ecs are back with a new drug in-li­censed from PTC $PTCT that they be­lieve has legs.

It’s an in­ter­im, up­dat­ed look at a tiny da­ta set for ris­diplam (or RG7916), but re­searchers spot­light­ed ev­i­dence that the drug could help sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­ages of in­fants sit, kick and con­trol their head move­ments — all el­e­ments that the dis­ease de­stroys as it re­lent­less­ly push­es these chil­dren to an ear­ly death.

San­dra Horn­ing

This is a sin­gle-arm study be­ing pur­sued by Genen­tech, the same kind of ap­proach that AveX­is scored on in the sum­mer of 2017 for the gene ther­a­py AVXS-101, when not­ed in­ves­ti­ga­tor Jer­ry Mendell and his team high­light­ed their own im­pres­sive re­sults in a small study. That set of da­ta pro­pelled the biotech to out­line plans for an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval, as well as in­spir­ing No­var­tis’ Vas Narasimhan to buy the com­pa­ny for $8.7 bil­lion. It’s still wide­ly con­sid­ered the top con­tender.

No­var­tis al­so has an oral drug sim­i­lar to Roche’s called LMI070 (branaplam), which got back in­to the clin­ic last fall af­ter it was forced in­to a 2-year hia­tus trig­gered by safe­ty fears raised by an­i­mal stud­ies that had high­light­ed the risk of nerve dam­age.

Roche turned to its oral SMN2 splic­ing mod­i­fi­er last sum­mer af­ter reg­u­la­tors on both sides of the At­lantic de­mand­ed new late-stage work be­fore they would con­sid­er ap­prov­ing their drug ole­soxime. Roche punt­ed the drug in­stead.

Both No­var­tis and Roche are now hot on the trail of Spin­raza, the pi­o­neer­ing drug in the field from Bio­gen, which was priced at $750,000 — mak­ing it one of the most ex­pen­sive drugs on the plan­et. It’s al­so ripe for be­ing over­tak­en by oth­ers. And Baird’s Bri­an Sko­r­ney likes Roche’s chances with this drug. He not­ed:

The da­ta is com­pelling so far, and sug­gests that ris­diplam could im­pact Spin­raza’s mar­ket share, if it comes to mar­ket, giv­en its con­ve­nience as an oral small mol­e­cule.

In the FIRE­FISH study, re­searchers re­port­ed that a key score on dis­ease pro­gres­sion showed more than half of the in­fants with type 1 SMA hit 40-plus. They not­ed:

The me­di­an CHOP-IN­TEND scores in­creased over time (37.5 at 6 months [n=20] com­pared to 41.5 at eight months [n=14]). The me­di­an age at first dose in FIRE­FISH was 6.7 months and me­di­an treat­ment du­ra­tion was 9.5 months. Nine­teen out of 21 in­fants en­rolled (90 per­cent) re­main alive with two hav­ing dis­con­tin­ued due to the fa­tal pro­gres­sion of their dis­ease. Three pa­tients are now over 24 months old. No in­fant has re­quired a tra­cheosto­my or per­ma­nent ven­ti­la­tion since study ini­ti­a­tion, and no in­fant has lost the abil­i­ty to swal­low.

In the Sun­fish study for type 2 and 3 SMA, they found:

Of the pa­tients treat­ed with ris­diplam for at least one year (n=30), the me­di­an change from base­line in Mo­tor Func­tion Mea­sure (MFM), the pri­ma­ry end­point in the con­fir­ma­to­ry part of SUN­FISH and a scale used to as­sess mo­tor func­tion in neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­eases, was a 3.1-point im­prove­ment. Six­ty-three per­cent of pa­tients ex­pe­ri­enced an im­prove­ment in MFM over base­line of three points or more af­ter one year. Such im­prove­ments were seen both in pa­tients un­der 12 years old (76 per­cent; n=17) and over 12 years old (46 per­cent; n=13).

“SMA ther­a­pies that pro­duce a sus­tained in­crease in SMN pro­tein in both the CNS and pe­riph­ery may pro­vide com­pre­hen­sive ben­e­fits to peo­ple di­ag­nosed with SMA, and we look for­ward to shar­ing ad­di­tion­al da­ta on ris­diplam as the clin­i­cal pro­gram pro­gress­es,” said CMO San­dra Horn­ing in a state­ment.

Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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Vivek Ramaswamy (Jeff Rumans/JPM 2020)

Urovan­t's lead drug dis­ap­points in mid-stage study as first big FDA de­ci­sion looms

Just as Urovant gets ready for its first big FDA decision on vibegron, the drug has flopped in what would’ve been a follow-on indication.

In a Phase IIa trial involving women with abdominal pain due to irritable bowel syndrome, vibegron failed to meet the bar on improving “average worst abdominal pain” over 12 weeks, compared to placebo, among IBS-D patients.

There were actually slightly more responders in the placebo group than in the drug arm, with only 40.9% of those randomized to vigebron achieving at least a 30% decrease in “worst abdominal pain” in the past 24 hours. The trial enrolled 222 women but only 189 completed the study.

Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

News brief­ing: FDA re­quests new tri­al for Reata's Friedre­ich's atax­ia pro­gram; J&J's Trem­fya picks up ex­pand­ed la­bel in Eu­rope

Three months after Reata Pharmaceuticals suggested its Friedreich’s ataxia program omaveloxolone could be delayed, the company revealed that is indeed going to be the case.

Reata $RETA shares took a nosedive Wednesday after the biotech revealed that the FDA said supplemental data for its pivotal trial did not strengthen the case for approval. As a result, the drug is likely to need another study before the FDA takes up the case.

Jef­frey Hat­field takes over from Diego Mi­ralles as CEO of Vi­vid­ion; Drag­on­fly scores a new ex­ec with COO Alex Lu­gov­skoy

→ San Diego protein degradation startup Vividion Therapeutics has made a change at the top with Jeffrey Hatfield taking the helm as CEO, replacing Diego Miralles six months after Roche forked over $135 million to collaborate with Vividion on their small molecule degraders. Hatfield is chairman of the board at miRagen Therapeutics and previously held the CEO job at Zafgen and Vitae Pharmaceuticals. He also had a series of leadership roles at Bristol Myers Squibb from 1996-2004, including SVP, immunology and virology divisions.

Chi­na opens the door for biotech in­vestors in Hong Kong to buy Shang­hai stocks, and vice ver­sa

When Shanghai’s STAR board began opening its doors to biotech, it was considered not just a rival to Nasdaq but also the stock exchange in Hong Kong. Those perceptions may take an amicable turn as China expands a mutual access program with the city.

The changes mean investors in mainland China will be able to own Hong Kong biotech chapter stocks, while those in Hong Kong — a much more internationally connected group — would have access to those listed on STAR. In effect, it turns the Shanghai market into a globally accessible exchange overnight while also broadening a key source of revenue for HKEX.