Gilead boasts of pos­i­tive remde­sivir da­ta on mor­tal­i­ty — but their analy­sis pro­vokes the skep­tics

Gilead is surg­ing again off da­ta that sug­gest its an­tivi­ral remde­sivir might im­prove sur­vival.

The new da­ta come from an analy­sis Gilead con­duct­ed com­par­ing the death rate and re­cov­ery time of pa­tients in one of its remde­sivir tri­als to a group of 800 pa­tients “with sim­i­lar base­line char­ac­ter­is­tics and dis­ease sever­i­ty” who re­ceived on­ly stan­dard-of-care around the same time. The re­sult, they said, sug­gest­ed that pa­tients who re­ceived remde­sivir had a 62% bet­ter chance at sur­viv­ing than those who did not.

Ret­ro­spec­tive looks are more sus­pect than place­bo-con­trolled tri­als, so the da­ta are far from con­clu­sive. But it does add new ev­i­dence to the ques­tion of whether remde­sivir can im­prove mor­tal­i­ty. The NIH tri­al that led the FDA to au­tho­rize remde­sivir for use in Covid-19 pa­tients on­ly showed that remde­sivir could help pa­tients re­cov­er faster. Few­er pa­tients on remde­sivir died in that tri­al than on stan­dard-of-care — 8% vs 11% — but the re­sults were not sig­nif­i­cant.

For­mer FDA chief sci­en­tist Lu­ciana Bo­rio said that da­ta from ob­ser­va­tion­al stud­ies are dif­fi­cult to in­ter­pret, but that the bulk of ev­i­dence points to remde­sivir help­ing pa­tients sur­vive Covid-19. “It is very like­ly that Remde­sivir does in­deed af­ford pa­tients a mor­tal­i­ty ben­e­fit,” she said in an email. “The gold stan­dard RCT con­duct­ed by the NIH demon­strat­ing the clin­i­cal ben­e­fit of Remde­sivir in im­prov­ing time to re­cov­er wasn’t pow­ered to de­tect a dif­fer­ence in mor­tal­i­ty. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one”

In a tweet, for­mer FDA chief Scott Got­tlieb called the re­sults “en­cour­ag­ing” but urged that it need­ed to be con­firmed. The com­pa­ny ac­knowl­edged in their press re­lease that a prospec­tive study was need­ed.

Gilead was up 2% pre-mar­ket on the news, from $74.71 to $76.18.

Oth­er an­a­lysts and ex­perts, though, were more skep­ti­cal and in some cas­es en­tire­ly dis­mis­sive. Pe­ter Bach, the di­rec­tor for the cen­ter for health pol­i­cy and out­comes at Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter, said on Twit­ter that com­par­ing tri­al par­tic­i­pants to re­al-world pa­tients on­ly works when doc­tors have a good un­der­stand­ing of the dis­ease, some­thing that isn’t the case with Covid-19.

Baird an­a­lyst Bri­an Sko­r­ney com­pared the study to work from Di­di­er Raoult, the French physi­cian who pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary one of the first tri­als on hy­drox­y­chloro­quine in Covid-19. That study, de­spite gin­ning up sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est in the drug, was seen as rife with is­sues, in­clud­ing in “los­ing” 6 of the tri­al’s 26 pa­tients “in fol­low-up,” 4 of whom died.

In the study, 312 pa­tients from Gilead’s open-la­bel SIM­PLE tri­al were com­pared to 818 re­al-world pa­tients who had sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics. Pa­tients who re­ceived remde­sivir had a 7.6% chance of dy­ing, com­pared to 12.6% for those who re­ceived stan­dard-of-care. That trans­lates to 62% im­proved odds of sur­vival — or slight­ly more than dou­ble the 30% im­proved odds the NIH tri­al’s raw num­bers sug­gest­ed.

Sun­Trust an­a­lyst Robyn Kar­nauskas said the sur­vival rates in each tri­al were “com­pa­ra­ble,” while ac­knowl­edg­ing the study was “not an ap­ples-to-ap­ples com­par­i­son.”

The remde­sivir pa­tients in the analy­sis al­so had a 74.4% chance of re­cov­er­ing by day 14, ver­sus 59.9% for stan­dard-of-care.

Not every tri­al, though, has found remde­sivir has a ben­e­fit. On the same day as the NIH read­out, The Lancet pub­lished a study from Chi­na that found remde­sivir im­proved nei­ther mor­tal­i­ty nor oth­er pa­tient met­rics. That study, though, was end­ed ear­ly af­ter the first out­break in Chi­na end­ed.

For hos­pi­tals that can get their hands on it, remde­sivir so far has been one of on­ly two proven treat­ments for Covid-19, along with a gener­ic steroid called dex­am­etha­sone. More an­tivi­rals and neu­tral­iz­ing an­ti­bod­ies, though, are now be­ing stud­ied, hav­ing be­come a grow­ing fo­cus of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. If more ther­a­pies prove ef­fec­tive, the new Gilead da­ta could help physi­cians choose the best op­tion.

“While not as vig­or­ous as a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al, this analy­sis im­por­tant­ly draws from a re­al-world set­ting and serves as an im­por­tant ad­junct to clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta, adding to our col­lec­tive un­der­stand­ing of this virus and re­flect­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary pace of the on­go­ing pan­dem­ic,” in­ves­ti­ga­tor Su­san Olen­der of Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Irv­ing Med­ical Cen­ter said in a state­ment.

So­cial: AP Im­ages

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BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Mer­ck scraps their $425M Covid-19 drug in lat­est pan­dem­ic set­back

Seven months after paying $425 million cash to acquire it, Merck is scrapping a Covid-19 drug they hoped could provide one of the only treatments for severe hospitalized patients.

Merck’s decision comes after they faced significant and unexpected regulatory delays in getting the drug, known as MK-7110 or CD24Fc, across the finish line. The Big Pharma licensed the drug under the belief that it had already shown sufficient benefit in severe patients and they could help scale it up far faster than OncoImmune, its former owner, could. But in February, the company reported that the FDA insisted Merck run a new trial before seeking authorization.

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Severin Schwan, Roche CEO (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP Images)

Look­ing to ce­ment its lead in packed MS mar­ket, Roche's Ocre­vus un­corks new da­ta in ear­ly-stage pa­tients

Among a positively jam-packed multiple sclerosis market, Roche’s Ocrevus has managed to stand out for what the Swiss drugmaker is calling the most successful launch in its long history. But in order to press its advantage, Ocrevus is looking to earlier-stage patients, and new interim data should help build its case there.

After 48 weeks on Roche’s Ocrevus, 85% of newly diagnosed primary progressing or relapsing MS patients without a history of disease modifying therapy posted no disease activity, including disease progression or relapse, according to interim data set to be presented this weekend at the virtual American Academy of Neurology meeting.

Joe Biden (Carolyn Kaster, AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Biden in­vests $1.7B to ad­dress Covid vari­ants; EU puts faith in Pfiz­er with new vac­cine deals

The Biden administration said Friday that it’ll pump $1.7 billion into various programs to address Covid-19 variants as the original strain of Covid-19 makes up only about half of all US cases today.

Most of those new funds, $1 billion in total, will go to expand genomic sequencing so the CDC, states and other jurisdictions can improve their capacity to identify Covid mutations and monitor the circulation of variants. Back in February, US labs were only sequencing about 8,000 Covid-19 strains per week, although the rate of sequencing has increased substantially since then, the administration said.

Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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