Hal Barron [File photo]

Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Bar­ron and the new R&D team steer­ing Glax­o­SmithK­line’s pipeline.

The phar­ma gi­ant re­port­ed this morn­ing that its re­cent­ly ac­quired PARP, Ze­ju­la (ni­ra­parib), hit the pri­ma­ry end­point on pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival in a front­line main­te­nance set­ting for women suf­fer­ing ovar­i­an can­cer — fol­low­ing chemo and re­gard­less of their BR­CA sta­tus.

GSK bet $5 bil­lion on the Tesaro buy­out pri­mar­i­ly to get this drug, draw­ing the shak­ing heads of bio­phar­ma. Why pay a big pre­mi­um for a drug like this when As­traZeneca was go­ing from strength to strength with Lyn­parza, ran the ar­gu­ment, hav­ing won a huge­ly im­por­tant ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP play­ers? Lyn­parza — now co-owned by a pow­er­house can­cer team at Mer­ck — won the first ap­proval in front­line main­te­nance in ovar­i­an can­cer.

That field of al­so-rans al­so in­cludes Clo­vis and Pfiz­er.

Skep­tics scold­ed GSK for the ac­qui­si­tion, but Bar­ron re­mained con­stant to the no­tion that on­go­ing tri­als like this one would wedge open a much larg­er mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ty. And do­ing it with an al­ready ap­proved can­cer drug that would set the stage for more ad­di­tions out of the on­col­o­gy pipeline.

Mon­day morn­ing Bar­ron un­der­scored that no­tion in a pre­pared re­mark, say­ing:

Al­most 300,000 women around the world are di­ag­nosed with ovar­i­an can­cer every year, yet on­ly about 15% of pa­tients are cur­rent­ly el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive PARP in­hibitors as their ini­tial ther­a­py. These ex­cit­ing da­ta demon­strate that ZE­JU­LA has the po­ten­tial to sig­nif­i­cant­ly ben­e­fit even more women with this dev­as­tat­ing can­cer.

We won’t get the hard da­ta un­til lat­er in the year, but you can ex­pect that the reg­u­la­to­ry team has been prepar­ing for this since GSK com­plet­ed the buy­out.

Em­ma Walm­s­ley

There’s more to come. CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley high­light­ed the ovar­i­an can­cer play dur­ing the buy­out, not­ing ad­di­tion­al work for breast can­cer and non-small cell lung can­cer. Hal Bar­ron has al­so not­ed:

Our un­der­stand­ing of ovar­i­an can­cer is grow­ing all the time and we know now that the BR­CA mu­ta­tions are not the on­ly mu­ta­tions that cause this DNA re­pair prob­lem. In fact, clin­i­cal tri­als are un­der way to as­sess the use of Ze­ju­la in ovar­i­an can­cer pa­tients with what is known as ho­mol­o­gous re­com­bi­na­tion de­fects (HRD). These are the pa­tients who we be­lieve have a BR­CA-like tu­mor and could ben­e­fit from treat­ment with Ze­ju­la.

Bar­ron’s team won an ac­cel­er­at­ed re­view for that just a cou­ple of weeks ago, set­ting the stage for a unique in­di­ca­tion that could be worth con­sid­er­ably more to GSK. The PDU­FA date is Oc­to­ber 24.

Hav­ing con­vinced a group of an­a­lysts that GSK had made the wrong move in its quest to reignite en­thu­si­asm for the com­pa­ny’s pipeline, though, try­ing to whip up ex­cite­ment now is go­ing to be a hard sell. Skep­tics will want to see the hard cash. And that’s GSK’s next chal­lenge on the com­mer­cial side.

Mer­ck is tak­ing the ax to its US op­er­a­tions, cut­ting 500 jobs in its lat­est re­or­ga­ni­za­tion

Merck is cutting 500 jobs in its US sales and headquarters commercial teams in its latest effort to find new ways to streamline the operation.

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Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.

Ronald Herb­st fol­lows Med­Im­mune ex­o­dus to Pyx­is CSO post; Jeff God­dard to suc­ceed CEO of AIT Bio­science

→ The outflow of top execs from MedImmune continues to fill the leadership ranks of smaller biotechs. The latest to take off is Ronald Herbst, the head of oncology research, who’s assuming the CSO post at Pyxis Oncology.  

Herbst was part of the old MedImmune organization AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot restructured earlier this year, reorganizing the company and eliminating the storied subsidiary as a separate organization.

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UP­DAT­ED: J&J's Xarel­to, Amar­in's Vas­cepa are cost-ef­fec­tive, not bud­get friend­ly — ICER

ICER, an increasingly influential cost-effectiveness watchdog in the United States, has concluded in its review of treatments for cardiovascular disease that while the cost of J&J’s Xarelto and Amarin’s Vascepa meet its benchmark for value pricing — the two treatments will not likely treat as many patients as hoped without surpassing the annual budget threshold calculated by ICER for each therapy.

Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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