Ham­mered by crit­ics, NewLink strikes back with pos­i­tive PhII in­dox­i­mod da­ta — and shares rock­et up

Few biotechs have in­spired the kind of love-hate re­la­tion­ship that NewLink Ge­net­ics $NLNK seems to pro­voke among the bulls and bears in the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty fol­low­ing its IDO work with pas­sion­ate self-in­ter­est.

Ear­li­er this year, the sen­ti­ment ran dis­tinct­ly along the bear/hate ar­gu­ment, born out by some dis­ap­point­ing da­ta and Genen­tech’s de­ci­sion to punt their part­nered IDO1 ther­a­py. It al­so didn’t help that their can­cer vac­cine flopped bad­ly in 2016.

To­day, though, was most­ly about good lov­ing, as NewLink shares shot up 75% by the close.

Charles Link, NewLink

What caused this sud­den eu­pho­ria?

Look­ing to prove that its drug in­dox­i­mod can amp up the ef­fi­ca­cy of Mer­ck’s check­point ther­a­py Keytru­da in fight­ing melanoma, re­searchers rolled out a new set of da­ta that tout­ed an in­crease in the com­plete re­sponse rate from 12% to 20%, an over­all re­sponse rate of 61% and a dis­ease con­trol rate of 80%. The me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate was record­ed at 12.9 months.

It’s all da­ta from a small Phase II da­ta which the short crowd loves to crit­i­cize as of­ten as they can, cit­ing var­i­ous de­sign flaws and cher­ry pick­ing. It’s al­so a long way from the piv­otal melanoma study, which will re­cruit 600 pa­tients for some­time in 2018, us­ing both Keytru­da and Op­di­vo.

“Our team is ex­cit­ed to move for­ward with this piv­otal tri­al,” said Eu­gene Kennedy, the VP of med­ical af­fairs at NewLink. “We be­lieve that al­low­ing physi­cians the choice of ei­ther pem­brolizum­ab or nivolum­ab ac­cu­rate­ly re­flects cur­rent clin­i­cal care and should aid in en­rolling the tri­al by the end of 2018.”

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that this is not an IDO1 drug. NewLink on­ly knows that it works along the IDO path­way, sep­a­rate from the en­zy­mat­ic spe­cif­ic group, which in­cludes In­cyte’s lead­ing epaca­do­stat.

This ar­gu­ment isn’t near­ly over. The on­ly thing that will fi­nal­ly stop it will be de­fin­i­tive piv­otal re­sults.

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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David Loew (Ipsen)

Ipsen snags an ap­proved can­cer drug in $247M M&A deal as an­oth­er bat­tered biotech sells cheap

You can add Paris-based Ipsen to the list of discount buyers patrolling the penny stock pack for a cheap M&A deal.

The French biotech, which has had plenty of its own problems to grapple with, has swooped in to buy Epizyme $EPZM for $247 million in cash and a CVR with milestones attached to it. Epizyme shareholders, who had to suffer through a painfully soft launch of their EZH2a inhibitor cancer drug Tazverik, will get $1.45 per share along with a $1 CVR tied to achieving $250 million in sales from the drug over four consecutive quarters as well as an OK for second-line follicular lymphoma by 1 Jan. 2028.

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AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

Sanofi, GSK tout 72% Omi­cron ef­fi­ca­cy in PhI­II tri­al of next-gen, bi­va­lent shot — with an eye to year-end roll­out

Sometimes, being late can give you an advantage.

That’s what Sanofi and GSK are trying to say as the Big Pharma partners report positive results from a late-stage trial of their next-gen bivalent Covid-19 vaccine, which was designed to protect against both the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Beta variant. Specifically, against Omicron, they note, the vaccine delivered 72% efficacy in all adults and 93.2% in those previously infected.

Matt Kapusta, uniQure CEO

In trou­bled Hunt­ing­ton’s space, uniQure’s gene ther­a­py shows ear­ly promise

In randomized clinical trial data from a small number of patients, Dutch biotech uniQure shared that its gene therapy for Huntington’s disease seems to reduce the amount of the mutant protein responsible for the disease over the course of a year.

In seven patients with early-stage Huntington’s — four who got the treatment and three who got a placebo — mutant huntingtin protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid decreased by an average of just over 50% in patients who got the gene therapy compared to around a 17% drop in patients who got the placebo after a year.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”