He­mo­phil­ia groups warned of 5 deaths among pa­tients tak­ing Roche’s big new block­buster Hem­li­bra

The He­mo­phil­ia Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­ca has put out a state­ment not­ing that Roche alert­ed them of the deaths of 5 pa­tients who were tak­ing their new drug Hem­li­bra, cal­cu­lat­ed to be the biggest sin­gle drug launch of the year. And ac­cord­ing to Roche, the alert fol­lowed the death of two pa­tients ear­li­er this year, which they just learned about.

Ac­cord­ing to the state­ment, Roche’s Genen­tech in­formed them of the deaths Mon­day — adding 4 fa­tal­i­ties to the 1 death al­ready re­port­ed ear­ly last year.

The news trig­gered a 1.4% drop in Roche shares Wednes­day morn­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the HFA:

Genen­tech has lit­tle in­for­ma­tion that they can present­ly share about the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the most re­cent pa­tient deaths; how­ev­er, Genen­tech could con­firm that the pa­tients had re­ceived Hem­li­bra as part of com­pas­sion­ate use and ex­pand­ed pa­tient ac­cess.

In a state­ment to End­points News late Tues­day, a spokesper­son for the com­pa­ny said that one of the pa­tients who died was in an ex­pand­ed ac­cess pro­to­col, three re­ceived it fol­low­ing com­pas­sion­ate use re­quests and one was in the HAVEN I tri­al. She added:

To date, five adults tak­ing Hem­li­bra have passed away. For all, the treat­ing physi­cian or in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s as­sess­ment was that the cause of death was un­re­lat­ed to Hem­li­bra (em­pha­sis pro­vid­ed by Roche). We pro­vid­ed the na­tion­al ad­vo­ca­cy groups with this up­date via phone yes­ter­day.

In a fol­lowup, Roche added a time­line:

  • In 2016, one adult tak­ing Hem­li­bra through a re­quest for com­pas­sion­ate use passed away.
  • In 2017, one adult par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Phase III HAVEN 1 clin­i­cal tri­al passed away and one adult tak­ing Hem­li­bra through a re­quest for com­pas­sion­ate use passed away.
  • In 2018, we just re­cent­ly learned that two adults tak­ing Hem­li­bra passed away. Again, the treat­ing physi­cian’s as­sess­ment for both pa­tients was that the cause of death was un­re­lat­ed to Hem­li­bra.

Roche $RHH­BY has had safe­ty is­sues to deal with be­fore on this drug.

The phar­ma gi­ant re­port­ed 2 cas­es of throm­boem­bol­ic events and 3 in­stances of throm­bot­ic mi­croan­giopa­thy from the Haven I Phase III tri­al. Roche rat­tled its most bull­ish fol­low­ers on this drug with the re­port that a pa­tient died on Feb­ru­ary 22, 2017 from a rec­tal he­m­or­rhage af­ter be­ing treat­ed with emi­cizum­ab and a by­pass­ing agent dur­ing a break­through bleed­ing episode. The in­ci­dents were at­trib­uted to the BPAs, which an­gered Shire and No­vo Nordisk, the two key ri­vals who are feel­ing the biggest im­pact from the ar­rival of Hem­li­bra.

Shire in par­tic­u­lar came out gun­ning against Hem­li­bra, which has a peak sales es­ti­mate of $4 bil­lion. Shire has claimed be­fore that Roche has is­sued “in­ac­cu­rate and mis­lead­ing” state­ments about the se­ri­ous ad­verse events tracked in its Phase III – events which con­spired to keep this would-be block­buster un­der a cloud.

Roche, though, nev­er blinked, bag­ging an ap­proval in the US No­vem­ber 17 for one of its biggest drugs in the pipeline, a key win that was bad­ly need­ed to ac­count for the loss of patent pro­tec­tion on 3 big fran­chise drugs. The EU fol­lowed with an OK Feb­ru­ary 18 and Japan fol­lowed suit March 18.

In the US, the FDA added a boxed warn­ing about safe­ty haz­ards. When the drug was ap­proved last fall, the agency not­ed:

Cas­es of throm­bot­ic mi­croan­giopa­thy and throm­bot­ic events were re­port­ed when on av­er­age a cu­mu­la­tive amount of >100 U/kg/24 hours of ac­ti­vat­ed pro­throm­bin com­plex con­cen­trate (aPCC) was ad­min­is­tered for 24 hours or more to pa­tients re­ceiv­ing emi­cizum­ab-kxwh pro­phy­lax­is. The pre­scrib­ing in­for­ma­tion con­tains a boxed warn­ing to mon­i­tor for throm­bot­ic mi­croan­giopa­thy and throm­bot­ic events when aPCC is ad­min­is­tered. If symp­toms oc­cur, aPCC should be dis­con­tin­ued and emi­cizum­ab-kxwh should be sus­pend­ed.

The HFA added:

Genen­tech has a Med­ical Com­mu­ni­ca­tions line at 1(800)-821-8590 for pa­tients, con­cerned com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, and health­care providers who seek fur­ther in­for­ma­tion. HFA en­cour­ages you to reach out to Genen­tech and/or to your treat­ing physi­cian if you have ques­tions or con­cerns.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.