Why wait? FDA gives ear­ly OK to Mer­ck’s Keytru­da for front­line lung can­cer

That didn’t take long.

Two weeks af­ter Mer­ck $MRK made a tri­umphant vic­to­ry march against Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb on the front­line non-small cell lung can­cer front at ES­MO, the FDA has fol­lowed up with a cru­cial ap­proval for the ear­ly use of its check­point in­hibitor Keytru­da.

The agency green-light­ed the use of Keytru­da among high ex­pressers of PD-L1, one of the key in­stru­ments that can­cer cells use to de­flect an at­tack by T cells. The FDA had set the PDU­FA date on this sBLA for Christ­mas Eve, but reg­u­la­tors are mov­ing much faster than the nor­mal time­lines per­mit when it comes to the es­tab­lished check­point drugs.

Keytru­da is now the on­ly PD-1 check­point in­hibitor to be ap­proved for front­line use, and pa­tients who qual­i­fy won’t be forced to try chemo first. Mer­ck’s unique sta­tus isn’t a per­ma­nent dis­tinc­tion, though, as Roche con­tin­ues to push ahead with Tecen­triq, a ri­val check­point de­signed specif­i­cal­ly for high PD-L1 ex­pres­sion.

“Keytru­da im­proved sur­vival, com­pared to tra­di­tion­al chemother­a­py, in pa­tients with non-small cell lung can­cer whose tu­mors ex­press high lev­els of PD-L1,” said Roger M. Perl­mut­ter, Mer­ck’s R&D chief, who bet big on Keytru­da’s suc­cess. “The ap­proval of Keytru­da for the first-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic non-small cell lung can­cer has the po­ten­tial to change the treat­ment land­scape for these pa­tients.”

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY stum­bled bad­ly when it tried to beat out chemo as a front­line ther­a­py for NSCLC. The top line da­ta marked a fail­ure, the de­tails on sub­group flops were em­bar­rass­ing. And the sec­ond round of da­ta trig­gered an­oth­er teeter-tot­ter ef­fect on their rel­a­tive stock prices, dri­ving BMS down while Mer­ck con­tin­ued its surge.

Bris­tol-My­ers had dom­i­nat­ed lung can­cer from the get-go, earn­ing the li­on’s share of the first wave of rev­enue that greet­ed these two check­points. Now an­a­lysts say that the ta­bles are be­ing turned, giv­ing Mer­ck an edge that it has des­per­ate­ly sought af­ter.

“We thought Op­di­vo could beat chemother­a­py, and we have an­swered the ques­tion — for the broad pop­u­la­tion it is not enough,” Fouad Namouni, on­col­o­gy de­vel­op­ment head at Bris­tol-My­ers, told David Crow at the Fi­nan­cial Times at ES­MO.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Why would the FDA ap­prove an­oth­er con­tro­ver­sial drug to spur a woman’s li­bido with these da­ta? And why no ex­pert pan­el re­view?

AMAG Pharmaceuticals’ newly approved drug for spurring women’s sexual desire may never make much money, but it’s a big hit at sparking media attention.

The therapy — Vyleesi (bremelanotide) — got the green light from regulators on Friday evening, swiftly lighting up a range of stories around the world, from The New York Times to The Guardian. Several headlines inevitably referred to it as the “female Viagra,” invoking Pfizer’s old erectile dysfunction blockbuster.

But the two drugs have little in common.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Which top 10 big phar­mas have the most to gain — or lose — over the next 5 years?

When Evaluate Pharma crunched the likely drug sales numbers for the big 10, 2 stood out. 

Takeda, with its big Shire buyout under its belt, is set to almost double its worldwide sales record for 2018 over 5 years, putting it in the big 10 — the 9th spot, to be exact — which is exactly where CEO Christophe Weber wants to be. 

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Roger Perlmutter. Merck via webcast

'Our lega­cy mat­ter­s': Mer­ck maps out Keytru­da king­dom while spot­light­ing ad­vances in vac­cines, hos­pi­tal care

“You can for the mo­ment stop tak­ing notes. You can put down your pens and your pad. I have no slides. I have no sub­stan­tive da­ta. I have no pitch.”

So be­gan Roger Perl­mut­ter’s brief ap­pear­ance on­stage at Mer­ck’s first in­vestor day in five years, where he dived in­to the com­pa­ny’s his­to­ry dat­ing back to 1933. The first em­ploy­ees at Mer­ck Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ries, hand­picked by founder George W. Mer­ck, were crit­i­cal to Mer­ck’s abil­i­ty to achieve clin­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess.

How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

J&J's Es­ke­t­a­mine, at cur­rent price, is 'low val­ue for mon­ey' — ICER

For John­son & John­son’s $JNJ phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ver­sion of the hal­lu­cino­genic anes­thet­ic ke­t­a­mine — es­ke­t­a­mine — to be cost-ef­fec­tive for use in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion in the long term, its list price must be cut by up to half, ICER con­clud­ed in its fi­nal re­port on Thurs­day.

Cog­nizant of the myr­i­ad of ap­proved an­ti­de­pres­sants that of­ten don’t work, the US reg­u­la­tor en­dorsed J&J’s es­ke­t­a­mine, brand­ed as  — Spra­va­to — in March for treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion, con­scious that the orig­i­nal cat tran­quil­iz­er is fre­quent­ly used off-la­bel for se­vere de­pres­sion.

In starved an­tibi­ot­ic field, Melin­ta soars as FDA grants speedy drug re­view

Such is the state of af­fairs in an­tibi­ot­ic land that the FDA agree­ing to pri­or­i­ty re­view an ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­pand the use of an an­tibi­ot­ic can rock­et up a stock more than two-fold.

On Wednes­day, Melin­ta Ther­a­peu­tics said its ap­proved an­tibi­ot­ic Baxdela had been grant­ed pri­or­i­ty re­view for use in com­mu­ni­ty-ac­quired bac­te­r­i­al pneu­mo­nia (CAPB). The FDA is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by Oc­to­ber 24. Shares of the Con­necti­cut drug­mak­er $ML­NT cat­a­pult­ed, clos­ing up near­ly 224% at $6.41.

Brent Saunders at an Endpoints News event in 2017 — File photo

An­a­lyst call with Al­ler­gan ex­ecs stokes an­tic­i­pa­tion of a plan to split the com­pa­ny in ‘a month or two’

So what’s up at Al­ler­gan?

Ear­li­er this week the ubiq­ui­tous Ever­core ISI an­a­lyst Umer Raf­fat was on the line with com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives to probe in­to the lat­est on the num­bers as well as CEO Brent Saun­ders’ re­cent de­c­la­ra­tion that he’d be do­ing some­thing de­fin­i­tive to help long-suf­fer­ing in­vestors who have watched their shares dwin­dle in val­ue.

He came away with the im­pres­sion that a sig­nif­i­cant com­pa­ny split is on the way. And not on some dis­tant time hori­zon.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.