Source: AP Images

In an­oth­er blow to In­ter­cept, the FDA is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Ocali­va for po­ten­tial risk of liv­er dis­or­der

Just a month be­fore hand­ing In­ter­cept Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals a CRL for Ocali­va in NASH, the FDA be­gan eval­u­at­ing the drug for a po­ten­tial risk of liv­er dis­or­der in pri­ma­ry bil­iary cholan­gi­tis (PBC) pa­tients. The probe, which launched in May, was dis­closed by the com­pa­ny deep down in their lat­est quar­ter­ly re­port filed with the SEC, and had not oth­er­wise been com­mu­ni­cat­ed pub­licly by In­ter­cept un­til re­ports sur­faced this week.

The FDA has no­ti­fied us that in the course of its rou­tine safe­ty sur­veil­lance, in May 2020 the FDA be­gan to eval­u­ate a new­ly iden­ti­fied safe­ty sig­nal re­gard­ing liv­er dis­or­der for Ocali­va which the FDA clas­si­fied as a po­ten­tial risk.

Ocali­va was ap­proved in 2016 to treat PBC, a chron­ic dis­ease that af­fects the liv­er’s bile ducts. In­ter­cept spokesman Christo­pher Frates said the biotech is work­ing with the FDA on what will like­ly be a 12-month eval­u­a­tion.

An FDA spokesper­son de­clined to of­fer any ad­di­tion­al in­for­ma­tion aside from what was post­ed in FAERS, the agency’s ad­verse event re­port­ing sys­tem, which states they are “eval­u­at­ing the need for reg­u­la­to­ry ac­tion.”

The probe is the lat­est blow to In­ter­cept in the last few months. In June, the FDA re­ject­ed its NDA for obeti­cholic acid, the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent in Ocali­va, for the treat­ment of NASH. In­ter­cept said reg­u­la­tors want­ed longer term da­ta from their Phase III tri­al to back the sur­ro­gate end­point, re­duc­tion in liv­er fi­bro­sis. Com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives ar­gued then that they were blind­sided.

CEO Mark Pruzan­s­ki had said in a state­ment:

At no point dur­ing the re­view did the FDA com­mu­ni­cate that OCA was not ap­prov­able on an ac­cel­er­at­ed ba­sis, and we strong­ly be­lieve that the to­tal­i­ty of da­ta sub­mit­ted to date both meet the re­quire­ments of the Agency’s own guid­ance and clear­ly sup­port the pos­i­tive ben­e­fit-risk pro­file of OCA.

In a Sep­tem­ber SEC fil­ing, In­ter­cept an­nounced that 170 jobs were on the chop­ping block, equal to rough­ly 25% of its staff, in or­der to save cash for its con­tin­ued pur­suit of NASH ap­proval. In­ter­cept shares were down 8% yes­ter­day when news of the FDA probe be­came wide­ly known. An in­vestor on Twit­ter first no­ticed the buried dis­clo­sure.

Back in 2018, the FDA slapped Ocali­va with a black box warn­ing, due to the drug be­ing “in­cor­rect­ly dosed” dai­ly in­stead of week­ly. “To en­sure cor­rect dos­ing and re­duce the risk of liv­er prob­lems, we are clar­i­fy­ing the cur­rent rec­om­men­da­tions for screen­ing, dos­ing, mon­i­tor­ing, and man­ag­ing PBC pa­tients with mod­er­ate to se­vere liv­er dis­ease tak­ing Ocali­va,” it an­nounced.

Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er is on the verge of claim­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar first-mover ad­van­tage with their Covid-19 vac­cine — an­a­lyst

From the beginning, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla eschewed government funding for his Covid-19 vaccine work with BioNTech, willing to take all the $1 billion-plus risk of a lightning-fast development campaign in exchange for all the rewards that could fall its way with success. And now that the pharma giant has seized a solid lead in the race to the market, those rewards loom large.

SVB Leerink’s Geoff Porges has been running the numbers on Pfizer’s vaccine, the mRNA BNT162b2 program that the German biotech partnered on. And he sees a $3.5 billion peak in windfall revenue next year alone. Even after the pandemic is brought to heel, though, Porges sees a continuing blockbuster role for this vaccine as people around the world look to guard against a new, thoroughly endemic virus that will pose a permanent threat.

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CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics gets a snap­shot of off-the-shelf CAR-T suc­cess in B-cell ma­lig­nan­cies — marred by the death of a pa­tient

Just days after scientific founder Emmanuelle Charpentier shared the Nobel prize for her work on CRISPR/Cas9, CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP is showing off a snapshot of success in their early-stage study for an off-the-shelf CAR-T approach to CD19+ B cell malignancies — a snapshot marred by the death of a patient who had been given a high dose of the treatment.

Using their gene editing tech, researchers for CRISPR engineered cells from healthy donors into an attack vehicle aimed at cancer, something that has been achieved with great success using patients’ own cells — the autologous approach. But autologous CAR-T is hampered by the more complex vein-to-vein requirement that delays treatment, and now CRISPR Therapeutics along with other players like Allogene are determined to replace the pioneers with CAR-T 2.0.

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CEO Grace Colón (InCarda)

Look­ing to re­pur­pose an old drug to treat ir­reg­u­lar heart­beats, In­Car­da rais­es $30M in first Se­ries C close

A little less than two years after completing its $42 million Series B round, InCarda has returned to the venture well.

The San Francisco-based biotech announced the first portion of its Series C on Wednesday, pulling in $30 million in new funding. Most of the money will give enough runway for InCarda’s InRhythm program, an inhaled therapeutic aiming to treat sudden episodes of irregular heartbeats, through its Phase II trials and prepare it for Phase III.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­bott prof­its soar on test­ing kits; As­traZeneca could soon re­sume US vac­cine tri­als

Abbott Laboratories, one of the companies at the forefront of Covid-19 testing, is seeing big windfalls as a result of the pandemic.

The company reported its third-quarter results Wednesday morning, noting that overall profit went up 26.9% over the same period in 2019 as well as 28.2% in the first nine months of 2020 compared to that timeframe last year. Abbott’s Covid-19 tests drove the profits after seeing strong demand and helped the company beat quarterly estimates.

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Un­fazed by PhII miss, Roche ush­ers Prothena's Parkin­son's drug in­to late-stage tri­al — a $60M move

Prothena’s prasinezumab may not have met the primary endpoint in Phase II, but its partners at Roche are seeing enough to move it into a late-stage trial for Parkinson’s disease.

The Phase IIb will build on the Phase II PASADENA study, adding a subgroup of early Parkinson’s patients on stable levodopa therapy to the population.

It’s a significant milestone for a $600 million deal that dates back to 2013, as dosing of the first patient — expected next year — will trigger a $60 million milestone payment to Prothena.

Steve Chen, Cellis Therapeutics president and CMO (Cellics)

UC San Diego spin­out award­ed up to $15M for nanosponge de­signed to soak up sep­sis-caus­ing tox­ins

CARB-X, a global partnership looking to spur the development of new antibacterial drugs, is awarding Cellics Therapeutics $3.94 million to do what president and CMO Steve Chen calls “looking at traditional drug development upside down.”

Instead of going after a target directly — in this case bacterial toxins and inflammatory cytokines that cause sepsis — Cellics researchers “flip it around” to examine the host cells being attacked. The UC San Diego spinout then creates what it calls “nanosponges” — nanoparticles cloaked in the fragments of macrophage cell membranes. Chen says the “sponges” are designed to trap the sepsis-causing endotoxins and cytokines on their cell membranes, neutralizing them.