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.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

One of the most am­bi­tious start­up teams in biotech just out­lined plans for a $400M IPO and a val­u­a­tion of about $4B

The executive team at Sana Biotechnology has sketched out more details about the full scope of its ambitions as the new unicorn to watch. They amended their S-1 today to include a price range of $20 to $23 a share — which puts them in reach of pulling in around $400 million on the high end with a market value starting right around $4 billion.

That’s not bad for a preclinical biotech with no drugs yet in human studies, but it squares with its ambitions to remake the cell therapy field with a slate of in-house platforms. The biotech raised $705 million — primarily from ARCH (44 million shares) and Flagship (34.2 million shares) — to get to this stage.

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Top gene ther­a­py deals, M&A pacts in 2020 high­light an­oth­er big year in one of the hottest fields in bio­phar­ma

Chris Dokomajilar at DealForma has been crunching the numbers on gene therapy deals over the last 2 years and came away with a few key observations.

Both the upfront cash and deal totals last year backed off a bit from the record high hit in 2019, but the totals are still running well ahead of anything we’ve seen in the years prior to 2019/2020.
2020 R&D partnerships came in at 23 deals, with $1.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $8.5 billion in total deal value. Looking at 2019-2020 M&A, Dokomajilar found: 9 Acquisitions, with over $11.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $13.4 billion in total M&A value.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Ad­vo­ca­cy groups don't want Janet Wood­cock to head the FDA, blast­ing ‘reg­u­la­to­ry fail­ures’ in opi­oid cri­sis

It turns out the controversies around Janet Woodcock’s regulatory legacy weren’t limited to Sarepta’s eteplirsen.

A coalition of advocacy groups dedicated to the opioid crisis urged Norris Cochran and Xavier Becerra — the acting and designated HHS secretary, respectively — to keep her reign as interim FDA chief a “very short transition.” During her lengthy tenure as CDER, they add, Woodcock presided over “one of the worst regulatory agency failures in U.S. history.”

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Ther­mo Fish­er plat­form seeks to ex­pe­dite donor cell cul­ti­va­tion for al­lo­gene­ic cell ther­a­pies

One of the world’s leading CDMOs has launched a new technology it says will expedite a quickly-growing sect of biotech drug development: off-the-shelf, allogeneic cell therapies.

It’s been nearly a decade since the FDA approved the first use of the method that uses healthy donor cells to create a master cell bank, which is then used for specific therapies — a cord blood allogeneic treatment called Hemacord. In the years since, the use of allogeneic cells has taken off in research circles, most notably in the use of T cell therapies to target solid tumor cancers.

Bob Nelsen (Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH an­nounces largest fund yet, rais­ing $1.85B to back men­tal health, cell and gene edit­ing ap­proach­es

Nearly a year ago, as the pandemic encroached and the stock market cratered, Flagship and ARCH Venture announced three mega-funds worth a combined $2.6 billion. They wanted, ARCH’s Bob Nelsen said, to restore confidence “that there was money out there and a lot of it” to invest in biotech.

Since then, the stock market has returned — almost frighteningly so — and Nelsen has kept raising and spending cash. On Thursday, he announced a new fund, worth $1.85 billion. It’s the largest pot yet for a VC famous for its deep pockets.

Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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Dean Li kicks off Mer­ck­'s post-Roger Perl­mut­ter era by team­ing with Arti­va and its off-the-shelf CAR-NK tech

Even though Dean Li has now officially taken over for Roger Perlmutter as R&D chief, Merck’s appetite for dealmaking continues to be ravenous.

Li struck his first big deal at the helm Thursday morning, hammering out a collaboration with Artiva Biotherapeutics that could earn the biotech nearly $1.9 billion when all is said and done. It’s a quick rise and validation for Artiva, which just last June launched with a $78 million Series A.