In light of In­cyte's epaca­do­stat de­ba­cle, NewLink scraps PhI­II plans for its own IDO drug

Af­ter see­ing its shares get dragged down by In­cyte’s late-stage de­ba­cle, NewLink Ge­net­ics is scrap­ping a PhI­II tri­al for its own IDO drug, rais­ing fur­ther ques­tions about the path­way.

It will not ini­ti­ate the ran­dom­iza­tion por­tion of In­di­go301, the Ames, IA-based com­pa­ny $NLNK said, a melanoma study that would have eval­u­at­ed in­dox­i­mod in com­bi­na­tion with check­point in­hibitors Keytru­da or Op­di­vo in 600 pa­tients. In a press re­lease, NewLink ex­plained the de­ci­sion was made “in the con­text of the fail­ure of a com­peti­tor’s tri­al of its en­zy­mat­ic IDO in­hibitor in a sim­i­lar clin­i­cal set­ting.”

In­cyte suf­fered a bit­ter set­back for its IDO1 drug epaca­do­stat al­most two weeks ago, as in­ves­ti­ga­tors halt­ed a Phase III study in metasta­t­ic melanoma af­ter find­ing the com­bo of epaca­do­stat and Mer­ck’s PD-1 star Keytru­da in­ef­fec­tive in pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival and un­like­ly to ex­tend over­all sur­vival. A leader in the IDO field, the com­pa­ny told an­a­lysts that the ECHO-301 study fail­ure “has a neg­a­tive im­pact on the prob­a­bil­i­ty of suc­cess of the oth­er (com­bi­na­tion) stud­ies.”

Charles Link, NewLink

NewLink has ap­par­ent­ly heed­ed its ri­val’s warn­ing. The plan now is for the clin­i­cal team to look in­to an al­ter­na­tive way to test in­dox­i­mod in melanoma — the de­sign, tri­al size and fea­si­bil­i­ty. They will take in­to ac­count the full da­ta set from the com­pa­ny’s sin­gle-arm PhII melanoma tri­al, with fi­nal re­sults sched­uled to come out lat­er this year.

Last year, re­searchers rolled out a set of da­ta from the PhII study with in­dox­i­mod and Keytru­da, tout­ing a me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate at 12.9 months. They al­so re­port­ed an in­crease in the com­plete re­sponse rate from 12% to 20%n an over­all re­sponse rate of 61% and a dis­ease con­trol rate of 80%.

De­spite the switch-up, the com­pa­ny wants peo­ple to re­mem­ber that in­dox­i­mod has a dif­fer­ent mech­a­nism of ac­tion from di­rect en­zy­mat­ic in­hibitors like epaca­do­stat.

NewLink’s shares took an­oth­er dip at the news, falling as much as 15% (though noth­ing se­ri­ous com­pared to the 44% hit it took af­ter the In­cyte fail­ure broke) be­fore climb­ing back up.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Mark Mal­lon charts post-Iron­wood course by tak­ing CEO job at NeoGe­nomics; Glax­o­SmithK­line vet Feng Ren joins In­sil­i­co as CSO

Mark Mallon steps aside at Ironwood on March 12 after close to two years at the helm, and he already has a new change of scenery squared away. Beginning April 19, Mallon takes charge as CEO of cancer-focused genetic test maker NeoGenomics out of Fort Myers, FL while his predecessor, Douglas VanOort, is retiring after 12 years as NeoGenomics’ chairman and CEO.

It’s a fresh start for Mallon after what will amount to a tumultuous 23 months as Ironwood’s chief executive. Last year was marked by trial failures that spelled double trouble, leaving the Ironwood cupboard bare: first, a Linzess reformulation for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D) in May, and then the drug IW-3718 for persistent acid reflux in September. After IW-3718’s discontinuation, Ironwood chopped its staff by 35%. On Feb. 8, Mallon announced his departure at Ironwood, with president Tom McCourt getting bumped up to interim CEO.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Covid-19 roundup: Mer­ck­'s $356M sup­ply deal on hold as FDA asks for more da­ta; FDA ap­proves Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine stor­age at stan­dard freez­er temps

Merck is pushing back plans to supply the US government with a Covid-19 drug after the FDA asked for more data to support an emergency use authorization.

The antibody, MK-7110, had looked promising in a Phase III study conducted by OncoImmune before Merck came along and bought the biotech for $425 million. At the interim analysis, investigators looked at data from 203 patients and concluded that a single dose of the drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50% among severe patients. And those taking the drug had a 60% higher chance of improvement in clinical status compared to placebo.

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CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.