Ax­o­van­t's lead Alzheimer's drug flops in PhI­II, end­ing an un­like­ly quest

Vivek Ra­maswamy burst on­to the biotech scene a few years ago with a brash plan to grab a failed drug from Glax­o­SmithK­line and hus­tle it straight in­to a piv­otal Phase III study for Alzheimer’s — a dis­ease that has de­feat­ed every piv­otal shot tak­en at it over the past 15 years.

But in­tepir­dine, like every oth­er Phase III Alzheimer’s study, failed. And this fail­ure for Ra­maswamy’s Ax­o­vant will like­ly kill 5HT6 as a tar­get in Alzheimer’s af­ter sev­er­al oth­er stud­ies with the same tar­get al­so flopped over the past year.

The news quick­ly crushed Ax­o­vant’s share price, send­ing it down more than 70% and wip­ing out $1.8 bil­lion in mar­ket cap in sec­onds as in­vestors re­act­ed to one of the biggest cat­a­lysts of the month.

Re­searchers said that the drug failed both co-pri­ma­ry end­points, un­able to sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­prove cog­ni­tion or func­tion for pa­tients rel­a­tive to place­bo. The key num­bers: ADAS-Cog (0.36 points, p=0.22) and AD­CS-ADL (0.09, p=0.83).

The com­pa­ny is stick­ing with top-line da­ta for now, plan­ning to out­line more of the specifics at an up­com­ing con­fer­ence. But in a call with an­a­lysts Tues­day, Ax­o­vant CEO David Hung made it clear that the drug com­bined with donepezil failed bad­ly.

“There was no dif­fer­ence be­tween the in­tepir­dine and the place­bo arms,” said Hung, and the Alzheimer’s pro­gram is fin­ished — though the com­pa­ny plans to pur­sue its work on de­men­tia with Lewy bod­ies.

The fail­ure here will come as no sur­prise to long­time in­ves­ti­ga­tors in the field. Pfiz­er and Lund­beck had both tried and failed to amp up cog­ni­tion with a 5HT6 pro­gram, de­signed to spur re­lease of a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter, though Ax­o­vant in­sist­ed that it could beat the odds.

If it had, an­a­lysts agreed that a new drug now could be worth bil­lions in an­nu­al rev­enue. In­stead, the drug hasn’t proven it’s worth the $5 mil­lion Ra­maswamy paid for it.

“While we are deeply dis­ap­point­ed by these tri­al re­sults, we al­so are sad­dened for the mil­lions of pa­tients and fam­i­lies im­pact­ed by Alzheimer’s dis­ease. How­ev­er, we be­lieve that the fight against Alzheimer’s and oth­er im­por­tant ar­eas of un­met need in neu­rol­o­gy is too im­por­tant to be de­railed by this set­back,” said Hung in a state­ment.

While the drug cost on­ly a few mil­lion up front to li­cense, the 32-year-old Ra­maswamy quick­ly steered Ax­o­vant $AX­ON in­to a record-set­ting biotech IPO on this drug, on his way to gath­er­ing close to $2 bil­lion to back a mul­ti-faceted en­ter­prise that has grown rapid­ly. He was able to re­cruit CEO Hung to take the helm not long af­ter Hung com­plet­ed the deal of a life­time in sell­ing Medi­va­tion to Pfiz­er for $14 bil­lion.

For Hung, it was a chance to take an­oth­er shot at Alzheimer’s, a dis­ease that had de­feat­ed one of his can­di­dates at Medi­va­tion.

Ra­maswamy had in­sist­ed that this drug would prove dif­fer­ent, point­ing to tri­al da­ta that showed a path for­ward. In­tepir­dine was his first test of a busi­ness mod­el that de­pends on gain­ing ac­cess to drugs on the shelves at the world’s biggest phar­ma com­pa­nies. But that mod­el faces fresh ques­tions this morn­ing as Ax­o­vant and the par­ent com­pa­ny — Roivant — deal with a bit­ter set­back.

Roivant put out a state­ment this morn­ing point­ing to all the oth­er drugs now in its mul­ti­ple pipelines. Ax­o­vant, the com­pa­ny not­ed, will con­tin­ue to in­ves­ti­gate new drugs for the mem­o­ry wast­ing ail­ment, just as it will con­tin­ue to go af­ter oth­er drugs. And with­out at­tri­bu­tion, the com­pa­ny says it will per­se­vere.

Some of those ef­forts will suc­ceed. Oth­ers will fail. We owe it to pa­tients to take those risks, and we re­main un­de­terred in pur­su­ing our mis­sion.


Im­age: Vivek Ra­maswamy Get­ty, David Hung File Pho­to

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (Moderna via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: NI­AID and Mod­er­na spell out a 'ro­bust' im­mune re­sponse in PhI coro­n­avirus vac­cine test — but big ques­tions re­main to be an­swered

The NIAID and Moderna have spelled out positive Phase I safety and efficacy data for their Covid-19 vaccine mRNA-1273 — highlighting the first full, clear sketch of evidence that back-to-back jabs at the dose selected for Phase III routinely produced a swarm of antibodies to the virus that exceeded levels seen in convalescent patients — typically in multiples indicating a protective response.

Moderna execs say plainly that this first stage of research produced exactly the kind of efficacy they hoped to see in humans, with a manageable safety profile.

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Tillman Gerngross, Adagio Therapeutics CEO

An­ti­body leg­end Till­man Gern­gross is el­bow­ing his way in­to the Covid-19 R&D cru­sade: 'I don’t see this end­ing any­time soon'

One of the most influential — and outspoken — scientists at work in the field of antibody discovery is jumping into the frenzied race to create new therapeutics to treat and prevent Covid-19. And he’s operating with the conviction that the current outbreak now once again spreading like wildfire will create plenty of demand for what he has in mind.

Dartmouth professor and Adimab CEO Tillman Gerngross tells me he’s raised $50 million from a group of close VCs to spin out a new company — Adagio Therapeutics — with a full C-suite team assembled to hire up a staff and keep rolling toward the clinic.

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Trans­port Sim­u­la­tion Test­ing for Your Ther­a­py is the Best Way to As­sure FDA Ex­pe­dit­ed Pro­gram Ap­proval

Modality Solutions is an ISO:9001-registered biopharmaceutical cold chain engineering firm with unique transport simulation capabilities that support accelerated regulatory approval for biologics and advanced therapeutic medicinal products (ATMP). Our expertise combines traditional validation engineering approaches with regulatory knowledge into a methodology tailored for the life sciences industry. We provide insight and execution for the challenges faced in your cold chain logistics network.

Full Bril­in­ta study re­sults show the blood thin­ner re­duces rate of sec­ondary stroke

AstraZeneca once projected its Brilinta drug to peak at $3.5 billion in sales, and though the blood thinner never reached that lofty goal, it received the latest positive signs in a string of recent good news.

The pharma released full details from its THALES study Thursday morning, which measured the effects of Brilinta and aspirin against aspirin alone in treating patients who had an acute ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack. When taken twice daily with once-a-day aspirin for 30 days, the Brilinta combo reduced the risk of stroke and death by 17 percent, meeting the primary endpoint of the study.

Norbert Bischofberger, Kronos CEO

Gilead­'s ex-R&D chief Bischof­berg­er heads back to the biotech gi­ant to pick up a pair of late-stage drugs that had been put aside

Norbert Bischofberger knows entospletinib well.

Back during his long, blockbuster run as head of R&D at Gilead, researchers had once held some high hopes for this drug. But to make it work, he and the team felt it would need a new companion diagnostic to identify patients. There was talk of a combo approach to give it more punch. But the market was small, making them wonder if it would be worth going through a lengthy development cycle to get it through a pivotal.

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The $1B Mer­ck-Bay­er drug that di­vid­ed car­di­ol­o­gists in March gets pri­or­i­ty re­view

Three months after Merck published in the New England Journal of Medicine data that left doctors and investors divided over just how well its experimental heart drug worked, the FDA has handed that drug priority review. A decision is now due by January 20, 2021.

Merck first announced the drug, known as vericiguat, as a Phase III success last November. In 2016, Merck had paid $1 billion upfront for US rights to the Bayer-developed drug. Early projections foresaw a few hundred million a year in sales, but the unspecified late-stage success raised the possibility for far more. After all, Novartis’s flagship heart drug, Entresto, was earning $1.7 billion per year and was expected to reach up to $4 billion in annual sales.

GSK’s Shin­grix leader Guil­laume Pfe­fer has jumped on board Flag­ship to helm a biotech hy­brid as Afeyan’s lat­est CEO-part­ner

After spending 4 years in a senior post with GlaxoSmithKline’s star team positioning Shingrix for a blockbuster approval, Guillaume Pfefer is headed back to the biotech world — in style.

Pfefer has signed on to join Noubar Afeyan’s busy group of partners at Flagship, and he’s taking the helm of an upstart — which today is being merged with another Flagship startup — with some grand plans of its own. The announcement this morning notes that Pfefer will run Kintai Therapeutics, one of the grads of the Flagship labs.

Mer­ck KGaA takes its I/O op­tion on F-star Ther­a­peu­tics; Nephron spends $215M, eye­ing spot in Covid-19 vac­cine chain

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Any biotech going public these days wouldn’t feel right if they didn’t upsize the offering. And that’s just what Phase I biotech Pandion Therapeutics did. The autoimmune company is now selling 7 million shares, a 1.5 million share bump, for $16 to $18 a share.

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Who are the women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D and lead­ing the fight against Covid-19? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' spe­cial re­port

One of the many inequalities the pandemic has laid bare is the gender imbalance in biomedical research. A paper examining Covid-19 research authorship wondered out loud: Where are the women?

It’s a question that echoes beyond our current times. In the biopharma world, not only are women under-represented in R&D roles (particularly at higher levels), their achievements and talents could also be undermined by stereotypes and norms of leadership styles. The problem is even more dire for women of color.