In­tra-Cel­lu­lar takes an­oth­er beat­ing af­ter the FDA rais­es a red flag on schiz­o­phre­nia drug safe­ty

In­tra-Cel­lu­lar Ther­a­peu­tics is dig­ging in deep to de­fend the trou­bling late-stage da­ta its re­searchers gath­ered on a lead drug for schiz­o­phre­nia. But now the FDA has raised ques­tions about tox is­sues seen in an an­i­mal study, and the biotech ex­ecs ap­pear to have lost an­oth­er big group of once-faith­ful in­vestors.

The biotech’s share price $IT­CI was al­ready sub­ject­ed to a se­vere beat­ing last fall, when com­pa­ny ex­ecs tried to ex­plain why their sec­ond Phase III study for lu­mate­per­one (ITI-007) flopped bad­ly against a place­bo and an ac­tive con­trol arm. Part of their case cen­tered on the im­proved safe­ty pro­file they tout­ed at the time.

Now the biotech says that in meet­ings with the FDA, reg­u­la­tors raised a red flag on a tox­i­c­i­ty is­sue seen in an an­i­mal safe­ty study. The biotech is plan­ning a long-term safe­ty study in hu­mans, but says the FDA may put that on clin­i­cal hold if the com­pa­ny can’t sat­is­fy their safe­ty queries.

The com­pa­ny’s share price took a fresh plunge, slid­ing 37%. The stock is down 80% from its last close be­fore the biotech re­vealed its Phase III fail­ure last Sep­tem­ber.

From their state­ment:

We are prepar­ing re­spons­es to the FDA’s re­quest for ad­di­tion­al in­for­ma­tion and in­tend to pro­ceed with our long-term safe­ty study of lu­mate­per­one in pa­tients with schiz­o­phre­nia.  If the FDA deems our re­spons­es re­gard­ing the non­clin­i­cal find­ings to be suf­fi­cient, we in­tend to sub­mit an NDA for lu­mate­per­one for the treat­ment of schiz­o­phre­nia by mid-year 2018 sup­port­ed by the ef­fi­ca­cy stud­ies we have con­duct­ed to date. If the FDA deems our re­spons­es in­suf­fi­cient, they may place our long-term safe­ty study on a clin­i­cal hold.  The re­sults of the long-term safe­ty study will be re­quired to sup­port an NDA ap­proval for a chron­ic con­di­tion such as schiz­o­phre­nia.

In­tra-Cel­lu­lar’s drug ac­tu­al­ly did just a tad worse than place­bo, and sig­nif­i­cant­ly worse than the risperi­done con­trol arm in its sec­ond Phase III. “ITI-007 60 mg and 20 mg demon­strat­ed a change from base­line on the PANSS to­tal score of -14.6 points and -15.0 points re­spec­tive­ly ver­sus a -15.1 point change in place­bo,” the com­pa­ny re­port­ed. “Risperi­done, the ac­tive con­trol, demon­strat­ed a change from base­line on the PANSS to­tal score of -20.5 points.”

But the com­pa­ny says an ear­li­er, pos­i­tive Phase III com­bined with oth­er pos­i­tive da­ta pro­vid­ed a suf­fi­cient ba­sis for an NDA. As for the safe­ty da­ta from a dog study, the com­pa­ny ex­plained that the drug is me­tab­o­lized dif­fer­ent­ly in dogs and hu­mans. But the FDA isn’t quite sat­is­fied with that.

Right now, that’s an ar­gu­ment that In­tra-Cel­lu­lar ex­ecs are find­ing a tough slog.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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Andrew Kruegel, Kures president and co-founder (Columbia Tech Ventures via Vimeo)

Af­ter psilo­cy­bin and ke­t­a­mine, a new biotech comes along de­vel­op­ing a drug Scott Got­tlieb fought

Andrew Kruegel was six years into his chemistry work at Columbia University, when, one day in August 2016, he learned he might have only 30 days before the government made him destroy his research.

Kruegel had been studying kratom, a leaf long used in Southeast Asia as a stimulant or for pain. It had opioid-like properties, he found, but seemed to offer pain relief without the addictive potential or respiratory side effects of traditional opioids — a riddle that might help illuminate how human opioid receptors work.

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UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

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The home run count: The $100M+ mega-round boom in biotech in­spired a $7.3B feed­ing fren­zy — so far this year

Over the last 6 months there’s been a blizzard of money piling up drifts of the green stuff through the biotech landscape. And the forecast calls for more cash windfalls ahead.

Even as a global pandemic has killed more than half a million people, blighted economies and divided nations over the proper response, it’s also helped ignite an unprecedented burst of big-time investing. And not just in Covid-19 deals, as we’ve looked at before.

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Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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Nello Mainolfi (Kymera via YouTube)

Out to re­vive R&D, a resur­gent Sanofi pays $150M cash to part­ner up with a pi­o­neer­ing pro­tein degra­da­tion play­er

Frank Nestle was appointed Sanofi’s global head of immunology and inflammation research therapeutic area just days before dupilumab, the blockbuster-to-be IL-4 antibody, would be accepted for priority review. After four years of consolidating immunology expertise from multiple corners of the Sanofi family and recruiting new talents to build the discovery engine, he’s set eyes on a Phase I-ready program that he believes can grow into a Dupixent-sized franchise.

Atul Deshpande, Harbour BioMed chief strategy officer & head, US operations (Harbour BioMed)

An­oth­er biotech IPO set-up? Multi­na­tion­al biotech leaps from round to round, scoop­ing up cash at a blis­ter­ing pace

A short four months after announcing a $75 million haul in Series B+ fundraising, the multinational biotech Harbour BioMed pulled in another round of investments and eclipsed the nine-digit mark in the process.

Harbour completed its Series C financing, the company announced Thursday morning, raising $102.8 million and bringing its total investment sum to over $300 million since its founding in late 2016. The biotech plans to use the money to transition early-stage candidates from the discovery phase, fund candidates already in the clinic, and prep late-stage candidates for commercialization.

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Covid-19 roundup: CDC de­bat­ing who should get first avail­able vac­cines; EU in Gilead talks af­ter US gob­bled first remde­sivir dos­es

The federal government has now spent billions of dollars accelerating the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, and yet they’ve remained hush-hush on who, precisely, would actually get inoculated once the first doses are approved and available. Internally, though, they have been debating it.

The CDC and an advisory committee of outside health experts have been working since April to devise a ranking system that would determine who receives a vaccine and when, The New York Times reported. The question of who is first in line for inoculation is important because no matter how many doses developers can make or how quickly they can make them, doses will still come out in batches; 300 million inoculations will not appear overnight.

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For­bion spot­lights late-stage plays, carves out new €250M growth fund

Having staked its rep on picking out a mix of biotech investment opportunities across the “build,” “enable,” “growth” continuum, Forbion is launching its first fund dedicated to late-stage opportunities.

Forbion Growth Opportunities Fund’s first close brought in €185 million ($208 million). Existing investors Pantheon, KfW Capital and the European Investment Fund came on board, joined by new backers Eli Lilly, Horizon Therapeutics, Belgian Growth Fund and New Waves Investments.