In­vestors fret as VBI's hep B vac­cine fails key sec­ondary PhI­II study goal

Sobered by mount­ing costs, Dy­navax $DVAX last month made the de­ci­sion to fo­cus all its re­sources on its 2017-ap­proved he­pati­tis B vac­cine Hep­lisav-B, which ri­vals and su­per­sedes the ef­fi­ca­cy and con­ve­nience pro­file of GSK’s $GSK es­tab­lished En­ger­ix-B. The Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pa­ny will be on the look­out for an­oth­er com­peti­tor — VBI Vac­cines, which on Mon­day un­veiled late-stage da­ta on its hep B vac­cine: Sci-B-Vac.

Sci-B-Vac, which has al­ready se­cured ap­proval in Is­rael and 10 oth­er coun­tries, is in Phase III de­vel­op­ment in North Amer­i­ca and Eu­rope. It is en­gi­neered to mim­ic all three sur­face anti­gens of the hep B virus to in­duce a po­tent im­mune re­sponse and is be­ing de­vel­oped to work at low­er dos­es than ex­ist­ing hep B vac­cines.

VBI on Mon­day broke out da­ta from the PRO­TECT study, in which 1,607 sub­jects aged 18 years and old­er were ei­ther giv­en a three-dose course of Sci-B-Vac (10 µg) or a three-dose course of En­ger­ix-B (20 µg).

Sci-B-Vac failed to show that two dos­es of the drug were equal­ly ef­fec­tive as three dos­es of En­ger­ix-B in the study — a key sec­ondary end­point. In­vestors were not im­pressed, and the Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny’s shares $VBIV cratered 58% tak­ing VBI in­to pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry at 81 cents be­fore the open­ing bell on Mon­day.

Mean­while, the VBI vac­cine was found to be as pro­tec­tive as En­ger­ix-B at the end of the third vac­ci­na­tion — meet­ing the main goal of the study. In fact, da­ta showed that the rate of sero­pro­tec­tion (an an­ti­body re­sponse ca­pa­ble of pre­vent­ing in­fec­tion) — was 91.4% for Sci-B-Vac-treat­ed sub­jects, ver­sus 76.5% for En­ger­ix-B — a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence.

In ad­di­tion, the sero­pro­tec­tion rate (SPR) in sub­jects aged 45 and over was 89.4% for Sci-B-Vac, ver­sus 73.1% for En­ger­ix-B af­ter the third vac­ci­na­tion — meet­ing the co-pri­ma­ry end­point. It al­so cleared oth­er sec­ondary goals in sub-analy­ses strat­i­fied by age, gen­der, body mass in­dex, di­a­bet­ic sta­tus and smok­ing sta­tus.

Jeff Bax­ter VBI

Da­ta from an­oth­er late-stage tri­al, CON­STANT, com­par­ing Sci-B-Vac and En­ger­ix-B is ex­pect­ed by the end of 2019. Pend­ing the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of CON­STANT, VBI is on to sub­mit mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tions in the U.S., Eu­rope, and Cana­da next year, com­pa­ny chief Jeff Bax­ter said on Mon­day.

Hep B is trans­mit­ted through con­tact with blood and bod­i­ly flu­ids of an in­fect­ed per­son and is a high­ly in­fec­tious virus, 50 to 100 times more in­fec­tious than HIV — even slight laps­es in in­fec­tion con­trol can re­sult in pa­tient-to-pa­tient trans­mis­sion. Since the ear­ly 1990’s the Unit­ed States has im­ple­ment­ed vac­ci­na­tion pro­grams in new­born chil­dren, but those born be­fore re­main sus­cep­ti­ble. CDC da­ta now sug­gests 95% per­cent of new hep B in­fec­tions in the Unit­ed States oc­cur in adults, as there is no stan­dard­ized sys­tem for vac­ci­nat­ing peo­ple af­ter school age, and par­tic­u­lar­ly since spikes in in­jec­tion drug use may be lead­ing to acute out­breaks.

Af­ter be­ing linked to a string of in­ex­plic­a­ble safe­ty is­sues, Hep­lisav-B was fi­nal­ly ap­proved in No­vem­ber 2017. De­spite its check­ered path to the fin­ish line, the vac­cine’s ef­fi­ca­cy and con­ve­nience pro­file su­per­sedes En­ger­ix-B.

So­cial im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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UP­DAT­ED: Stay tuned: Bio­gen’s num­bers are great — it’s their wor­ri­some fu­ture that leaves an­a­lysts skit­tish

Biogen came out with an upbeat assessment of their Q2 numbers today, discounting the arrival of a key rival for its blockbuster Spinraza franchise. But the top execs remain grimly determined to not say much anything new about the sore points that have dragged down its stock, including the future of its big investment in Alzheimer’s or how it plans to invest the considerable cash that the big biotech continues to reap.

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Why wait? Cel­gene re­struc­tures a big Jounce pact — ze­ro­ing in on new I/O path­way with $530M deal and bump­ing ICOS

Celgene’s business team isn’t waiting for the big merger with Bristol-Myers Squibb to go through before syncing its strategy with the new mother ship.

Tuesday evening the big biotech unveiled a $530 million deal — $50 million in upfront cash — to amend their alliance with Jounce Therapeutics $JNCE to gain worldwide rights to JTX-8064, an antibody that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages. Their old, $2.6 billion deal is being scrapped, leaving Jounce with a pipeline that includes the lead drug, the ICOS-targeting vopratelimab.

PACT Phar­ma says it's per­fect­ed the tech to se­lect neoanti­gens for per­son­al­ized ther­a­py — now on­to the clin­ic

At PACT Pharma, the lofty goal to unleash a “tsunami” of T cells personalized for each patient has hinged on the ability to correctly identify the neoantigens that form something of a fingerprint for each tumor, and extract the small group of T cells primed to attack the cancer. It still has a long way to go testing a treatment in humans, but the biotech says it has nailed that highly technical piece of the process.

UP­DAT­ED: My­ovan­t's uter­ine fi­broid drug looks com­pet­i­tive in PhI­II — but can they van­quish mighty Ab­b­Vie?

Vivek Ramaswamy’s Myovant $MYOV has closely matched its positive first round of Phase III data for their uterine fibroid drug relugolix, setting up a head-to-head rivalry with pharma giant AbbVie as the little biotech steers to the market with a planned filing in Q4.

Here’s how Myovant plans to prevail over the AbbVie $ABBV empire.

In the study, 71.2% of women receiving once-daily relugolix combination therapy achieved the clinical response they were looking for, compared to only 14.7% in the control arm. The data comfortably reflected the same outcomes in the first Phase III — 73.4% of women receiving once-daily oral relugolix combination therapy achieved the responder criteria compared with 18.9% of women receiving placebo — which will reassure regulators that they are getting the carefully randomized data that qualifies for the FDA’s gold standard for success.

Lit­tle Mar­i­nus sees its shares eclipsed as the Sage ri­val fails to com­pare on PPD in PhII

The executive team at Sage $SAGE have skirted another potential pitfall on its way to racking up a big future for its depression drug Zulresso.

Little Marinus Pharmaceuticals $MRNS had sought to challenge the Sage drug with an IV formulation — followed by an oral version — of ganaxolone for postpartum depression. But researchers say their Phase II study failed to positively differentiate itself from a placebo at 28 days — leaving them to hold up “clinically meaningful” data within the first day of administration compared to the control arm.

Roche cuts loose Tam­i­flu OTC rights, hand­ing Sanofi the keys as the phar­ma gi­ant dou­bles down on Xofluza

Roche set out to make a better flu medicine than Tamiflu as that franchise was headed to a generic showdown. Now they’ll see just how well Xofluza stacks up against the mainstay drug after handing off over-the-counter rights in the US to Sanofi.

Sanofi $SNY says it will now step in to negotiate a deal with the FDA to steer Tamiflu into the OTC market, a role that could well involve new studies to ease passage of the drug out of doctor’s hands and into the consumer end of the market. And the French pharma giant will have first dibs over “selected” OTC markets around the world as they push ahead.

Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.