In­vestors lost big as Alzheimer’s R&D went over the cliff in 2019. Will they ever come back?

Neu­rotrope this week joined the long line of bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies that have been mauled by clin­i­cal fail­ure for Alzheimer’s drugs. But their crushed shares ($NTRP down from more than $8 in June to pen­ny stock range to­day) rep­re­sent­ed just a tiny drop in the buck­et of red ink that has drained from play­ers which have pur­sued the great­est of all Holy Grails in drug R&D. Decades of de­feat, head­lined by the likes of solanezum­ab at Eli Lil­ly stretch­ing to the most re­cent sna­fu with Bio­gen’s ad­u­canum­ab, have forced a slew of play­ers to change course on their R&D strat­e­gy — or just leave it in lim­bo.

How bad is it?

Bio­gen’s shares tanked when ad­u­canum­ab bombed, forc­ing an ear­ly halt to the late-stage ef­fort. The mar­ket cap shriv­eled by bil­lions, and it’s still down about 29% from pre-cri­sis lev­els. That plunge came af­ter Roche’s crenezum­ab flopped, though Roche was much bet­ter po­si­tioned to han­dle the fail­ure. But its part­ner, AC Im­mune $ACIU saw its share price halved in the fall­out.

The field went over the cliff in 2019.

What makes this im­por­tant for the long run?

In­vestors and an­a­lysts don’t gen­er­al­ly care to en­ter a mine­field where the chance of be­ing blown sky-high has been run­ning 100% — a mes­sage that has been heard loud and clear in re­cent months. Bio­gen — still al­lied to Ei­sai — has es­sen­tial­ly been ad­vised to write off Alzheimer’s al­to­geth­er as a com­plete loss. The amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis lies in tat­ters, while a se­ries of BACE fail­ures al­so un­der­scored some trou­bling safe­ty is­sues that made it all the way in­to a se­ries of late-stage stud­ies.

No one here re­al­ly knows what they’re do­ing. And any new rounds of mid-stage da­ta claim­ing suc­cess against bio­mark­ers are wide­ly ig­nored. Be­cause the bio­mark­ers have nev­er been proven to be in­dica­tive of suc­cess.

And with­out in­vestor sup­port, you can for­get any ma­jor new for­ays in late-stage test­ing.

The fo­cus now has shift­ed to tau and com­bo ther­a­pies, as new com­pa­nies start to tout ques­tion­able ev­i­dence of “suc­cess” in or­der to try to lure in­vestors back. But af­ter you’ve been burned this many times, that ar­gu­ment will be hard to make.

Sean Parker, AP

Sean Park­er helps cre­ate a CRISPRed cell ther­a­py 2.0 play — and he’s got a high-pro­file set of lead­ers on the team

You can rack up one more high-profile debut effort in the wave of activity forming around cell therapy 2.0. It’s another appealing Bay Area group that’s attracted some of the top hands in the business to a multi-year effort to create a breakthrough. And they have $85 million in hand to make that first big step to the clinic.

Today it’s Ken Drazan and the team at South San Francisco-based ArsenalBio that are coming from behind the curtain for a public bow, backed by billionaire Sean Parker and a collection of investors that includes Beth Seidenberg’s new venture investment operation based in LA.
Drazan — a J&J Innovation vet with a long record of entrepreneurial endeavors — exited the stage in 2018 when his last mission ended as he stepped aside as president of Grail. It wasn’t long, though, before he was helping out with a business plan for ArsenalBio that revolved around the work of a large group of interconnected scientists supported by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology.

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Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.

Ronald Herb­st fol­lows Med­Im­mune ex­o­dus to Pyx­is CSO post; Jeff God­dard to suc­ceed CEO of AIT Bio­science

→ The outflow of top execs from MedImmune continues to fill the leadership ranks of smaller biotechs. The latest to take off is Ronald Herbst, the head of oncology research, who’s assuming the CSO post at Pyxis Oncology.  

Herbst was part of the old MedImmune organization AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot restructured earlier this year, reorganizing the company and eliminating the storied subsidiary as a separate organization.

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Mer­ck is tak­ing the ax to its US op­er­a­tions, cut­ting 500 jobs in its lat­est re­or­ga­ni­za­tion

Merck is cutting 500 jobs in its US sales and headquarters commercial teams in its latest effort to find new ways to streamline the operation.

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UP­DAT­ED: J&J's Xarel­to, Amar­in's Vas­cepa are cost-ef­fec­tive, not bud­get friend­ly — ICER

ICER, an increasingly influential cost-effectiveness watchdog in the United States, has concluded in its review of treatments for cardiovascular disease that while the cost of J&J’s Xarelto and Amarin’s Vascepa meet its benchmark for value pricing — the two treatments will not likely treat as many patients as hoped without surpassing the annual budget threshold calculated by ICER for each therapy.

Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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The FDA will hus­tle up an ex­pe­dit­ed re­view for As­traZeneca’s next shot at a block­buster can­cer drug fran­chise

AstraZeneca paid a hefty price to partner with Daiichi Sankyo on their experimental antibody drug conjugate for HER2 positive breast cancer. And they’ve been rewarded with a fast ride through the FDA, with a straight shot at creating another blockbuster oncology franchise.

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