Io­n­is, Akcea just got hand­ed a one-way tick­et to the end of the reg­u­la­to­ry line as the FDA re­jects volane­sors­en

Io­n­is $IONS and its sis­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion at Akcea have just been slammed with an un­ex­pect­ed re­jec­tion of volane­sors­en, their drug for reg­u­lat­ing plas­ma triglyc­eride for pa­tients with rare cas­es of fa­mil­ial chy­lomi­crone­mia syn­drome.

What hap­pened?

Sim­ply put, we don’t know. All Io­n­is and Akcea $AK­CA did was put out a state­ment re­peat­ing some of their ear­li­er talk­ing points in fa­vor of the drug, which man­aged to pass muster at the ex­pert pan­el meet­ing that was called to re­view it. They didn’t say why the drug was re­ject­ed or what they have to do to win reg­u­la­tors over.

But we can guess. 

The agency’s in­ter­nal re­view raised some daunt­ing ques­tions about their drug’s safe­ty pro­file. 

In a memo to the ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee meet­ing, James Smith, the deputy di­rec­tor of the Di­vi­sion of Me­tab­o­lism and En­docrinol­o­gy Prod­ucts, spot­light­ed a gen­er­al agree­ment that the drug has a clear­ly pos­i­tive ef­fect on reg­u­lat­ing plas­ma triglyc­eride for pa­tients with rare cas­es of fa­mil­ial chy­lomi­crone­mia syn­drome. That’s a sur­ro­gate end­point for the dis­ease.

But is the ben­e­fit re­al­ly worth the risk of bleed­ing, af­ter the drug was linked to sud­den and un­ex­pect­ed drops in platelet counts?

Reg­u­la­tors were al­so some­what per­plexed by Akcea’s wish to switch the dos­ing reg­i­men and their platelet mon­i­tor­ing strat­e­gy to some­thing that was nev­er test­ed in the clin­i­cal tri­als.

The agency’s ex­pert pan­el con­sid­ered those is­sues, and vot­ed 12 to 8 in fa­vor of an ap­proval — the kind of en­dorse­ment that car­ries par­tic­u­lar­ly heavy weight for rare dis­eases. As a re­sult, in­vestors weren’t ex­pect­ing any of this. Akcea’s shares plunged 30% on the news, while Io­n­is’ stock dived more than 13%.

Paul Mat­teis at Stifel looked at the tea leaves and not­ed:

AK­CA was close to the vest on the na­ture of the CRL mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for us to know what the path for­ward is for Waylivra lead­ing us to re­move val­u­a­tion cred­it. How­ev­er, we do know from the ad­comm that the FDA was fo­cused the risk of platelet de­clines and with Waylivra’s over­all risk/ben­e­fit pro­file. We think the main in­vestor ques­tion on this an­nounce­ment will be re­gard­ing read-through to Tegse­di. Our as­sump­tion for Tegse­di ap­proval re­mains un­changed giv­en (1) it’s ap­proval in EU and (2) it’s stronger dataset, in our view – based on clean­er safe­ty/ef­fi­ca­cy con­veyed on mea­sures of dis­ease symp­to­ma­tol­ogy, in­clud­ing qual­i­ty-of-life.

This morn­ing Al­ny­lam caught a re­lief ral­ly as it be­came ap­par­ent that Pfiz­er would have to fight for every inch of their rare dis­ease mar­ket niche in AT­TR. That left Io­n­is’ and Akcea’s ri­val ther­a­py in an un­com­fort­able third place post. That helped make Mon­day a tough time for these two com­pa­nies.


This day just keeps get­ting worse for these two close­ly al­lied com­pa­nies, which are very un­hap­py this evening.

“We are ex­treme­ly dis­ap­point­ed with the FDA’s de­ci­sion. FCS is an ul­tra-rare and de­bil­i­tat­ing dis­ease. Our dis­ap­point­ment ex­tends to the pa­tient and physi­cian com­mu­ni­ty who cur­rent­ly do not have a treat­ment avail­able to them. We con­tin­ue to feel strong­ly that WAYLIVRA demon­strates a fa­vor­able ben­e­fit/risk pro­file in peo­ple with FCS as was re­flect­ed in the pos­i­tive out­come from our Ad­vi­so­ry Com­mit­tee hear­ing in May. We will con­tin­ue to work with the FDA to con­firm the path for­ward,” said Paula Soteropou­los, Akcea’s chief ex­ec­u­tive.

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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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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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.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

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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J&J ad­comm live blog: J&J work­ing on vac­cine for vari­ants, tri­al sched­uled for sum­mer

This week, Moderna announced it would begin testing a modified version of their mRNA vaccine to tackle the vaccine-resistant B1.351 variant that popped up in South Africa. Pfizer said it would test giving people an extra boost of its original vaccine to accomplish the same.

J&J revealed at the adcomm that they, too, have been working on a modified vaccine to tackle emerging variants.

The company didn’t reveal much detail, including how they modified the vaccine or if they were targeting the same B 1.351 variant, but Johan van Hoof said they would begin testing a new construct in the summer. The FDA has said they would allow modified vaccines for variants to be authorized after quick immunological studies that track whether the vaccine elicits antibodies against the new variant.