Io­n­is, Akcea team face some tough ques­tions on safe­ty as FDA in­sid­ers pon­der risks linked to volane­sors­en

Re­searchers for Io­n­is’ $IONS ma­jor­i­ty-owned spin­out Akcea will have plen­ty of per­suad­ing to do this week if they ever ex­pect to get their drug volane­sors­en on the mar­ket.

The FDA in­ter­nal re­view came out to­day, re­flect­ing the same deep con­cerns that an­a­lysts have ex­pressed about the safe­ty of a drug that has been linked with re­peat­ed in­stances of sud­den and dan­ger­ous drops in platelet counts. Platelets are need­ed to trig­ger the clot­ting that stops bleed­ing.

Akcea’s shares $AK­CA im­me­di­ate­ly tum­bled 15% on the neg­a­tive tone of the in­ter­nal re­view.

James Smith

In a memo to the ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee meet­ing on Thurs­day, 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? That’s the big ques­tion that the de­vel­op­ers face this week. Reg­u­la­tors are 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. 

From Smith’s note:

Al­though the re­views high­light sev­er­al safe­ty/tol­er­a­bil­i­ty is­sues, the pri­ma­ry fo­cus for both the ap­pli­cant and the re­view­ers has been the risk of throm­bo­cy­tope­nia (low blood platelet counts) and re­sult­ing po­ten­tial for se­ri­ous bleed­ing….(S)ome pa­tients can ex­hib­it a rapid and un­pre­dictable re­duc­tion in platelets to ex­treme­ly low lev­els. In CS6, no pa­tients as­signed to place­bo had a platelet count fall be­low 100,000/uL com­pared with 18 (55%) of 33 pa­tients as­signed to volane­sors­en…Switch­ing to bi­week­ly dos­ing and/or dose in­ter­rup­tions have not al­ways led to a suf­fi­cient­ly time­ly re­cov­ery of platelet count; some pa­tients have re­quired treat­ment with pred­nisone, hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, and/or ad­min­is­tra­tion of IVIG. To date, se­ri­ous bleed­ing events have not been ob­served in this rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed safe­ty data­base, but the re­view­ers high­light a high­er risk of non-se­ri­ous bleed­ing-re­lat­ed ad­verse events with volane­sors­en (e.g., epis­taxis, pe­techi­ae). Some of these events oc­curred at platelet lev­els where spon­ta­neous bleed­ing would be un­ex­pect­ed, sug­gest­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an ab­nor­mal­i­ty of platelet func­tion as well as an ef­fect on platelet count.

Io­n­is re­port­ed a lit­tle more that a year ago that it had achieved its ef­fi­ca­cy end­point in Phase III. But five pa­tients were forced out of the tri­al due to a threat­en­ing de­cline in platelet counts. Grade 4 throm­bo­cy­tope­nia oc­curred in three pa­tients, which end­ed af­ter they stopped dos­ing. There were no with­drawals due to platelet counts af­ter the com­pa­ny be­gan mon­i­tor­ing the side ef­fect.

If they do get an ap­proval, says Smith, it will have to come with a REMS. But right now, that looks like the best case sce­nario.

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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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.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.