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.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data is messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data is exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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David Livingston (Credit: Michael Sazel for CeMM)

Renowned Dana-Far­ber sci­en­tist, men­tor and bio­phar­ma ad­vi­sor David Liv­ingston has died

David Livingston, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Med scientist who helped shine a light on some of the key molecular drivers of breast and ovarian cancer, died unexpectedly last Sunday.

One of the senior leaders at Dana-Farber during his nearly half century of work there, Livingston was credited with shedding light on the genes that regulate cell growth, with insights into inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that helped lay the scientific foundation for targeted therapies and earlier detection that have transformed the field.

David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er throws its weight be­hind LNP play­er eye­ing mR­NA treat­ments for CF, PCD

David Lockhart did not see the meteoric rise of messenger RNA and lipid nanoparticles coming.

Thanks to the worldwide fight against Covid-19, mRNA — the genetic code that can be engineered to turn the body into a mini protein factory — and LNPs, those tiny bubbles of fat carrying those instructions, have found their way into hundreds of millions of people. Within the biotech world, pioneers like Alnylam and Intellia have demonstrated just how versatile LNPs can be as a delivery vehicle for anything from siRNA to CRISPR/Cas9.

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Bris­tol My­ers pledges to sell its Ac­celeron shares as ac­tivist in­vestors cir­cle Mer­ck­'s $11.5B buy­out — re­port

Just as Avoro Capital’s campaign to derail Merck’s proposed $11.5 billion buyout of Acceleron gains steam, Bristol Myers Squibb is leaning in with some hefty counterweight.

The pharma giant is planning to tender its Acceleron shares, Bloomberg reported, which add up to a sizable 11.5% stake. Based on the offer price, the sale would net Bristol Myers around $1.3 billion.

To complete its deal, Merck needs a majority of shareholders to agree to sell their shares.

Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

Ex­clu­sive: Athi­ra CEO Leen Kawas re­signs af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds she ma­nip­u­lat­ed da­ta

Leen Kawas, CEO and founder of the Alzheimer’s upstart Athira Pharma, has resigned after an internal investigation found she altered images in her doctoral thesis and four other papers that were foundational to establishing the company.

Mark Litton, the company’s COO since June 2019 and a longtime biotech executive, has been named full-time CEO. Kawas, meanwhile, will no longer have ties to the company except for owning a few hundred thousand shares.

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Some can­cer pa­tients now have to find oth­er op­tions as Bris­tol My­er­s' Abrax­ane falls in­to short­age from man­u­fac­tur­ing woes

When Beth Hogan, a metastatic pancreatic cancer patient, showed up for her infusion at Yale’s Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven, CT on Oct. 11, she said she was informed that day that she would not be receiving Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abraxane, part of her combo treatment, because of a shortage.

“I was told we don’t know when you can have it,” she told Endpoints News via email, adding that she doesn’t expect to receive any Abraxane this coming Monday at her treatment appointment either, and she doesn’t know when things will change.

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico)

Up­dat­ed: Bio­gen sells just $300K worth of Aduhelm in Q3, as ques­tions on long-term vi­a­bil­i­ty re­main

Barely anyone is accessing Biogen’s controversial Alzheimer’s treatment, with the company reporting just $0.3 million in Aduhelm sales in the third quarter. Although investors will be looking to the longer term, when CMS may decide to cover the drug and open the floodgates for more reimbursement, use of the drug is currently stalled.

Since June, when the FDA first signed off on the drug under its accelerated pathway, Biogen said Wednesday that it’s sold a total of $2 million worth of Aduhelm. That’s a far cry from the peak Wall Street sales estimate of about $9 billion in annual sales, and even a ways away from the sell-side consensus of about $17 million in Q3 sales.

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Eli Lil­ly or­dered to pay roy­al­ties on block­buster di­a­betes drugs, though ex­act dam­ages are un­clear

A federal court found Eli Lilly in breach of a royalty agreement with an Arizona company, likely sending the case — which deals with Lilly’s blockbuster diabetes drugs — to a trial.

The Arizona District Court ordered Lilly to pay the royalties to Tucson, AZ-based Research Corporation Technologies, per an opinion delivered Tuesday, stemming from a 1990 agreement involving materials used in manufacturing Lilly’s insulin products. Lilly had agreed to pay a 2% royalty on worldwide sales, and the exact amount of damages will be determined in a trial, Judge Scott Rash wrote.