It’s over: Eli Lil­ly shares tank af­ter its huge gam­ble on Alzheimer’s drug solanezum­ab ends in fail­ure

Eli Lil­ly CEO John Lech­leit­er

Eli Lil­ly’s mon­u­men­tal ef­fort to prove once and for all that solanezum­ab could work in de­lay­ing Alzheimer’s has end­ed in to­tal fail­ure. The phar­ma gi­ant an­nounced this morn­ing that the drug failed its third Phase III ef­fort at Lil­ly, send­ing its stock in­to a tail­spin.

Back in 2012, in­ves­ti­ga­tors for Lil­ly con­vinced the top ex­ecs at the com­pa­ny that they had seen re­al, tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits for ear­ly-stage pa­tients tak­ing the drug, de­signed to elim­i­nate de­posits of amy­loid be­ta in the brain. The da­ta, they felt, war­rant­ed an­oth­er clin­i­cal odyssey in Phase III, even though that study had failed. And CEO John Lech­leit­er was a stout ad­vo­cate through­out, will­ing to in­vest heav­i­ly in the study. But in the end, the drug of­fered noth­ing but false hope to mil­lions of pa­tients, fail­ing to bend the curve on cog­ni­tive de­clines or the abil­i­ty of pa­tients to func­tion bet­ter.

Lil­ly will take a mod­est $150 mil­lion charge in the fourth quar­ter — just a frac­tion of what it has spent on this drug.

Its shares plunged 14% on the news. And the dam­age ex­tend­ed to oth­er com­pa­nies pur­su­ing the amy­loid be­ta the­o­ry. Bio­gen, which has pro­mot­ed the prospect of ad­u­canum­ab, watched its stock plunge 10% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing. And Ax­o­vant, a com­pa­ny that nabbed a failed Alzheimer’s drug from GSK and put it back in­to the clin­ic, saw its shares drop 18%, even though their drug goes af­ter a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent tar­get.

The fail­ure here casts a par­tic­u­lar pall over the amy­loid be­ta the­o­ry. The tox­ic pro­tein clus­ters in pa­tients’ brains are con­sid­ered the most like­ly sus­pect for trig­ger­ing the dis­ease, which af­flicts mil­lions. Mer­ck, Bio­gen, Lil­ly and oth­ers all have oth­er pro­grams in the pipeline that look at var­i­ous ways to re­duce the lev­el of amy­loid be­ta in the brain. And those pro­grams will con­tin­ue, along with the de­bate over what tar­gets should be used in fu­ture stud­ies.

Not­ed Leerink’s Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez:

This re­sult will no doubt cast a shad­ow over LLY’s Alzheimer’s Dis­ease (AD) pipeline port­fo­lio, which is heav­i­ly based on the be­ta amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis. Oth­er com­peti­tors’ pro­grams based on this hy­poth­e­sis will prob­a­bly con­tin­ue, but this will like­ly have neg­a­tive read-through on these re­sults in the short term.

The fail­ure at Eli Lil­ly al­so un­der­scores the dis­as­trous record that Alzheimer’s drugs over­all have had in the clin­ic for more than a decade, with a near-uni­ver­sal fail­ure rate. Eli Lil­ly has had one of the longest run­ning R&D ef­forts in Alzheimer’s, with some jaw-drop­ping set­backs along the way. It al­so tried to go af­ter Alzheimer’s with sema­gace­s­tat, on­ly to find that the drug ap­par­ent­ly in­creased the risk of the dis­ease. In­ves­ti­ga­tors and ex­ecs, though, have been steadi­ly lured on by the prospect of mega-block­buster sales, of­ten cru­el­ly tout­ing the po­ten­tial of a ther­a­py, on­ly to ad­mit fail­ure in the end.

“The re­sults of the solanezum­ab EX­PE­DI­TION3 tri­al were not what we had hoped for and we are dis­ap­point­ed for the mil­lions of peo­ple wait­ing for a po­ten­tial dis­ease-mod­i­fy­ing treat­ment for Alzheimer’s dis­ease,” said Lech­leit­er. “We will eval­u­ate the im­pact of these re­sults on the de­vel­op­ment plans for solanezum­ab and our oth­er Alzheimer’s pipeline as­sets.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.

When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ted White, Verrica CEO

Ver­ri­ca hits an­oth­er bump in the road with CMO re­lat­ed let­ter from FDA

The FDA has rejected Verrica’s new drug application for VP-102 again, with the company pinning the CRL on problems at a CMO that it was partnered with, the company announced Monday.

The FDA didn’t raise issues that directly relate to the manufacturing of VP-102, the company said, but raised “general quality issues” at the CMO’s facility. There were also no clinical concerns, it said, or need to collect more data.