J&J is jet­ti­son­ing two of its promised block­buster drugs, and it could­n't come at a worse time

Just 5 months af­ter try­ing to con­vince in­vestors that they were on to a large pipeline of block­busters head­ing to the mar­ket, J&J has al­ready de­cid­ed that two of them are es­sen­tial­ly worth­less, or just too dan­ger­ous to use.

Joaquin Du­a­to

The writ­ing was al­ready on the wall months ago for sirukum­ab, once a top prospect for rheuma­toid arthri­tis un­til its part­ners at Glax­o­SmithK­line sud­den­ly walked out. Ear­li­er this year, though, a pan­el of out­side ex­perts vot­ed down the mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, fret­ting over an un­ex­plained im­bal­ance in deaths in the study. The in­evitable for­mal re­jec­tion fol­lowed.

The oth­er drug to get the ax to­day is com­plete­ly un­ex­pect­ed. It’s ta­la­co­tuzum­ab (JNJ-56022473/CSL362) for acute myeloid leukemia. This Phase III drug, orig­i­nal­ly from CSL, us­es Xen­cor’s an­ti­body tech.

What went wrong? A spokesper­son for J&J says the drug failed to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions in Phase III:

That de­ci­sion was based on a rec­om­men­da­tion by the In­de­pen­dent Da­ta Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee as the Phase III re­sults did not demon­strate a pos­i­tive ben­e­fit/risk ra­tio.

J&J al­so of­fered a state­ment on sirukum­ab, not­ing that it’s dis­ap­point­ed by the need to kill it now.

We main­tain our be­lief in the ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty of sirukum­ab, an an­ti-IL-6 mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body.  How­ev­er, the need for ad­di­tion­al clin­i­cal da­ta would re­sult in sig­nif­i­cant de­lays to pa­tient ac­cess in parts of the world.  Giv­en this, as well as the avail­abil­i­ty of oth­er treat­ments tar­get­ing the IL-6 path­way, Janssen has made a strate­gic de­ci­sion to pri­or­i­tize oth­er as­sets in our port­fo­lio.

This is not the kind of news that J&J wants or needs right now. The phar­ma con­glom­er­ate has been strug­gling on the rev­enue side, leav­ing some promi­nent an­a­lysts won­der­ing if it can con­tin­ue to grow phar­ma sales.

In May, Joaquin Du­a­to, J&J’s world­wide chair­man for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, com­mit­ted to see­ing J&J’s brand­ed drug mar­ket main­tain a clip of 5% an­nu­al growth through 2020, de­spite some stiff “head­winds” on prices — “where price growth is flat­ten­ing” — with three ap­provals slat­ed for 2017 and four more which the phar­ma gi­ant ex­pects to ush­er in­to the mar­ket in 2018.

These new drugs were part of one leg of the com­pa­ny’s three-leg strat­e­gy for grow­ing rev­enue, with a promise that it can im­prove sig­nif­i­cant­ly on ex­ist­ing drugs — like Ste­lara, In­vokana and Xarel­to — while beef­ing up on a new core fo­cus on pul­monary ar­te­r­i­al hy­per­ten­sion through the Acte­lion buy­out.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

Gen­mab ax­es an ADC de­vel­op­ment pro­gram af­ter the da­ta fail to im­press

Genmab $GMAB has opted to ax one of its antibody-drug conjugates after watching it flop in the clinic.

The Danish biotech reported Tuesday that it decided to kill their program for enapotamab vedotin after the data gathered from expansion cohorts failed to measure up. According to the company:

While enapotamab vedotin has shown some evidence of clinical activity, this was not optimized by different dose schedules and/or predictive biomarkers. Accordingly, the data from the expansion cohorts did not meet Genmab’s stringent criteria for proof-of-concept.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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News brief­ing: Gilead part­ner Gala­pa­gos sells off CRO for $37M; Polyphor bags $3.3M from CF Foun­da­tion

Close Gilead ally Galapagos is selling off one of its contract research organizations to a Polish pharma company.

Galapagos has agreed to sell 100% of the outstanding shares in the CRO Fidelta to Selvita, in a deal worth roughly $37 million expected to close in the first week of January. The acquisition is expected to nearly double Selvita’s revenues, the company says, as well as expand its drug discovery efforts.

Michelle Longmire, Medable CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Med­able gets $91M for vir­tu­al clin­i­cal tri­als, bring­ing to­tal raise to $136M

As biotechs look to get clinical studies back on track amid the pandemic, Medable returned to the venture well for the second time this year, bagging a $91 million Series C to build out its virtual trial platform.

The software provider recently launched three new apps for decentralizing clinical trials, and saw a 500% revenue spike this year. And it isn’t alone. Back in August, Science 37 secured a $40 million round for its virtual trial tech, with support from Novartis, Sanofi Ventures and Amgen. Patients and researchers are taking a liking to the online approach, suggesting regulators could allow it to become a new normal even after the pandemic is over.

PhRMA sues Trump gov­ern­ment over drug im­por­ta­tion rule — days be­fore it's set to be ef­fec­tive

Ever since President Donald Trump floated the idea of using state-sponsored importation to lower drug prices, PhRMA has made its opposition abundant. Not only is the proposal dangerous and futile,  but the trade group has also argued that it may even be illegal.

Now that the FDA has issued its final rule permitting states to bring certain drugs from Canada, PhRMA is taking the government to court — just a few days before the rule is slated to take effect.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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