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.

2019 Trin­i­ty Drug In­dex Eval­u­ates Ac­tu­al Com­mer­cial Per­for­mance of Nov­el Drugs Ap­proved in 2016

Fewer Approvals, but Neurology Rivals Oncology and Sees Major Innovations

This report, the fourth in our Trinity Drug Index series, outlines key themes and emerging trends in the industry as we progress towards a new world of targeted and innovative products. It provides a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of novel drugs approved by the FDA in 2016, scoring each on its commercial performance, therapeutic value, and R&D investment (Table 1: Drug ranking – Ratings on a 1-5 scale).

How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Roche's Tecen­triq stum­bles in an­oth­er blad­der can­cer sub­set

Just weeks after Merck’s star checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda secured FDA approval for a subset of bladder cancer patients, Swiss competitor Roche’s Tecentriq has stumbled in a pivotal bladder cancer study.

The 809-patient trial — IMvigor010 — tested the PD-L1 drug in patients with muscle-invasive urothelial cancer (MIUC) who had undergone surgery, and were at high risk for recurrence.

2019 a 'trans­for­ma­tive year' for phar­ma M&A. Is that a good thing?

Big Pharma keeps getting bigger.

Fueled by the mega-mergers between Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgene and between Allergan and AbbVie, the industry last year saw $350 billion worth of M&A, according to the new year-end report from the consultants at PwC.  That’s a more than 50% increase on 2018.

“I kind of look at 2019 as a transformational year,” report author Glen Hunzinger told Endpoints News. 

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UP­DAT­ED: Eli Lil­ly’s $1.6B can­cer drug failed to spark even the slight­est pos­i­tive gain for pa­tients in its 1st PhI­II

Eli Lilly had high hopes for its pegylated IL-10 drug pegilodecakin when it bought Armo last year for $1.6 billion in cash. But after reporting a few months ago that it had failed a Phase III in pancreatic cancer, without the data, its likely value has plunged. And now we’re getting some exact data that underscore just how little positive effect it had.

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Stephen Hahn, AP

The FDA has de­val­ued the gold stan­dard on R&D. And that threat­ens every­one in drug de­vel­op­ment

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

A few weeks ago, when Stephen Hahn was being lightly queried by Senators in his confirmation hearing as the new commissioner of the FDA, he made the usual vow to maintain the gold standard in drug development.

Neatly summarized, that standard requires the agency to sign off on clinical data — usually from two, well-controlled human studies — that prove a drug’s benefit outweighs any risks.

Over the last few years, biopharma has enjoyed an unprecedented loosening over just what it takes to clear that bar. Regulators are more willing to drop the second trial requirement ahead of an accelerated approval — particularly if they have an unmet medical need where patients are clamoring for a therapy.

That confirmatory trial the FDA demands can wait a few years. And most everyone in biopharma would tell you that’s the right thing for patients. They know its a tonic for everyone in the industry faced with pushing a drug through clinical development. And it’s helped inspire a global biotech boom.

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UP­DAT­ED: New play­ers are jump­ing in­to the scram­ble to de­vel­op a vac­cine as pan­dem­ic pan­ic spreads fast

When the CNN news crew in Wuhan caught wind of the Chinese government’s plan to quarantine the city of 11 million people, they made a run for one of the last trains out — their Atlanta colleagues urging them on. On the way to the train station, they were forced to skirt the local seafood market, where the coronavirus at the heart of a brewing outbreak may have taken root.

And they breathlessly reported every moment of the early morning dash.

In shuttering the city, triggering an exodus of masked residents who caught wind of the quarantine ahead of time, China signaled that they were prepared to take extreme actions to stop the spread of a virus that has claimed 17 lives, sickened many more and panicked people around the globe.

CNN helped illustrate how hard all that can be.

The early reaction in the biotech industry has been classic, with small-cap companies scrambling to headline efforts to step in fast. But there are also new players in the field with new tech that has been introduced since the last of a series of pandemic panics that could change the usual storylines. And they’re volunteering for a crash course in speeding up vaccine development — a field where overnight solutions have been impossible to prove.

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UP­DAT­ED: FDA’s golodirsen CRL: Sarep­ta’s Duchenne drugs are dan­ger­ous to pa­tients, of­fer­ing on­ly a small ben­e­fit. And where's that con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al?

Back last summer, Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram told Duchenne MD families and investors that the FDA’s shock rejection of their second Duchenne MD drug golodirsen was due to some concerns regulators raised about the risk of infection and the possibility of kidney toxicity. But when pressed to release the letter for all to see, he declined, according to a report from BioPharmaDive, saying that kind of move “might not look like we’re being as respectful as we’d like to be.”

He went on to assure everyone that he hadn’t misrepresented the CRL.

But Ingram’s public remarks didn’t include everything in the letter, which — following the FDA’s surprise about-face and unexplained approval — has now been posted on the FDA’s website and broadly circulated on Twitter early Wednesday.

The CRL raises plenty of fresh questions about why the FDA abruptly decided to reverse itself and hand out an OK for a drug a senior regulator at the FDA believed — 5 months ago, when he wrote the letter — is dangerous to patients. It also puts the spotlight back on Sarepta $SRPT, which failed to launch a confirmatory study of eteplirsen, which was only approved after a heated internal controversy at the FDA. Ellis Unger, director of CDER’s Office of Drug Evaluation I, notes that study could have clarified quite a lot about the benefit and risks associated with their drugs — which can cost as much as a million dollars per patient per year, depending on weight.

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Wuhan virus out­break trig­gers in­evitable small-biotech ral­ly

Every few years, a public health crisis (think Ebola, Zika) spurred by a rogue pathogen triggers a small-biotech rally, as drugmakers emerge from the woodwork with ambitious plans to treat the mounting outbreak. In most cases, that enthusiasm never quite delivers.

Things are no different, as the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China takes hold. There have been close to 300 confirmed human infections in China, and at least four deaths. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, which include MERS and SARS. On Tuesday, the CDC reported the virus was detected in a US traveler returning from Wuhan.