Juno’s lead CAR-T slammed with a clin­i­cal hold in the last lap ahead of FDA fil­ing

One of Juno’s crit­i­cal stud­ies for its lead CAR-T ther­a­py has just been in­def­i­nite­ly side­lined fol­low­ing the un­ex­plained death of two pa­tients from neu­ro­tox­i­c­i­ty, de­rail­ing the com­pa­ny’s plans to seek mar­ket­ing ap­proval in time for a 2017 launch.

In a nasty sur­prise for share­hold­ers, Juno an­nounced Thurs­day af­ter­noon that the FDA had placed a clin­i­cal hold on its ROCK­ET study, a Phase II clin­i­cal tri­al of JCAR015 in adult pa­tients with re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry B cell acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia. That hob­bles the com­pa­ny just as it en­tered the last lap in a tight race with Kite Phar­ma.

The stock $JUNO im­me­di­ate­ly plunged 30%.

In a call with an­a­lysts, Juno CEO Hans Bish­op said that the com­pa­ny no longer ex­pects to get the drug on the mar­ket in 2017. That dead­line has now been pushed to 2018. He al­so said that an­oth­er pa­tient had died of neu­ro­tox­i­c­i­ty in May, but the study con­tin­ued af­ter dis­cus­sions with the FDA. All the pa­tients who died were young.

The biotech in­stant­ly point­ed to the re­cent ad­di­tion of flu­dara­bine as part of the pre-con­di­tion­ing reg­i­men pa­tients un­der­go as a like­ly cause of the deaths. And they have al­ready pro­posed drop­ping that.

“Flu­dara­bine in some ways acts like a dose am­pli­fi­er,” says Bish­op, ex­plain­ing the com­pa­ny’s the­o­ry of what went wrong and trig­gered these cas­es of cere­bral ede­ma.

The FDA has asked for: “A re­vised pa­tient in­formed con­sent form, a re­vised in­ves­ti­ga­tor brochure, a re­vised tri­al pro­to­col, and a copy of the pre­sen­ta­tion made to the agency yes­ter­day.”

All oth­er stud­ies are con­tin­u­ing. And a sub­mis­sion is al­ready ex­pect­ed to be sub­mit­ted this week, un­der­scor­ing the com­pa­ny’s be­lief that it can get the hold lift­ed quick­ly.

There are ab­solute­ly no guar­an­tees, how­ev­er, that that can be done. Zaf­gen has been wait­ing for months for reg­u­la­tors to ad­dress their clin­i­cal hold. And reg­u­la­tors are known for tak­ing their time in re­solv­ing these is­sues.

That’s a huge is­sue for Juno, which was telling re­porters just weeks ago that it was con­fi­dent of fil­ing for an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval in time to get their drug on the mar­ket next year —  rac­ing with Kite to be the first on the mar­ket. It may al­so af­fect oth­er pro­grams as well, if Juno is right. Re­cent re­search has in­di­cat­ed that adding flu­dara­bine im­proves CAR-T cell ex­pan­sion and per­sis­tence, pro­vid­ing what was thought to be an added edge in treat­ing can­cer.

Arch man­ag­ing part­ner and Juno di­rec­tor Robert Nelsen took to Twit­ter to de­fend the com­pa­ny.


Juno cap­tured pub­lic at­ten­tion with its pi­o­neer­ing work on CAR-Ts, tak­ing pa­tient cells and adapt­ing them with a chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tor to make them in­to can­cer cell at­tack ve­hi­cles. Ear­ly on in­ves­ti­ga­tors had to ad­just their stud­ies to counter the chance that pa­tients would be hit with a cy­tokine storm as the drug was ad­min­is­tered. This is the first time that neu­ro­tox­i­c­i­ty has halt­ed a CAR-T study.

And where does this leave Kite? Clear­ly in the lead.

The biotech put out a re­lease late Thurs­day as­sert­ing that it com­plet­ed en­rolling pa­tients for its on­go­ing Phase II piv­otal study of KTE-C19, leav­ing it on track for a sub­mis­sion to the FDA by the end of the year.

Has the mo­ment fi­nal­ly ar­rived for val­ue-based health­care?

RBC Capital Markets’ Healthcare Technology Analyst, Sean Dodge, spotlights a new breed of tech-enabled providers who are rapidly transforming the way clinicians deliver healthcare, and explores the key question: can this accelerating revolution overturn the US healthcare system?

Key points

Tech-enabled healthcare providers are poised to help the US transition to value, not volume, as the basis for reward.
The move to value-based care has policy momentum, but is risky and complex for clinicians.
Outsourced tech specialists are emerging to provide the required expertise, while healthcare and tech are also converging through M&A.
Value-based care remains in its early stages, but the transition is accelerating and represents a huge addressable market.

FDA spells out how can­cer drug de­vel­op­ers can use one tri­al for both ac­cel­er­at­ed and full ap­provals

The FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence has been a bright spot within the agency in terms of speeding new treatments to patients. That flexibility was on full display this morning as FDA released new draft guidance spelling out exactly how oncology drug developers can fulfill both the accelerated and full approval’s requirements with just a single randomized controlled trial.

While Congress recently passed legislation that will allow FDA to require confirmatory trials to be recruiting and ongoing prior to granting an accelerated approval, the agency is now making clear that the initial trial used to win the AA, if designed appropriately, can also serve as the trial for converting the accelerated approval into a full approval.

Lat­est on ul­tra-rare dis­ease ap­proval; Pos­i­tive, if mixed, signs for Bio­gen's ALS drug; Clay Sie­gall finds a new job; and more

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Over the last four years, we’ve honored 80 women whose extraordinary accomplishments have changed the game in biopharma R&D. You can now nominate someone to be highlighted in this year’s special report. Details are here.

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No­vo Nordisk oral semaglu­tide tri­al shows re­duc­tion in blood sug­ar, plus weight loss

Novo Nordisk is testing higher levels of its oral version of its GLP-1, semaglutide, and its type 2 diabetes trial results released today show reductions in blood sugar as well as weight loss.

In the Phase IIIb trial, Novo compared its oral semaglutide in 25 mg and 50 mg doses with the 14 mg version that’s currently the maximum approved dose. The trial looked at how the doses compared when added to a stable dose of one to three oral antidiabetic medicines in people with type 2 diabetes who were in need of an intensified treatment.

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Ly­me vac­cine test com­ple­tion is pushed back by a year as Pfiz­er, Val­ne­va say they'll ad­just tri­al

Valneva and Pfizer have adjusted the end date for the Phase III study of their investigational Lyme disease vaccine, pushing it back by a year after issues at a contract researcher led to thousands of US patients being dropped from the test.

In a March 20 update to clinicaltrials.gov, Valneva and Pfizer moved the primary completion date on the trial, called VALOR, from the end of 2024 to the end of 2025.

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Clay Siegall, Morphimmune CEO

Up­dat­ed: Ex-Seagen chief Clay Sie­gall emerges as CEO of pri­vate biotech

Clay Siegall will be back in the CEO seat, taking the helm of a private startup working on targeted cancer therapies.

It’s been almost a year since Siegall resigned from Seagen, the biotech he co-founded and led for more than 20 years, in the wake of domestic violence allegations by his then-wife. His eventual successor, David Epstein, sold the company to Pfizer in a $43 billion deal unveiled last week.

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FDA ad­vi­sors unan­i­mous­ly rec­om­mend ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for Bio­gen's ALS drug

A panel of outside advisors to the FDA unanimously recommended that the agency grant accelerated approval to Biogen’s ALS drug tofersen despite the drug failing the primary goal of its Phase III study, an endorsement that could pave a path forward for the treatment.

By a 9-0 vote, members of the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee said there was sufficient evidence that tofersen’s effect on a certain protein associated with ALS is reasonably likely to predict a benefit for patients. But panelists stopped short of advocating for a full approval, voting 3-5 against (with one abstention) and largely citing the failed pivotal study.

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Sijmen de Vries, Pharming CEO

FDA ap­proves Pharm­ing drug for ul­tra-rare im­mun­od­e­fi­cien­cy dis­ease

US regulators cleared an ultra-rare drug from Pharming Group, by way of Novartis, on Friday afternoon.

The Dutch biotech said the FDA greenlit leniolisib for an immunodeficiency disease known as activated phosphoinositide 3-kinase delta (PI3Kδ) syndrome, or APDS. People 12 years and older can receive the oral drug, to be marketed as Joenja, beginning early next month, Pharming said, five days ahead of the decision deadline set by the FDA as part of a priority review.

Stuart Peltz, former PTC Therapeutics CEO

Stu­art Peltz re­signs as PTC Ther­a­peu­tics CEO af­ter 25 years

Stuart Peltz, the longtime CEO of PTC Therapeutics who’s led the rare disease drug developer since its founding 25 years ago, is stepping down.

Succeeding him in the top job is Matthew Klein, who joined PTC in 2019 and was promoted to chief operating officer in 2022. In a call with analysts, he said the CEO transition has been planned for “quite some time” — in fact, as part of it, he gave the company’s presentation at the JP Morgan healthcare conference earlier this year.

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