Keytru­da/epaca­do­stat com­bo crash­es in PhI­II melanoma study, rais­ing ques­tions about the fu­ture of IDO for In­cyte

A close­ly-watched Phase III study com­bin­ing Mer­ck’s PD-1 star Keytru­da with In­cyte’s IDO1 drug epaca­do­stat for metasta­t­ic melanoma has failed, cast­ing a pall over the fu­ture of this com­bi­na­tion ap­proach.

Ab­sent a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival, as well as the like­ly fail­ure of the drug com­bi­na­tion to ex­tend over­all sur­vival, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors are halt­ing the study. In­cyte stuck with the top-line re­sults in their re­lease, promis­ing to roll out the full da­ta set lat­er. And they made it clear in a call with an­a­lysts this morn­ing that the ECHO-301 study fail­ure “has a neg­a­tive im­pact on the prob­a­bil­i­ty of suc­cess of the oth­er (com­bi­na­tion) stud­ies” — send­ing a shock wave through the I/O field.

In­cyte’s shares plunged 23% on the news, wip­ing out more than $3.5 bil­lion in mar­ket cap. The im­pli­ca­tions for oth­er IDO1 drugs al­so dam­aged oth­er com­pa­nies in the field, in­clud­ing NewLink $NLNK, down 44%, as well as Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY down 2.6%.

Steven Stein

Mer­ck is one of a slate of bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies to com­bine their check­points with In­cyte’s IDO drug, look­ing to im­prove pa­tients chances for liv­ing longer with can­cer. The fail­ure of this first late-stage test, af­ter stok­ing hopes for some ma­jor ad­vances, now leaves In­cyte’s drug $IN­CY in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion, cre­at­ing a cri­sis for CEO Hervé Hop­penot.

Epaca­do­stat was num­ber 3 on Eval­u­ate Phar­ma’s top 10 list of 2018 launch­es, with close to $2 bil­lion in pro­ject­ed peak sales es­ti­mates. And UBS an­a­lysts gave this study a 100% chance of suc­cess, not­ing the high ex­pec­ta­tions — and hype — fo­cused on this drug.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors tracked a haz­ard ra­tio of 1.00, which “leaves no doubt that in this study… the com­pound didn’t per­form,” said Steven Stein, the chief med­ical of­fi­cer, in the call. And there was no pos­i­tive glim­mer of hope seen in any sub­group analy­sis. “Giv­en those haz­ard ra­tios it is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to dis­cern a sub­group with suf­fi­cient ef­fect.”

The fail­ure of the study al­so rais­es the chances that oth­er tri­als in the pro­gram may need to be ad­just­ed, he added, with pos­si­ble sta­tis­ti­cal and bio­mark­er mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

An­a­lysts had been en­cour­aged last sum­mer with the lat­est look at da­ta from a sin­gle-arm melanoma study, mak­ing this one of the most an­tic­i­pat­ed stud­ies of 2018. In­cyte faces a dif­fi­cult task now in re­build­ing hopes for a block­buster fu­ture as the field awaits a long string of read outs from com­bi­na­tion tri­als.

An­tic­i­pat­ing some big re­turns, a whole host of play­ers has dived in­to IDO. A re­cent study from the Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute found that there were 18 IDOs in the pipeline. Epaca­do­stat was the most ad­vanced of them all, but there have been a num­ber of set­backs, in­clud­ing a pro­gram pur­sued by Genen­tech, which the com­pa­ny aban­doned af­ter see­ing weak re­sults. And a grow­ing line­up of fail­ures will boost fears that this is the wrong tar­get.

That woe­ful feel­ing didn’t help mat­ters at Bris­tol-My­ers, which has one of the most ad­vanced IDOs in the clin­ic af­ter In­cyte’s pro­gram. Bris­tol-My­ers paid $1.25 bil­lion to ob­tain their drug in the Flexus buy­out, which was im­pli­cat­ed in a suit In­cyte filed claim­ing that a for­mer staffer had stolen trade se­crets on their drug, hand­ing them off to Flexus. Sev­er­al an­a­lysts have out­lined rea­sons why they think that Bris­tol-My­ers has the bet­ter of the two drugs.

With the alarm bells ring­ing loud­ly all day Fri­day, NewLink re­spond­ed by putting out a re­lease as­sert­ing that its drug in­dox­i­mod had a “dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed mech­a­nism of ac­tion.” The biotech al­so said that it would do a re­view of its pro­grams in light of the set­back at In­cyte.

The failed study will help gain “un­der­stand­ing of the role of IDO1 in­hi­bi­tion in com­bi­na­tion with PD-1 an­tag­o­nists, and may in­form our broad­er epaca­do­stat clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­gram,” said Steven Stein, chief med­ical of­fi­cer, In­cyte. “We re­main ded­i­cat­ed to trans­form­ing the treat­ment of can­cer and will con­tin­ue to ex­plore how IDO1 in­hi­bi­tion and oth­er nov­el mech­a­nisms can po­ten­tial­ly im­prove out­comes for pa­tients in need.”


Im­age: Hervé Hop­penot, In­cyte CEO at an End­points News event, Jan­u­ary 2018. END­POINTS NEWS

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

Bo Cumbo, AavantiBio CEO (file photo)

Bo Cum­bo jumps from the top com­mer­cial post at Sarep­ta to the helm of a gene ther­a­py start­up with some in­flu­en­tial back­ers, big plans and $107M

After a 7-year stretch building the commercial team at Sarepta, longtime drug salesman Bo Cumbo is jumping to the entrepreneurial side of the business, taking the helm of a startup that’s got several deep-pocket investors. And he’s not just bringing his experience in selling drugs.

He tells me that when he told Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram about it, his boss got excited about the venture and opted to jump in with a $15 million investment from Sarepta to add to the launch money, alongside 3 of the busiest investors in biotech.

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Covid-19 roundup: WSJ of­fers in­side look at Ox­ford-As­traZeneca deal, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial terms; Lil­ly plant un­der scruti­ny again

Oxford scientists developing a Covid-19 vaccine are working with British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and together the pair have become one of the frontrunners in the race to end the pandemic. But a new Wall Street Journal report out Wednesday offered a behind-the-scenes look at how that deal came together in the wake of a scholar-led revolt over a potential collaboration with Merck, and included previously unreported financial terms of the AstraZeneca deal.

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Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, Atea president and CEO (file photo)

Roche wades deep­er in­to Covid-19 fight, ink­ing an­tivi­ral pact with $350M cash fol­low­ing Re­gen­eron deal

Roche is making its first bet on an antiviral against Covid-19 in style, shelling out $350 million in cash to grab ex-US rights.

The drug comes from Atea Pharmaceuticals, the 7-year-old biotech created by Pharmasset co-founder Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, which essentially rebranded itself as a Covid-19 fighter in May when it closed a whopping $215 million venture round. Over a dozen investors bought in, including marquee names like Bain Capital and RA Capital.

Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

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Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah (file photo)

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah's RA Cap­i­tal has $461M more to play with, af­ter 'rapid' in­vest­ment in the last 15 months

Just over 15 months after launching its first venture fund, RA Capital Management is ready for more. And this time the firm is bringing an even bigger load of cash to the table.

Announcing the close of its Nexus II fund on Wednesday, RA said it raised $461 million for investments in private companies across the biotech industry. The first venture fund, which raised $300 million, has churned through roughly 80% of its capital already, a pace that managing partner Raj Shah called unusually quick.

RBC's Bri­an Abra­hams holds a mock ad­comm on Bio­gen's iffy ad­u­canum­ab da­ta — and most of these ex­perts don't see a path to an ap­proval

As catalysts go, few loom larger than the aducanumab adcomm slated for Nov. 6.

With its big franchise under assault, Biogen is betting the ranch that its mixed late-stage Alzheimer’s data can squeak past the experts and regulators and get onto the market. And the topic — after a decade of Alzheimer’s R&D disasters in what still represents the El Dorado of drug markets — remains in the center ring of discussions around late-stage pipeline prospects.

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UP­DAT­ED: CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics gets a snap­shot of off-the-shelf CAR-T suc­cess in B-cell ma­lig­nan­cies — marred by the death of a pa­tient

Just days after scientific founder Emmanuelle Charpentier shared the Nobel prize for her work on CRISPR/Cas9, CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP is showing off a snapshot of success in their early-stage study for an off-the-shelf CAR-T approach to CD19+ B cell malignancies — a snapshot marred by the death of a patient who had been given a high dose of the treatment.

Using their gene editing tech, researchers for CRISPR engineered cells from healthy donors into an attack vehicle aimed at cancer, something that has been achieved with great success using patients’ own cells — the autologous approach. But autologous CAR-T is hampered by the more complex vein-to-vein requirement that delays treatment, and now CRISPR Therapeutics along with other players like Allogene are determined to replace the pioneers with CAR-T 2.0.

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