King can­cer: The top 10 ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas in bio­phar­ma R&D

It’s not go­ing to come as a sur­prise to any­one who’s been pay­ing at­ten­tion to drug R&D trends that can­cer is the num­ber 1 dis­ease in terms of new drug de­vel­op­ment projects. But it is amaz­ing to see ex­act­ly how much on­col­o­gy dom­i­nates the in­dus­try as nev­er be­fore.

At a time the first CAR-T looks to be on the thresh­old of a pi­o­neer­ing ap­proval and the first wave of PD-(L)1 drugs are spurring hun­dreds of com­bi­na­tion stud­ies, can­cer ac­count­ed for 8,651 of the to­tal num­ber of pipeline projects count­ed by the Analy­sis Group, crunch­ing the num­bers in a new re­port com­mis­sioned by PhRMA. That’s more than a third of the 24,389 pre­clin­i­cal through Phase III pro­grams tracked by Eval­u­atePhar­ma, which pro­vid­ed the data­base for this re­view.

That’s al­so more than the next 5 dis­ease fields com­bined, start­ing with num­ber 2, neu­rol­o­gy — a field that in­cludes Parkin­son’s and Alzheimer’s. Psy­chi­a­try, once a ma­jor fo­cus for phar­ma R&D, didn’t even make the top 10, with 468 projects.

Mov­ing down­stream, can­cer stud­ies are over­whelm­ing­ly in the lead. Sin­gling out Phase I projects, can­cer ac­count­ed for 1,757 out of a to­tal of 3,723 ini­tia­tives, close to half. In Phase II it’s the fo­cus of 1,920 of 4,424 projects. On­ly in late-stage stud­ies does can­cer start to lose its over­whelm­ing dom­i­nance, falling to 329 of 1,257 projects.

PhRMA com­mis­sioned this re­port to un­der­score just how much the in­dus­try is com­mit­ted to R&D and sig­nif­i­cant new drug de­vel­op­ment, a sub­ject that rou­tine­ly comes in­to ques­tion as an­a­lysts eval­u­ate how much mon­ey is de­vot­ed to de­vel­op­ing new drugs in­stead of, say, mar­ket­ing or share buy­backs.

The re­port makes a few oth­er points to un­der­score the na­ture of the work these days.

— Three out of four projects in the clin­ic were an­gling for first-in-class sta­tus, spot­light­ing the em­pha­sis on ad­vanc­ing new med­i­cines that can make a dif­fer­ence for pa­tients. Me-too drugs are com­plete­ly out of fash­ion, un­like­ly to com­mand much weight with pay­ers.

— Of all the projects in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, 822 were for or­phan drugs look­ing to serve a mar­ket of 200,000 or less. Or­phan drugs have per­formed well, able to com­mand high prices and ben­e­fit­ing from in­cen­tives un­der fed­er­al law.

— There were 731 cell and gene ther­a­py projects in the clin­ic, with bio­phar­ma look­ing at pi­o­neer­ing ap­provals in CAR-T, with No­var­tis and Kite, as well as the first US OK for a gene ther­a­py, with the first ap­pli­ca­tion ac­cept­ed this week for a pri­or­i­ty re­view of a new ther­a­py from Spark Ther­a­peu­tics.


Dis­tri­b­u­tion of prod­ucts and projects by ther­a­peu­tic area and phase


Source: Analy­sis Group, us­ing Eval­u­atePhar­ma da­ta


Unique NMEs in de­vel­op­ment by stage (Au­gust 2016)

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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First place fin­ish: Eli Lil­ly just moved to fran­chise leader with their sec­ond mi­graine drug OK in 1 year

In a rare twist for Eli Lilly’s historically slow-moving R&D group, the pharma giant has seized bragging rights to a first-in-class new drug approval. And all signs point to an aggressive marketing followup as they look to outclass some major franchise rivals hobbled by internal dissension.

The FDA came through with an OK for lasmiditan on Friday evening, branding it as Reyvow and lining it up — once a substance classification comes through from the DEA — for a major market release. The oral drug binds to 5-HT1F receptors and is designed to stop an acute migraine after it starts. That makes it a complementary therapy to their CGRP drug Emgality, which has a statistically significant impact on preventing attacks.

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Allogene HQ Open House on September 17, 2019 in South San Francisco. (Jeff Rumans, Endpoints News)

The next 10 years: Where is biotech head­ed?

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in drug development. Timelines have shortened, particularly in oncology. Regulators have opened up. Investment has skyrocketed. China became a player. Biotechs have multiplied as gene and cell therapy has exploded — offering major new advances in the way diseases are treated, and sometimes cured.

So where are we headed from here? I journeyed out to San Francisco in September to discuss the answer to that question at Allogene’s open house. If the last 10 years have been an eye-opener, what does the next decade hold in store?

Patrick Mahaffy, Getty Images

Court green-lights Clo­vis case af­ter de­tail­ing ev­i­dence the board ‘ig­nored red flags’ on false safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Clovis investors have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running case against the board of directors, with a Delaware court making a rare finding that they had a strong enough case against the board to proceed with the action.

In a detailed ruling at the beginning of the month that’s been getting careful scrutiny at firms specializing in biotech and corporate governance, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the attorneys for the investors had made a careful case that the board — a collection of experts that includes high-profile biotech entrepreneurs, a Harvard professor and well-known investigator as well as Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy — repeatedly ignored obvious warnings that Mahaffy’s executive crew was touting inflated, unconfirmed data for their big drug Roci. Serious safety issues were also reportedly overlooked while the company continued a fundraising campaign that brought in more than a half-billion dollars. And that leaves the board open to claims related to their role in the fiasco.

The bottom line:

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Bill Gates backs Gink­go Biowork­s' $350M raise to fu­el the buzzy syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy 'rev­o­lu­tion'

If you want to understand Ginkgo Bioworks, the name should suffice: Bioworks, a spin off “ironworks,” that old industrial linchpin devoted to leveraging scale as a wellspring for vast new industries capable of remaking society. Ginkgo wants to be the ironworks for the revolution it’s heralded with as much fanfare as they can, playing off of one of the buzziest technologies in biotech.

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UCB bags a ri­val to Soliris in $2.1B buy­out deal — but will an in­creas­ing­ly vig­i­lant FTC sign off?

UCB is buying out Ra Pharma $RARX, announcing an acquisition deal that rings up at $48 a share, or $2.1 billion net of cash, and puts them toe-to-toe with Alexion on a clinical showdown.

Ra shares closed at $22.70 on Wednesday.

There’s a small pipeline in play at Ra, but UCB is going for the lead drug — a C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan in Phase III for myasthenia gravis (MG) looking to play rival to Alexion’s Soliris. Soliris has the market advantage, though, with a much earlier approval in MG in late 2017 that UCB feels confident in challenging.

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A new play­er is tak­ing the field in a push for a he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py, and it’s a big one

BioMarin, the execs at Spark (and buyer-to-be Roche) as well as the Sangamo/Pfizer team have a new rival striding onto the hemophilia block. And it’s a big one.

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Stuck with a PhI­II gene ther­a­py fail­ure at 96 weeks, Gen­Sight prefers the up­beat as­sess­ment

Two years after treatment, the best thing that GenSight Biologics $SIGHT can say about their gene therapy for vision-destroying cases of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is that it’s just a bit better than a placebo — just maybe because one treatment can cover both eyes.

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George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scangos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 million pennies short.

Scangos’ vaunted startup Vir Biotechnology raised $143 million in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 million. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 target.

Launched with backing from ARCH Venture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the infectious disease startup was one of a new wave of well-resourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough coffers to pursue a full R&D line rather than slowly build their case by picking off a single lead program.