Kite’s ground­break­ing CAR-T hits key study goal, heads to the FDA

Kite Phar­ma is go­ing for it.

Now well out in front of its CAR-T ri­vals, Kite Phar­ma $KITE has gath­ered a promis­ing set of in­ter­im da­ta for KTE-C19 from the Phase II por­tion of its study for ag­gres­sive non-Hodgkin lym­phoma and will now set out to make its case with the FDA for an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval.

The biotech says that 62 pa­tients in their study suf­fer­ing from sev­er­al types of NHL who com­plet­ed at least three months of treat­ment demon­strat­ed a com­bined com­plete re­sponse rate of 39%, down slight­ly from the Phase I da­ta. And six-month da­ta, which may be crit­i­cal in win­ning reg­u­la­tors over, is on its way.

Ac­cord­ing to Kite, KTE-C19 met the pri­ma­ry end­point with an ob­jec­tive re­sponse rate of 76% and 47% com­plete re­mis­sions. Kite’s shares jumped about 10% af­ter the da­ta hit.

There’s been no change in strat­e­gy, CEO Arie Bellde­grun tells me to­day. Their drug “is still in line for a 2017 ap­proval.”

A to­tal of 52 pa­tients with dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma (DL­B­CL) were stud­ied along­side 11 pa­tients with trans­formed fol­lic­u­lar lym­phoma (TFL) and pri­ma­ry me­di­asti­nal B-cell lym­phoma (PM­B­CL). And it has chart­ed pos­i­tive out­comes in all those groups, paving the way for Kite’s pi­o­neer­ing new drug ap­pli­ca­tion to the FDA.

To be sure, treat­ment-re­sis­tant pa­tients re­cruit­ed for the study al­so ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant ad­verse events. Two died — one from car­diac ar­rest and the oth­er for he­mo­phago­cyt­ic lym­pho­his­ti­o­cy­to­sis, which in­cludes a case of cy­tokine re­lease syn­drome — with high rates of  CRS, neu­trope­nia (66%), ane­mia (40%), febrile neu­trope­nia (29%), throm­bo­cy­tope­nia (29%) and en­cephalopa­thy.

But in­ves­ti­ga­tors say that they were not sur­prised by any of it, and nei­ther will any­one at the FDA.

“The sur­prise is that there is no sur­prise,” Bellde­grun added in an in­ter­view with me ear­li­er to­day. “The un­usu­al part is that ac­tu­al­ly the pro­file of tox­i­c­i­ty is bet­ter than what we re­port­ed in ZU­MA-1.”

The biotech plans to file by year’s end with the FDA, says the CEO. A pre-BLA meet­ing is sched­uled in the next few months, he adds, and reg­u­la­tors will have had a chance to re­view the da­ta pack­age in ad­vance. At that point, Kite plans to come up with a more pre­cise time­line.

The ad­verse events they record­ed are well known to the field and the agency, says the CEO. Based on SCHOL­AR-1 da­ta, these pa­tients would nor­mal­ly ex­pect to see an 8% com­plete re­sponse rate. Kite’s drug de­liv­ered a CR of 39%. In ad­di­tion, says Bellde­grun, Kite proved that it could man­u­fac­ture the per­son­al­ized ther­a­py for 22 cen­ters, most of which had nev­er han­dled the ther­a­py be­fore.

And 6-month and 9-month da­ta is on its way.

“The da­ta is com­ing,” says Kite R&D di­rec­tor David Chang. The pri­ma­ry analy­sis can be done in the first quar­ter, he adds, when in­ves­ti­ga­tors will have 6-month re­sponse times in place from the on­go­ing study. And Bellde­grun says that the com­pa­ny can pull the veil off the first one-year track records for some of its ear­li­est pa­tients at ES­MO, which is com­ing up ear­ly next month.

Con­vinc­ing the FDA that pre­lim­i­nary re­sponse du­ra­tions are long enough to war­rant a light­ning-fast ap­proval may prove to be Kite’s biggest chal­lenge. Over the last two years, though, top reg­u­la­tors like Richard Paz­dur have been quite will­ing to look past is­sues in­volv­ing safe­ty and ear­ly out­comes and go for the quick­est de­vel­op­ment path pos­si­ble, fre­quent­ly ap­prov­ing new ther­a­pies far short of any Phase III piv­otal test. But this is ag­gres­sive even by the agency’s most am­bi­tious time­lines.

Bellde­grun, how­ev­er, says that none of this is hap­pen­ing in a vac­u­um. Com­pa­ny ex­ecs and the FDA are in reg­u­lar con­tact and have more dis­cus­sions planned. And he be­lieves that once you add all the da­ta in from ear­li­er stud­ies, care­ful­ly weigh the case for ben­e­fits vs. safe­ty for a group of pa­tients who have run out of al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies, a green light is com­plete­ly re­al­is­tic.

Kite’s move comes at the end of a tu­mul­tuous quar­ter for CAR-T, a field that spe­cial­izes in ex­tract­ing pa­tients T cells and reengi­neer­ing them in­to can­cer ther­a­pies. While there are a mul­ti­tude of ob­sta­cles for this first pi­o­neer­ing wave, the CAR-T ap­proach has worked best among these hema­to­log­ic pa­tients whose can­cer cells ex­press the CD19 tar­get. And reg­u­la­tors have bent over back­ward to speed their progress. The FDA, for ex­am­ple, im­posed a clin­i­cal hold on ri­val Juno’s lead CAR-T short­ly af­ter it trig­gered se­vere tox­i­c­i­ty and killed three pa­tients (a fourth died from cere­bral ede­ma in a sep­a­rate study).  But Juno was al­lowed to re­sume dos­ing in the lead tri­al just days lat­er, though, af­ter chang­ing the for­mu­la and drop­ping flu­dara­bine from the pre­con­di­tion­ing reg­i­men.

That small de­lay, though, wound up forc­ing Juno to for­feit the lead in its race with Kite. Juno is now look­ing at an ini­tial OK in 2018. No­var­tis, mean­while, stunned the field with its re­cent de­ci­sion to scrap its cell ther­a­py unit and lay off 120 staffers, news we broke at End­points. The phar­ma gi­ant in­sists it’s just as com­mit­ted as ever, but a num­ber of on­look­ers dis­count that as a like­ly PR gam­bit in­tend­ed to hide just how far the com­pa­ny has fall­en be­hind.

Kite, mean­while, is now at the FDA’s doors with a “break­through” des­ig­na­tion in hand and high hopes for a speedy ap­proval. If they’re right, you can look for a mar­ket launch ear­ly next year. If they made the wrong move, you’ll hear the noise at quite a dis­tance. And not every­one was en­thu­si­as­tic about the dura­bil­i­ty of the ther­a­py.

(Cor­rec­tion: This sto­ry was cor­rect­ed to re­flect that Juno’s lead drug killed three pa­tients, trig­ger­ing a brief clin­i­cal hold, while a fourth pa­tient in a sep­a­rate study died from cere­bral ede­ma.)

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Mi­rati's KRAS drug looks like the fa­vorite in colon can­cer with new da­ta, putting the pres­sure square on Am­gen

With Amgen already providing proof-of-concept for KRAS inhibitors with its sotorasib, Mirati Therapeutics is piecing together a follow-up effort in lung cancer with data it thinks are superior. But in colon cancer, where solo sotorasib has turned in a dud, Mirati may now have a strong case for superiority.

Mirati’s adagrasib, dosed solo or in combination with chemotherapy cetuximab, showed response rates grater than sotorasib solo  and as part of combination study in a similar patient population also revealed this week at #ESMO21. Mirati’s data were presented as part of a cohort update from the Phase II KRYSTAL-1 study testing adagrasib in a range of solid tumors harboring the KRAS-G12C mutation.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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The best of the rest: High­lights from the be­low-the-fold pre­sen­ta­tions at #ES­MO21

This year’s ESMO Congress has had a major focus on Big Pharma drugs — most notably candidates from Merck and AstraZeneca — but there have also been updates from smaller biotechs with data looking to challenge the big-name drugmakers.

Today, we’re highlighting some of the data releases that flew under the radar at #ESMO21 — whether from early-stage drugs looking to make a mark or older stalwarts with interesting follow-up data.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

Mer­ck flesh­es out Keytru­da win in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, adding more fire­pow­er to its ear­ly can­cer push

Merck has worked hard to bring its I/O blockbuster Keytruda into earlier and earlier lines of therapy, and now the wonder drug appears poised to make a quick entry into early advanced cervical cancer.

A combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy with or without Roche’s Avastin cut the risk of death by 33% over chemo with or without Avastin (p=<0.001) in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study presented Saturday at #ESMO21.