AACR: Lit­tle Apex­i­gen steals the show with their CD40/Op­di­vo cock­tail as AACR gets un­der­way

Now that the pi­o­neer PD-1 check­points have hit the mar­ket and start­ed earn­ing their bil­lions, re­searchers in on­col­o­gy are fo­cused on the next big thing in can­cer R&D: us­ing new com­bi­na­tions to reach tu­mors that re­main stub­born­ly re­sis­tant to ap­proved ther­a­pies.

To that end, you can count Apex­i­gen as the ear­ly win­ner in the AACR meet­ing in At­lanta.

Joyson Karakun­nel

A group of in­ves­ti­ga­tors or­ga­nized by The Park­er In­sti­tute for Can­cer Im­munother­a­py in part­ner­ship with the Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute con­duct­ed an ear­ly-stage clin­i­cal tri­al that com­bined a pair of chemother­a­pies with Apex­i­gen’s CD40 drug APX005M, with or with­out Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s Op­di­vo. In the first part of the Phase I tri­al for ad­vanced pan­cre­at­ic can­cer, they want­ed to see how CD40 — de­signed to spur an im­mune at­tack — worked with a PD-1, which is de­signed to take the brakes off an im­mune sys­tem at­tack.

This is the first tri­al where the in­sti­tute held the IND as the prin­ci­pal spon­sor, says Joyson Karakun­nel, med­ical di­rec­tor for The Park­er In­sti­tute and vice pres­i­dent-clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment at Ar­cus Bio­sciences, who took some time on Sun­day to ex­plain the work. And they’re par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py that Park­er was able to or­ga­nize and ex­e­cute an aca­d­e­m­ic study like this in just 18 months, of­fer­ing a new and more ef­fi­cient ap­proach to drug de­vel­op­ment that Sean Park­er had hoped for when he found­ed the in­sti­tute.

Of the 24 pa­tients who were evalu­able by AACR, 20 ex­pe­ri­enced a re­sponse with tu­mor shrink­age. And a few of those pa­tients have re­spons­es that en­dured for more than 12 months. That’s par­tic­u­lar­ly pos­i­tive for pan­cre­at­ic can­cer, which has been re­sis­tant to PD-1 and where dis­ease pro­gres­sion typ­i­cal­ly starts in about 5 months.

“To quote (first au­thor) Mark O’Hara, you do not see those kind of wa­ter­fall plots, so it is ex­treme­ly en­cour­ag­ing,” says Karakun­nel.

Tox­i­c­i­ty, how­ev­er, is a key con­cern. Thir­teen pa­tients — 54% — dis­con­tin­ued the reg­i­men due to an ad­verse event from the cock­tail. Ten of the ad­verse events were se­ri­ous. In­ves­ti­ga­tors fol­lowed up with me to note that 9 of the 13 con­tin­ued on at least one of the drugs and 4 stopped al­to­geth­er.

So why use Apex­i­gen’s drug? There are oth­er CD40s out there.  

Karakun­nel ex­plains that se­nior au­thor Bob Von­der­hei­de was fa­mil­iar with the Apex­i­gen pro­gram and thought it would be a good choice. Odd­ly, though, while the biotech had no trou­ble dis­cussing its $73 mil­lion raise from a group of Chi­nese in­vestors last sum­mer and put out their own re­lease Sun­day, the com­pa­ny turned down an in­ter­view re­quest.

The tri­al is now push­ing ahead to the Phase II por­tion of the tri­al with the high, 0.3 mg dose of Apex­i­gen’s drug. And the pri­vate, ven­ture-backed Apex­i­gen re­searchers plan to roll out more da­ta on APX005M in com­bi­na­tion ther­a­py for pa­tients with metasta­t­ic or un­re­sectable melanoma who have pro­gressed on an­ti-PD-1/PD-L1 ther­a­py. 

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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CEO Pascal Soriot via Getty Images

As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.