Look­ing for a come-from-be­hind win, Roche touts its piv­otal suc­cess for Tecen­triq com­bo in front-line lung can­cer

Trail­ing far be­hind Mer­ck $MRK and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY, the lead­ers in the heat­ed show­down for mar­ket su­prema­cy in the PD-1/L1 com­mer­cial race, Roche is mak­ing its move in the key lung can­cer mar­ket with a set of promis­ing, pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival da­ta for a com­bi­na­tion us­ing Tecen­triq.

Their close­ly watched Phase III IM­pow­er150 study of a triple com­bo of Tecen­triq, Avastin and chemo demon­strat­ed a dou­bling in 12-month pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rates among a broad group of front­line lung can­cer pa­tients, set­ting the stage for a quick reg­u­la­to­ry OK on both sides of the At­lantic.

“We have a re­al chance to be at the fore­front here,” Roche CEO Sev­erin Schwan told Reuters ahead of the da­ta re­lease. “Our am­bi­tion is to be­come a clear leader in the field of can­cer im­munother­a­pies.”

Com­par­ing the triple against Avastin and chemo alone, re­searchers tracked a 38% re­duc­tion in the risk of dis­ease pro­gres­sion, with the pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate hit­ting 8.3 months for the triple against 6.8 months for the dou­ble. The haz­ard ra­tio (HR) was 0.62. In a sub­group of peo­ple de­fined by a bio­mark­er (T-ef­fec­tor “Teff” gene sig­na­ture ex­pres­sion Teff WT), the PFS hit an im­pres­sive 11.3 months for the triple.

Roche’s bot­tom line:

Im­por­tant­ly, a dou­bling of the 12-month land­mark PFS rate was ob­served with the com­bi­na­tion of Tecen­triq and Avastin plus chemother­a­py (37 per­cent) com­pared to Avastin plus chemother­a­py (18 per­cent). The rate of tu­mor shrink­age (over­all re­sponse rate, ORR), a sec­ondary end­point in the study, was high­er in peo­ple treat­ed with Tecen­triq and Avastin plus chemother­a­py com­pared with Avastin plus chemother­a­py (64 per­cent vs. 48 per­cent).

“Dou­bling PFS (pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival) at one year is some­thing we have not seen with any tar­get­ed ther­a­py in un­s­e­lect­ed pa­tients to date,” Solange Pe­ters, the head of Med­ical On­col­o­gy at the Cen­tre Hos­pi­tal­ier Uni­ver­si­taire Vau­dois in Lau­sanne, told the wire ser­vice.

San­dra Horn­ing

Not every­one was ready to call the play as en­tire­ly in Roche’s fa­vor, though. Ever­cor­eISI’s Uber Raf­fat rushed to Mer­ck’s de­fense this morn­ing. And Leerink’s Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez sees Mer­ck re­main­ing in the lead for lung can­cer.

On the neu­tral to neg­a­tive side, the ben­e­fit ap­pears to be dri­ven large­ly by bio­mark­er pos­i­tive pa­tients – al­low­ing for a wide range of ques­tions in­clud­ing com­par­isons to MRK’s Keytru­da as monother­a­py in PDL1 high pa­tients. How­ev­er, the unique ben­e­fit of Tecen­triq + Avastin in EGFR/ALK mu­ta­tion pos­i­tive pa­tients may se­cure a place for this com­bi­na­tion in 15-20% of pa­tients glob­al­ly as a sec­ond or third line treat­ment op­tion.

Roche faces a big chal­lenge on the check­point front. Top ex­ecs be­lieve that Tecen­triq is key to the com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty to re­place rev­enue lost as its big three fran­chise drugs see gener­ic com­pe­ti­tion build up and carve away rev­enue. But the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so had its own set­backs with their PD-L1 ther­a­py, with a sting­ing fail­ure on blad­der can­cer that spurred fresh de­bate over the rel­a­tive val­ue of a PD-1 ver­sus a PD-L1.

To­day, they suc­cess­ful­ly coun­tered that dis­cus­sion, though this de­bate is far from over.

“This Tecen­triq study is the first pos­i­tive Phase III com­bi­na­tion tri­al that showed a can­cer im­munother­a­py re­duced the risk of the dis­ease get­ting worse when used as an ini­tial treat­ment in a broad group of peo­ple with ad­vanced non-squa­mous NSCLC,” said San­dra Horn­ing, Roche’s chief med­ical of­fi­cer. “The IM­pow­er150 study rep­re­sents an im­por­tant ad­vance in lung can­cer treat­ment, and we will sub­mit these re­sults to reg­u­la­to­ry au­thor­i­ties around the world to po­ten­tial­ly bring a new stan­dard of care to peo­ple liv­ing with this dis­ease as soon as pos­si­ble.”


Im­age: Roche CEO Sev­erin Schwan Ap Im­ages

Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck makes a triple play on Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine biotech, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er pro­gram and adding an an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck is making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

The deal with IAVI covers recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology that is the basis for Merck’s successful Ebola Zaire virus vaccine. That’s going into the clinic later this year.

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The Advance Clinical leadership team: CEO Yvonne Lungershausen, Sandrien Louwaars - Director Business Development Operations, Gabriel Kremmidiotis - Chief Scientific Officer, Ben Edwards - Chief Strategy Officer

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About Avance Clinical

Avance Clinical is an Australian owned Contract Research Organisation that has been providing high-quality clinical research services to the local and international drug development industry for 20 years. They specialise in working with biotech companies to execute Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials to deliver high-quality outcomes fit for global regulatory standards.

As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

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Leading the pack of biotechs vying for a piece of the generalized myasthenia gravis (gMG) market with an FcRn inhibitor, argenx on Tuesday unveiled keenly anticipated positive late-stage data on its lead asset, bringing it one step closer to regulatory approval.

Despite steroids, immunosuppressants, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, and Alexion’s Soliris, patients with the rare, chronic neuromuscular disorder (more than 100,000 in the United States and Europe) don’t necessarily benefit from these existing options, leaving room for the crop of FcRn inhibitors in development.

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With Regeneron shares going for a peak price — after doubling from last fall — Sanofi is putting a $13 billion stake in their longtime partner on the auction block. And Regeneron is taking $5 billion of that action for themselves.

Sanofi — which has been decoupling from Regeneron for more than a year now — bought in big in early 2013, back when Regeneron’s stock was going for around $165 a share. Small investors flocked to the deal, buzzing about an imminent takeover. The buyout chatter wound down long ago.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia founder and CEO (Exscientia)

Af­ter years of part­ner­ships, AI biotech Ex­sci­en­tia lands first ma­jor fi­nanc­ing round at $60M

After years racking up partnerships with biotechs and Big Pharma, the AI drug developer Exscientia has landed its first large financing round.

The UK-based company raised $60 million in a Series C round led by Novo Holdings — more than double the $26 million it garnered in a Series B 18 months ago. The round will help further the company’s expansion into the US and further what it calls, borrowing a term from the software world, its “full-stack capabilities,” i.e. its ability to develop drugs from the earliest stage to the market.

Covid-19 roundup: Janet Wood­cock steps aside — for now — as FDA drug czar; WHO hits the brakes on hy­droxy study af­ter lat­est safe­ty alarm

The biopharma industry will soon get a look at what the FDA will look like once CDER’s powerful chief Janet Woodcock retires from her post.

Long considered one of the most influential regulators in the agency, if not its single most powerful official when it counts, Woodcock is being detached to devote herself full-time to the White House’s special project to fast-forward new drugs and vaccines for the pandemic. The move comes a week after some quick reshuffling as Woodcock and CBER chief Peter Marks joined Operation Warp Speed. Initially they opted to recuse themselves from any FDA decisions on pandemic treatments and vaccines, after consumer advocates criticized the move as a clear conflict of interest in how the agency exercises oversight on new approvals.

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Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Hit with new con­flict ac­cu­sa­tions, Janet Wood­cock steps out of the agen­cy's Covid-19 chain of com­mand

Two weeks ago, FDA drug chieftain Janet Woodcock was assuring a top Wall Street analyst that any vaccine approved for combating Covid-19 would have to meet high agency standards on safety and efficacy before it’s approved. But over the weekend, after she and Peter Marks took top positions with the public-private operation meant to speed a new vaccine to lightning-fast approvals — they both recused themselves from the review process after an advocacy group argued their roles close to the White House could pose a conflict of interest.

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An­oth­er NASH de­lay for In­ter­cept frus­trates in­vestors, shares wilt

A previous FDA advisory committee delay for Intercept’s NASH drug may have dampened spirits, but investors perked up after French rival Genfit recently failed to best a placebo with its offering in a keenly anticipated pivotal study. In yet another twist on Friday, the New York drugmaker said the FDA is postponing its adcom again to accommodate the review of additional data it has asked the company to furnish.

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Eric Edwards, Phlow president and CEO (PR Newswire)

BAR­DA of­fers a tiny start­up up to $812M to cre­ate a US-based drug man­u­fac­tur­er — and the CEO comes with a price goug­ing con­tro­ver­sy on his ré­sumé

BARDA has tapped a largely unknown startup to ramp up production of a list of drugs that may be at risk of running short in the US. And the deal, which comes with up to $812 million in federal funds, was inked by a CEO who found himself in the middle of an ugly price gouging controversy a few years ago.

The feds’ new partner — called Phlow — won a 4-year “base” contract of $354 million, with another $458 million that’s on the table in potential options to sustain the outfit. That would make it one of the largest awards in BARDA’s history.

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