Loxo takes cen­ter stage at AS­CO with its ground­break­ing shot at a bio­mark­er-based can­cer drug ap­proval

CHICA­GO — Loxo On­col­o­gy made it in­to the AS­CO show­case over the week­end, boast­ing of a small but grow­ing num­ber of cas­es where chil­dren and adults with TRK fu­sion can­cer re­spond­ed to their lead drug, larotrec­tinib (LOXO-101). And they’re pack­ag­ing it in­to a new drug ap­pli­ca­tion they ex­pect to hus­tle to reg­u­la­tors ei­ther lat­er this year or ear­ly 2018, while show­ing off a next-gen drug com­ing up the pipeline that they’re al­ready claim­ing has es­tab­lished proof-of-con­cept ev­i­dence of ef­fi­ca­cy in two cas­es.

This Stam­ford, CT-based biotech $LOXO is all about hus­tle.

For a small com­pa­ny with just 35 staffers, Loxo has enor­mous am­bi­tions that in­clude shoot­ing at some ground­break­ing ad­vances in drug de­vel­op­ment. At AS­CO, the biotech boast­ed a 76% tu­mor re­sponse rate among pa­tients with mul­ti­tude of dif­fer­ent tu­mor types. Un­like a typ­i­cal can­cer drug fo­cused on the anato­my, Loxo is go­ing af­ter a bio­mark­er — tropomyosin re­cep­tor ki­nase (TRK) fu­sions — and at AS­CO it cob­bled to­geth­er re­sponse da­ta from three ear­ly-stage tri­als.

Specif­i­cal­ly there were 50 pa­tients — 43 adults and 12 chil­dren — with 12% com­plete and 64% par­tial re­spon­ders. That’s a high rate of suc­cess and it fits with their ear­li­er state­ments on progress in the clin­ic. Small groups of pa­tients like this are al­so not un­usu­al for a can­cer type shared by on­ly a few thou­sand US pa­tients.

The in­vestor crowd ate it up. Loxo’s shares spiked 51% mid­day Mon­day.

Just days ago Mer­ck won the first pi­o­neer­ing ap­proval for the ge­net­i­cal­ly de­fined use of a can­cer drug, an­oth­er boost for its glob­al star Keytru­da. Larotrec­tinib is be­ing pushed down the same path­way, but it is ex­per­i­men­tal. And Loxo is the po­lar op­po­site of a gi­ant like Mer­ck, which has been pour­ing cash in­to its well-es­tab­lished Keytru­da pro­gram in si­mul­ta­ne­ous pur­suit of dozens of tar­gets.

Josh Bilenker, Loxo On­col­o­gy

Go­ing af­ter an FDA ap­proval for both chil­dren and adults like this “has nev­er been done be­fore,” Loxo CEO Josh Bilenker tells me. But he is ab­solute­ly con­vinced that the da­ta he has is enough to form the ba­sis of a win­ning ap­pli­ca­tion.

It’s not un­usu­al these days to see bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies use ear­ly-stage da­ta to go af­ter an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval at the FDA. What was once the ex­cep­tion is now the rule. But Loxo — which part­nered with Ar­ray on the pro­gram — is press­ing the en­ve­lope, us­ing small groups of pa­tients across Phase I and II tri­als to pro­vide the ev­i­dence they need that larotrec­tinib works. That strat­e­gy is nec­es­sary to achieve their goal, they say, and they have the agency’s break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion to pro­vide an open door, which Bilenker says led to a meet­ing with the FDA 18 months ago that set them on this path.

As a pub­lic com­pa­ny, Loxo al­so has tout­ed — and ben­e­fit­ed — from just about every scrap of da­ta ex­ecs can lay its hands on, with new in­stances of par­tial re­spons­es used to rev up its stock price.

In Chica­go Sat­ur­day, that strat­e­gy was on full view as they not­ed the first glim­mer of ev­i­dence that its next-gen drug LOXO-195 trig­gered two par­tial re­spons­es af­ter it was used in emer­gency cas­es in­volv­ing re­sis­tance to a TRK fu­sion in­hibitor.

Cour­tesy Loxo On­col­o­gy.

If in fact they can prove that it can work against cas­es of TRK fu­sion drug re­sis­tance, their drug could be­come a reg­u­lar part of the treat­ment land­scape for pa­tients with their bio­mark­er. And they will tout any ev­i­dence of ef­fi­ca­cy they gath­er on their next trip to reg­u­la­tors.

Loxo’s mar­ket cap is up to $1.3 bil­lion as some mar­ket an­a­lysts cheer them at every stage.

Loxo, though, al­so has com­pe­ti­tion in the field. Igny­ta $RXDX has a Phase II un­der­way for en­trec­tinib for TRK-fu­sion pos­i­tive adult and pe­di­atric pa­tients. Just a cou­ple of weeks ago Igny­ta won their own break­through stays for their drug, giv­ing them the same easy ac­cess that Loxo en­joys. And not all an­a­lysts are ig­nor­ing the po­ten­tial for a matchup as these two small out­fits com­pete for the lime­light in can­cer R&D.

“The com­pa­ny guid­ed for NDAs for Trk+ and ROS1+ pts in 2018 and a U.S. launch in 2019 (MAA sub­mis­sion in 2019),” not­ed Jef­feries re­cent­ly. “The break­through des­ig­na­tion for en­trec­tinib helps lev­el the play­ing field some with LOXO-101, which re­ceived BTD in Ju­ly 2016 (NDA sub­mis­sion ex­pect­ed in late-2017 or ear­ly-2018).”

If they do make it to the mar­ket, Bilenker says Loxo plans to set up a com­mer­cial group and launch this it­self. “We own world­wide rights to the drug and that’s our plan,” he says, shrug­ging off the sug­ges­tion of a com­pa­ny sale.

It’s a big goal.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Gen­mab ax­es an ADC de­vel­op­ment pro­gram af­ter the da­ta fail to im­press

Genmab $GMAB has opted to ax one of its antibody-drug conjugates after watching it flop in the clinic.

The Danish biotech reported Tuesday that it decided to kill their program for enapotamab vedotin after the data gathered from expansion cohorts failed to measure up. According to the company:

While enapotamab vedotin has shown some evidence of clinical activity, this was not optimized by different dose schedules and/or predictive biomarkers. Accordingly, the data from the expansion cohorts did not meet Genmab’s stringent criteria for proof-of-concept.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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News brief­ing: Gilead part­ner Gala­pa­gos sells off CRO for $37M; Polyphor bags $3.3M from CF Foun­da­tion

Close Gilead ally Galapagos is selling off one of its contract research organizations to a Polish pharma company.

Galapagos has agreed to sell 100% of the outstanding shares in the CRO Fidelta to Selvita, in a deal worth roughly $37 million expected to close in the first week of January. The acquisition is expected to nearly double Selvita’s revenues, the company says, as well as expand its drug discovery efforts.