Mer­ck in­creas­es grip on its lead in lung can­cer, win­ning ap­proval for Keytru­da/chemo com­bo as first-line ther­a­py

Mer­ck has won its bid to ad­vance its lead­er­ship in treat­ing the cru­cial non-small cell lung can­cer mar­ket, gain­ing an FDA ap­proval to start mar­ket­ing a com­bi­na­tion of its PD-1 drug Keytru­da with chemother­a­py as a first-line ther­a­py. And its shares im­me­di­ate­ly popped, surg­ing 4% on the news in af­ter-mar­ket trad­ing while ri­val Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb took an­oth­er beat­ing, slid­ing 2%.

Mer­ck built its bid for an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval around Phase II da­ta demon­strat­ing that the chemo/check­point com­bo spurred a much high­er con­cen­tra­tion of over­all re­spons­es for NSCLC than chemo alone — 55% vs. 29%, P = 0.0016. High PD-L1 ex­pressers did even bet­ter, though the ap­proval comes through for all pa­tients re­gard­less of bio­mark­er sta­tus. Here’s the link to the new la­bel.

That all trans­lates in­to bil­lions in rev­enue, with con­sen­sus sales fore­cast of $3.6 bil­lion for 2017 rev­enue. And climb­ing.

Roger Perl­mut­ter, Mer­ck

Bris­tol-My­ers un­wit­ting­ly gave Mer­ck’s ri­val ther­a­py a big leg up when its big bid for a front­line ap­proval col­lapsed in Phase III, forc­ing the big biotech to shake up its R&D group and re­fo­cus on its biggest sin­gle pipeline ef­fort. While the check­points have been muscling in­to a va­ri­ety of mar­kets, Mer­ck’s R&D team un­der Roger Perl­mut­ter has won at least a tem­po­rary ad­van­tage in a block­buster are­na. And an­a­lysts have been acute­ly aware of the rev­enue po­ten­tial — though noth­ing is writ­ten in stone in this fast-chang­ing can­cer field.

That les­son was re­in­forced Wednes­day morn­ing, when Roche an­nounced the stun­ning fail­ure of Tecen­triq in a Phase III blad­der can­cer study, af­ter it had al­ready won an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval.

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez at Leerink re­cent­ly not­ed just how sig­nif­i­cant this de­ci­sion was for Mer­ck, writ­ing:

We con­tin­ue to look to­wards the 5/10/17 PDU­FA da­ta for the Keytru­da (pem­brolizum­ab; an­ti-PD-1) + chemo com­bo in first-line (1L) non-small cell lung can­cer (NSCLC) for a mean­ing­ful ac­cel­er­a­tion in the drug’s US sales. Al­though this will help to dri­ve top- and bot­tom-line growth to­wards the end of the year and in­to 1H:18, the large num­ber of IO+IO and IO+chemo tri­als re­port­ing dur­ing that pe­ri­od could dra­mat­i­cal­ly al­ter the 1L NSCLC land­scape.

When it comes to check­points, with 5 ap­proved and more pil­ing in, every new goal is at­tract­ing a swarm of ri­vals.

As­traZeneca, which just gained an un­ex­cep­tion­al first ap­proval for dur­val­um­ab in blad­der can­cer, has been putting all of its chips on the MYS­TIC tri­al, which com­bines dur­val­um­ab with its ex­per­i­men­tal CT­LA-4 ther­a­py treme­li­mum­ab for lung can­cer. But an­a­lysts have been in­creas­ing­ly leery about CT­LA-4 as a com­bi­na­tion, not­ing its high lev­els of tox­i­c­i­ty — which may prove an easy tar­get for a next-gen suc­ces­sor.

“This ap­proval marks an im­por­tant mile­stone in the treat­ment of lung can­cer. Now, pem­brolizum­ab in com­bi­na­tion with peme­trexed and car­bo­platin can be pre­scribed in the first-line set­ting for pa­tients with metasta­t­ic non­squa­mous non-small cell lung can­cer, ir­re­spec­tive of PD-L1 ex­pres­sion,” said Dr. Corey Langer, di­rec­tor of tho­racic on­col­o­gy and pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at the Hos­pi­tal of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, in a state­ment. “Physi­cians should con­tin­ue to use each pa­tient’s in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics – in­clud­ing bio­mark­er sta­tus, his­tol­ogy, and oth­er clin­i­cal fac­tors – to de­ter­mine the best treat­ment plan for each per­son.”

To­day Mer­ck winds up one big step for­ward in NSCLC. How long it keeps that lead, though, is any­body’s guess.

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gink­go Bioworks re­sizes the de­f­i­n­i­tion of go­ing big in biotech, rais­ing $2.5B in a record SPAC deal that weighs in with a whop­ping $15B-plus val­u­a­tion

Ginkgo Bioworks execs always thought big. But today should redefine just how big an upstart biotech player can dream.

In the largest SPAC deal to clear the hurdles to Nasdaq, the biotech that envisioned everything from remaking synthetic meat to a whole new approach to developing drugs has joined forces with one of the biggest disruptors in biotech to slam the Richter scale on dealmaking.

Soon after becoming the darling of the VC crew and clearing the bar on a $4 billion valuation, Ginkgo — a synthetic biotech player out to reprogram cells with industrial efficiency — has now struck a deal to go public in the latest leviathan SPAC that sets its pre-money valuation at $15 billion. In one swift vault, Ginkgo will combine with Harry Sloan’s Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. and leap into the public markets.

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FDA un­veils six ICH guide­lines ahead of meet­ing with Health Cana­da

A sign that the FDA’s non-Covid-related processes are beginning to normalize: The release of six guidelines from the International Council of Harmonisation.

Years in development, the ICH documents offer an international perspective on drug development, with these latest guidelines covering everything from recommendations to support the classification of drug substances, featured in the M9 guidance, to standards for nonclinical safety studies for pediatric medicines in the S11 guideline.

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Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Boehringer ac­cused of play­ing games, de­stroy­ing emails re­lat­ed to law­suit over con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Zan­tac

A recent court filing raises new questions about how major pharma companies like Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim have dealt with a lawsuit related to recalls of certain over-the-counter heartburn drugs due to the presence of a potentially cancer-causing substance found in them.

More than 70,000 people who took Sanofi’s Zantac and other heartburn drugs containing ranitidine, which have been recalled over the past two years, have sued the manufacturers, including generic drugmakers, and other retailers and distributors as part of a consolidated suit before US District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg in Florida.

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Alvotech takes Ab­b­Vie to court over al­leged patent 'mine­field' sur­round­ing megablock­buster Hu­mi­ra

AbbVie has so far been successful in shooing away competition to its megablockbuster Humira, deploying a number of patents and settlements to keep biosimilars off the US market until 2023. But one Icelandic drugmaker doesn’t want to wait — and on Tuesday, it filed a lawsuit challenging what it called a patent “minefield.”

Alvotech has accused AbbVie of trying to “overwhelm” and “intimidate” it with “an outrageous number of patents of dubious validity,” according to court documents. The company is currently seeking approval for its Humira copycat AVT02, which AbbVie says would infringe upon 62 patents.

Chris Garabedian (Xontogeny)

Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors, Xon­toge­ny bring the band back and then some with a $515M sec­ond fund sniff­ing out lead com­pounds

When Perceptive Advisors and startup accelerator Xontogeny initially teamed up on an early-stage VC round in 2019, the partners hoped to prove their investments could be a force multiplier for early-stage companies. Now, with that proof of concept behind them, the pair have closed a second VC round worth more than double the money.

Dubbed PXV Fund II and headed by Xontogeny CEO and former Sarepta head Chris Garabedian, the $515 million fund will target 10 to 12 early-stage preclinical companies with Series A rounds in the $20 million to $40 million range with opportunities for Series B follow-ups. The oversubscribed fund is bringing the band back with initial investors from PXVI as well as new investors that include “top-tier” asset managers, endowments, foundations, family offices, and individual investors.

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A clos­er look at the FDA’s more than 700 pan­dem­ic-re­lat­ed record re­quests to re­place on­site in­spec­tions

As the pandemic constrained the FDA’s ability to travel for onsite manufacturing inspections, the agency increasingly turned to requesting records to fill the gap, even for hundreds of US-based facilities.

FDA explains in its guidance on manufacturing inspections during the pandemic that the agency can request records (not to be confused with the FDA’s remote interactive evaluations) directly from facilities “in advance of or in lieu of” certain onsite inspections. Companies are legally required to fulfill those requests because a denial may be considered limiting an inspection, which could lead to the FDA deeming a drug made at that site to be adulterated.

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Stephen Squinto, Gennao Bio CEO (Gennao)

Alex­ion co-founder Stephen Squin­to is back in the game as CEO, this time for a small gene ther­a­py play­er

With his name already behind a rare disease success story in Alexion, Stephen Squinto was looking for a great story to drive him to jump back into the biotech game. He found that in a fledging non-viral gene therapy company, and now he’s got a few backers on board as well.

On Tuesday, Gennao Bio launched with a $40 million Series A co-led by OrbiMed and Logos Capital with participation by Surveyor Capital. The biotech, which is looking to use its cell-penetrating antibody platform to deliver nucleic acid “payloads” during into the nucleus, had to rush for its initial series — and had a name change along the way.

UP­DAT­ED: Feds charge an­oth­er CRO staffer with fak­ing da­ta in a Glax­o­SmithK­line pe­di­atric asth­ma study

A Florida woman has been indicted as part of a clinical trial fraud scheme over a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study, the Justice Department announced Tuesday, the latest development in a case where three individuals have already pleaded guilty.

Jessica Palacio was charged with participating in a plot to falsify medical records, giving off the appearance that trial participants were making their scheduled visits to a Miami CRO and taking an experimental asthma medication as required. Palacio was also charged with lying to FDA investigators about her conduct.