Mer­ck, In­cyte map a Phase III pipeline of their own for a front­line com­bo of Keytru­da and epaca­do­stat

Keytru­da (pem­brolizum­ab)

Last fall In­cyte and Mer­ck whipped up con­sid­er­able en­thu­si­asm for a match-up of their IDO1 en­zyme in­hibitor and Keytru­da in an ear­ly-stage study of melanoma. They fol­lowed up with a com­mit­ment to ex­pand their part­ner­ship to go af­ter a range of can­cers. And this morn­ing the part­ners out­lined ag­gres­sive plans to take the com­bo through sev­en piv­otal tri­als.

Re­searchers for these two com­pa­nies got ex­cit­ed about the po­ten­tial for this com­bi­na­tion af­ter see­ing pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rates of 74 per­cent and 57 per­cent at 6 months and 12 months among the ad­vanced melanoma pa­tients they treat­ed last year in a Phase I. Their melanoma part­ner­ship was ex­pand­ed to in­clude a Phase III melanoma tri­al. Now they are push­ing ahead in the clin­ic to see if In­cyte’s epaca­do­stat and Keytru­da can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in front­line use against non-small cell lung can­cer, blad­der can­cer, re­nal can­cer and squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma of the head and neck (SC­CHN).

Al­ready in a Phase III melanoma study, in­ves­ti­ga­tors are adding:

• Two Phase III stud­ies in first-line NSCLC, in­clud­ing both PD-L1 high-ex­press­ing and PD-L1 un­s­e­lect­ed pop­u­la­tions.
• Two Phase III stud­ies in blad­der can­cer, in­clud­ing one in first-line blad­der can­cer and one in sec­ond-line blad­der can­cer.
• A Phase III study in first-line RCC.
• And a Phase III study in first-line SC­CHN.

Mer­ck is man­ag­ing the tri­al work while the two com­pa­nies share ex­pens­es.

When RBC’s Simos Sime­oni­dis saw the first cut of the Phase I da­ta, he con­clud­ed that In­cyte and Mer­ck have an ex­cel­lent shot of beat­ing out Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s piv­otal com­bi­na­tion study of Yer­voy and Op­di­vo for first-line use in non-small cell lung can­cer. And right now, Mer­ck’s abil­i­ty to ma­neu­ver past Bris­tol-My­ers and seize the lead on NSCLC con­tin­ues to stag­ger an­a­lysts.

Mer­ck, of course, is spar­ing no ex­pense in push­ing dozens of piv­otal stud­ies of Keytru­da, in­tent on cap­i­tal­iz­ing on a ma­jor mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ty and un­will­ing to let a grow­ing field of com­peti­tors ham­per its pur­suit of block­buster rev­enue.

Most re­cent­ly Pfiz­er and Mer­ck KGaA gained an ap­proval for the fourth check­point ther­a­py — com­ing in right be­hind Roche — which un­leash­es an im­mune sys­tem at­tack on can­cer cells. As­traZeneca, mean­while, re­jigged its de­vel­op­ment ef­fort to amp up its work on a com­bi­na­tion of dur­val­um­ab and treme­li­mum­ab.

Ri­vals in the field are pay­ing rapt at­ten­tion to every new move.

In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — and they're prep­ping a pitch to the FDA

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company says that a new analysis of an old dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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Vas Narasimhan. Getty Images

Failed PhI­II fe­vip­iprant tri­als pour more cold wa­ter on No­var­tis' block­buster R&D en­gine — and spread the chill to a high-pro­file biotech

Back in July, during an investor call where Novartis execs ran through an upbeat assessment of their Q2 performance, CEO Vas Narasimhan and development chief John Tsai were pressed to predict which of the two looming Phase III readouts — involving cardio drug Entresto and asthma therapy fevipiprant, respectively — had a higher likelihood of success. Tsai gave the PARAGON-HF study with Entresto minimally better odds, but Narasimhan emphasized that their strategy of giving fevipiprant to more severe patients gave them confidence.

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Take­da tees up $420M deal for celi­ac an­ti­dote, con­tin­u­ing R&D re­fo­cus

Sometime in the 1st century AD, a patient presented to Arataeus looking like a varicose ghost. He was “emaciated and atrophied, pale, feeble and incapable of performing any of his accustomed works,” the Greek physician wrote, with hollow temples and huge veins running all over his body.

A dysfunctional digestive system, Arataeus concluded – an imbalance he attributed to a “heat” deficiency in a system he and other Greeks regarded as functioning similarly to an oven – and coined a term: coeliac disease, after the Greek word for abdomen.

UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin

Where are the in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars?

In June 2017, Leah Christl, former biosimilar lead at FDA, told a conference in Chicago that interchangeable biosimilars were likely coming to the US market within two years.

And although no interchangeable biosimilar has been approved by FDA yet, and Christl has since moved on to Amgen, progress on interchangeable biosimilars has been slow in the intervening years.

Most recently, Boehringer Ingelheim announced that it has completed, as of last April, a switching study necessary for launching an interchangeable biosimilar for Humira (adalimumab), although the company did not offer any further details on the timing of its submission to FDA or whether there will be an advisory committee to review the data. Boehringer already has an adalimumab biosimilar approved by FDA, which it will launch in the US on 1 July 2023.

UP­DAT­ED: The FDA sets a reg­u­la­to­ry speed record, pro­vid­ing a snap OK for Ver­tex's break­through triplet for cys­tic fi­bro­sis

The FDA has approved Vertex’s new triplet for cystic fibrosis at a record-setting speed.

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FDA re­buffs lit­tle As­ser­tio Ther­a­peu­tic­s' long-act­ing ACTH for­mu­la­tion, shares sink

Tiny Assertio Therapeutics’ shares plunged pre-market on Tuesday, after the FDA has spurned its man-made version of the hormone ACTH, which was being reviewed as a diagnostic for patients presumed to have adrenocortical insufficiency.

The Lake Forest, Illinois-based drugmaker said its development partner West Therapeutic Development had received a complete response letter from the US regulator, which indicated that that certain “pharmacodynamic parameters were not adequately achieved” for the product.

IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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That $335M JV Bay­er set up on CRISPR/Cas9? They’re let­ting the biotech part­ner car­ry on

Bayer committed $300 million to set up a joint venture on CRISPR/Cas9 tech with CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP. But they’re handing off control now to the smaller biotech while retaining a couple of opt-ins for programs nearing an IND.

Bayer $BAY made much of the fact that they were going all-in on gene editing when they did their deal 3 years ago with CRISPR Therapeutics, which pitched $35 million in on their end. This was the cornerstone of their plan to set up new JVs that could make some serious leap forwards in hot new R&D spaces. Now CRISPR will have full management control of Casebia as they pursue programs in hemophilia, ophthalmology and autoimmune diseases.
Samarth Kulkarni, the CEO at CRISPR, made it sound like a natural progression.