Mer­ck notch­es fourth lung can­cer ap­proval in Eu­rope for flag­ship Keytru­da

Mer­ck’s key­stone im­munother­a­py Keytru­da has won yet an­oth­er lung can­cer ap­proval in Eu­rope, this time as the first line of de­fense for pa­tients with metasta­t­ic squa­mous non-small cell lung can­cer (NSCLC), on the ba­sis of tri­al da­ta that showed the drug — as part of a chemother­a­py com­bo — cut the risk of death by 36% ver­sus chemother­a­py alone.

The check­point in­hibitor is al­ready ap­proved as a monother­a­py or as part of a com­bo in var­i­ous forms of lung can­cer: as a front­line treat­ment in pa­tients with metasta­t­ic non­squa­mous NSCLC; first-line treat­ment in metasta­t­ic squa­mous or non­squa­mous NSCLC in adults whose tu­mors have high PD-L1 ex­pres­sion; and in lo­cal­ly ad­vanced or metasta­t­ic NSCLC in adults whose tu­mors ex­press PD-L1 and who have re­ceived at least one pri­or chemother­a­py reg­i­men.

Lung can­cer is the lead­ing cause of can­cer death glob­al­ly, ac­cord­ing to the WHO. The two main types of lung can­cer are non-small cell and small cell, and NSCLC ac­counts for about 85% of all cas­es. With­in NSCLC, 40% of cas­es are ade­no­car­ci­no­mas, 25 to 30% are squa­mous cell car­ci­no­mas and 10 to 15% are large cell car­ci­no­mas. Over­all, the NSCLC mar­ket is poised to grow to $14.6 bil­lion by 2024, ac­cord­ing to Glob­al­Da­ta es­ti­mates.

The ap­proval was based on da­ta from KEYNOTE-407, a late-stage 559-pa­tient study eval­u­at­ing Keytru­da in com­bi­na­tion with car­bo­platin-pa­cli­tax­el or nab-pa­cli­tax­el com­pared with car­bo­platin-pa­cli­tax­el or nab-pa­cli­tax­el alone. The twin main goals are over­all sur­vival (OS) and and pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival (PFS).

Da­ta showed the Keytru­da com­bo sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­proved OS, re­duc­ing the risk of death by 36% com­pared to chemother­a­py alone (HR=0.64; p<0.0008) and im­proved PFS, with a re­duc­tion in the risk of pro­gres­sion or death by 44% com­pared to chemother­a­py alone (HR=0.56; p<0.0001).

The block­buster treat­ment, which takes the brakes off the im­mune sys­tem to bet­ter fight can­cer, is ap­proved for use in a pletho­ra of on­col­o­gy in­di­ca­tions in­clud­ing melanoma, head and neck can­cer, lym­phoma, urothe­lial car­ci­no­ma, gas­tric can­cer, cer­vi­cal can­cer, he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma and Merkel cell car­ci­no­ma. It gen­er­at­ed about $7.2 bil­lion in sales last year for Mer­ck $MRK.

Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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RA Cap­i­tal dou­bles down on Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee's vi­sion for a new cell en­gi­neer­ing ap­proach, lead­ing Vor's $110M Se­ries B

Vor Biopharma is muscling up.

CEO Robert Ang, who was reluctant to divulge the headcount when discussing his move from Neon Therapeutics to Vor last August, readily offered that the team has grown from 6 to 50 in less than a year. The biotech is moving to a larger office on Cambridge Parkway Drive in weeks, giving it more space to complete the IND-enabling work and manufacturing scale-up — conducted by a CDMO partner — in preparation for clinical trials planned for the first half of 2021.

Covid-19 roundup: Left out no longer, No­vavax se­cures largest Warp Speed deal yet: $1.6B

It looks like Novavax won’t be left out of Operation Warp Speed after all.

A month after the Gaithersburg, MD biotech saw its shares tumble when it was left off the first reported list of finalists for the White House’s Covid-19 vaccine accelerator, HHS and the Department of Defense have announced a $1.6 billion deal to scale up their Covid-19 candidate. It is the largest deal HHS has announced yet, eclipsing the $1.2 billion deal the administration reached with AstraZeneca in May.

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Shoshanna Shendelman, Applied Therapeutics CEO (Applied Therapeutics)

A lit­tle biotech slaps back at a 'crim­i­nal' short at­tack, vow­ing to pur­sue a pros­e­cu­tion of their case

As short attacks go, Biotech Research Partners’ assault on Applied Therapeutics’ “cherry picked” data and a variety of so-called red flags didn’t cause a whole lot of damage. Ahead of the July 4 holiday, its shares $APLT were dinged and showed signs of quick recovery.

But that didn’t stop an incendiary response, as the biotech swung into action bright and early Monday morning.

Applied Therapeutics accused the authors of the short report of manipulating graphs and figures, misrepresenting data and included factual misrepresentations — all of which added up, in their view, to fraud.

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Cel­lec­tis slammed af­ter pa­tient dies and FDA slaps a hold on their tri­al for an off-the-shelf CAR-T for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma

Cellectis was slammed after the market close on Monday as the biotech reported that the FDA demanded it hit the brakes on their MELANI-01 trial for their off-the-shelf cell therapy UCARTCS1A after one of the patients in the study died of treatment-related cardiac arrest.

The multiple myeloma patient had previously been treated unsuccessfully with various therapies, noted the biotech, and had been given dose level two (DL2) of their allogeneic CAR-T.

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UP­DAT­ED: Im­munomedics spells out PFS ben­e­fit of Trodelvy in mTNBC, hunt­ing a full OK just weeks af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

By the time the FDA finally granted an accelerated OK for Immunomedics’ Trodelvy, we already got a very strong hint that their confirmatory Phase III study in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer was a success.

That’s because the independent data safety monitoring committee recommended that the trial be stopped early. But just what pointed them to the conclusion was still unclear.

“We do not know the totality of their decision other than it’s pretty evident that the primary endpoint was met; otherwise they could not request to halt the study,” Behzad Aghazadeh, the executive chairman, told Endpoints News at the time.

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

A boom­ing Drag­on­fly is tak­ing its TriN­KETs to Copen­hagen as the lat­est Bris­tol My­ers pact spurs ex­pan­sion plans — out­side the US

Bristol Myers Squibb is making a habit out of collaborating with the crew at Dragonfly, adding their 3rd deal in a series that now will take them into newly charted R&D territory. And the fast-growing team at the Cambridge-based biotech is adding a facility in Copenhagen for its next growth spurt, where the government is making it easy to recruit scientists internationally as the U.S. throttles back.

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Covid-19 roundup: Teamed up with NIH, Re­gen­eron launch­es PhI­II pre­ven­tion tri­al for an­ti­body cock­tail

As Regeneron moves its antibody cocktail into Phase II/III trials testing REGN-COV2 as a treatment for both hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients with Covid-19, the biotech is also starting a Phase III in the prevention setting.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — which orchestrated the large, randomized study for remdesivir that produced positive results — will jointly run the study.

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