Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da fails triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer piv­otal study

Months af­ter the FDA sanc­tioned the ap­proval of Roche’s run­ner up check­point in­hibitor Tecen­triq in com­bi­na­tion with Cel­gene’s Abrax­ane for treat­ment naive pa­tients with triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer, Mer­ck’s keynote PD-1 Keytru­da has stum­bled in a late-stage tri­al as the sec­ond or third line of de­fense against the rare, ag­gres­sive form of can­cer.

Pa­tients in the 622-pa­tient tri­al were ei­ther giv­en the block­buster treat­ment or chemother­a­py. The main goal of the study — over­all sur­vival — was not met, Mer­ck said, adding that de­tails will be dis­closed at a lat­er date.

The US drug­mak­er will con­tin­ue to test Keytru­da monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with chemother­a­py in ear­li­er stages of the dif­fi­cult-to-treat dis­ease.

About 10-20% of all breast can­cers are triple-neg­a­tive breast can­cers (TNBCs), which char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly has a high re­cur­rence rate with­in the first five years af­ter di­ag­no­sis. In TNBC pa­tients, the growth of the can­cer is not fu­eled by the hor­mones es­tro­gen and prog­es­terone, or by the HER2 pro­tein, mak­ing it hard to treat.

Roche’s Tecen­triq com­bi­na­tion with Abrax­ane was the first-ever im­munother­a­py to get ap­proval in the first­line TNBC set­ting. The ap­proval was key for the Swiss drug­mak­er that is third-in-line — be­hind Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and Mer­ck — for the check­point in­hibitor Iron throne. The large drug­mak­er must get ahead of its ri­vals in cru­cial can­cer ar­eas if it wants to hold on to its po­si­tion, as As­traZeneca carves out a niche for its PD-L1 check­point Imfinzi in a sub­set of non-small cell lung can­cer pa­tients.

About 70% of breast can­cers di­ag­nosed in peo­ple with an in­her­it­ed BR­CA mu­ta­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly BR­CA1, are di­ag­nosed with TNBC. PARP in­hibitors such as As­traZeneca’s Lyn­parza and Pfiz­er’s Talzen­na are al­ready ap­proved for germline BR­CA-mu­tat­ed breast can­cer, and are be­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ed in com­bi­na­tion with check­point in­hibitors for TNBC.

Mean­while, an­ti­body drug con­ju­gates are an­oth­er po­ten­tial treat­ment op­tion for TNBC un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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An Endpoints Zoom meeting; and the email header employees will see if your company is a Premium subscriber

What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Michelle McMurry-Heath, BIO CEO (BIO via YouTube)

BIO looks to re­struc­ture, lay­ing off staff amid chal­lenge to the trade org's nor­mal face-to-face style

The biopharma industry, on the whole, had a red-letter year in 2020 amid Covid-19, with fundraising at an all-time high and major players speeding vaccines ahead to approval. But for BIO, the industry’s leading trade organization, the pandemic has prompted a reconsideration of the game plan.

BIO will pivot to digital as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage, making “some staff reductions” as it looks to bring its roughly 37,000 in-person meetings each year to the web, the organization said Thursday.

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Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Fast on Glax­o­SmithK­line's heels, Au­rinia wins OK to steer a sec­ond lu­pus nephri­tis drug straight to the mar­ket

GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta isn’t alone in the small circle of approved lupus nephritis drugs anymore.

Little Aurinia Pharmaceuticals has gotten the green light from the FDA to start marketing its first and only program, voclosporin, under the brand name Lupkynis — something CEO Peter Greenleaf says it’s been ready to do since December.

Regulators went right down to the wire on the decision, keeping the company and the entire salesforce it’s already assembled on its toes.

Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.