Mi­cro­cap MEI joins the long line­up of can­cer bio­phar­mas to land a ‘break­through’

Fi­nan­cial prowess is no pre­req­ui­site to a break­through drug des­ig­na­tion at the FDA these days. Four years af­ter San Diego-based MEI Phar­ma land­ed an HDAC in­hibitor for a batch of stock and promised mile­stones, the mi­cro­cap biotech qual­i­fied for the in­side track at the FDA.

That was good for a 24% spike in its stock price $MEIP in pre­mar­ket trad­ing this morn­ing, as its mar­ket cap sat at a mere $46 mil­lion.

Just last Feb­ru­ary, the stock was flirt­ing with pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry. It’s moved out of that range in the months since.

The BTD is for pra­ci­no­s­tat, an HDAC in­hibitor used in com­bi­na­tion with azac­i­ti­dine for pa­tients with new­ly di­ag­nosed cas­es of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). It’s in­tend­ed for the el­der­ly or pa­tients who are un­fit for in­ten­sive chemother­a­py. And MEI says they al­so nailed down an agree­ment with reg­u­la­tors on their Phase III de­sign.

MEI is­sued 500,000 shares of stock to do the deal for pra­ci­no­s­tat four years ago, bag­ging the drug from S*BIO in Sin­ga­pore.

The com­pa­ny has a num­ber of ri­vals in the HDAC are­na. Syn­dax, now run by ex-As­traZeneca R&D chief Brig­gs Mor­ri­son, has a lead HDAC drug. As­traZeneca, mean­while, is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Mi­rati on an­oth­er HDAC, while HUYA Bio­science land­ed rights to an HDAC last March.

MEI tout­ed mid-stage da­ta of a me­di­an over­all sur­vival rate of 19.1 months and a com­plete re­sponse rate of 42% (21 of 50 pa­tients) in a re­cent study. In­ves­ti­ga­tors say the sin­gle arm study com­pared well to a Phase III study of azac­i­ti­dine, which showed a me­di­an over­all sur­vival of 10.4 months with azac­i­ti­dine alone and a CR rate of 19.5% in a sim­i­lar pa­tient pop­u­la­tion.

MEI CEO Daniel Gold

The FDA has hand­ed out a long line­up of BTDs since be­gin­ning the pro­gram. It’s in­tend­ed to pro­vide an in­side track at the agency for com­pa­nies de­vel­op­ing po­ten­tial­ly land­mark ther­a­pies, mak­ing it eas­i­er for com­pa­nies to get an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval. The on­col­o­gy group has been par­tic­u­lar­ly will­ing to is­sue break­through des­ig­na­tions, which have mul­ti­plied like rab­bits.

“With this des­ig­na­tion, the FDA rec­og­nizes that our pre­lim­i­nary clin­i­cal da­ta demon­strate that Pra­ci­no­s­tat may re­sult in a sub­stan­tial im­prove­ment in the lives of AML pa­tients over avail­able ther­a­py,” not­ed MEI CEO Daniel Gold. “We have worked close­ly with the FDA to get to this point and now fo­cus on ex­e­cut­ing our Phase III study and bring­ing Pra­ci­no­s­tat to mar­ket as quick­ly and ef­fi­cient­ly as pos­si­ble.”


John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.