Neb­u­liz­er fails PhII COPD study, but Verona plans to march on

Billed as the first new class of bron­chodila­tor in more than four decades, Verona Phar­ma’s $VR­NA ex­per­i­men­tal neb­u­liz­er did not con­fer sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment on a mea­sure of lung func­tion in Phase II study in­volv­ing pa­tients with chron­ic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease (COPD) who were al­ready on in­haled long-act­ing bron­chodila­tors.

Verona has tout­ed the drug, known as en­sifen­trine or RPL554, as the first po­ten­tial ther­a­py for res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­eases that acts as both a bron­chodila­tor and an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry agent in a soli­tary com­pound. Two dos­es of the drug in a neb­u­lized for­mu­la­tion were be­ing test­ed in the three-day, place­bo-con­trolled tri­al as a main­te­nance treat­ment for 79 COPD pa­tients, who were al­ready on com­mon­ly used LAMA/LA­BA treat­ments.

Pa­tients re­ceived three days of treat­ment with each of two dose strengths (1.5 mg or 6 mg) of neb­u­lized en­sifen­trine or place­bo twice dai­ly. The pri­ma­ry end­point was im­prove­ment in lung func­tion with en­sifen­trine, as mea­sured by FEV1 (forced ex­pi­ra­to­ry vol­ume in one sec­ond), a stan­dard mea­sure of res­pi­ra­to­ry func­tion, four hours post-dose af­ter the morn­ing dose on day three.

Jan-An­ders Karls­son

The pri­ma­ry end­point of FEV1 was not found to be sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant af­ter the morn­ing dose, al­though the small­er en­sifen­trine dose im­proved peak FEV1, the com­pa­ny said, adding that the im­prove­ment was main­tained through­out the 24-hour pe­ri­od on day 3. The com­pa­ny’s shares slumped about 36% in mid­day trad­ing.

How­ev­er, da­ta on sec­ondary end­points in­clud­ing peak FEV1 over time and re­duc­tions in resid­ual vol­ume were en­cour­ag­ing: Peak FEV1 af­ter evening dose on day 3 showed sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment with both dos­es, and sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in mean resid­ual vol­ume were ob­served 15 min­utes fol­low­ing the evening dose on day 3, the Lon­don-based com­pa­ny said.

Over­all, the high­er dose did not re­sult in greater im­prove­ment in lung func­tion as com­pared with the 1.5 mg dose.

But Verona struck an up­beat tone. “Hav­ing demon­strat­ed in pre­vi­ous stud­ies the po­ten­tial of en­sifen­trine to de­liv­er ben­e­fits to pa­tients on no or sin­gle bron­chodila­tor ther­a­py, we be­lieve that this short study con­tin­ues to sup­port our view that en­sifen­trine may al­so be of ben­e­fit to more se­vere COPD pa­tients on dual and triple ther­a­py, for whom there are few oth­er treat­ment op­tions,” said Verona chief Jan-An­ders Karls­son in a state­ment.

“While we are dis­ap­point­ed that this ex­plorato­ry Phase 2 study did not achieve sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance for its pri­ma­ry end­point, these da­ta give us clar­i­ty on the de­sign…for fu­ture long-term stud­ies.”

Sun­Trust Robin­son Humphrey’s Ed­ward Nash ap­peared to agree with the com­pa­ny’s as­sess­ment, say­ing that the tri­al’s main goal was not met due to an un­ex­pect­ed­ly high­er place­bo ef­fect – oth­er­wise the drug did show im­proved FEV1 on top of dual/triple ther­a­py in a very chal­leng­ing COPD pa­tient pop­u­la­tion.

“We be­lieve the FDA would wel­come the low­er dose from a safe­ty stand­point and be­lieve to­tal­i­ty of da­ta which in­cludes ~104mL and 127mL im­prove­ment on top of monother­a­py (tiotropi­um) back­ground and 40mL to 50mL FEV1 im­prove­ments seen in dual/triple back­ground ther­a­py re­port­ed to­day pro­vides a pos­i­tive clin­i­cal and com­mer­cial pro­file for en­sifen­trine.”

Of the pa­tients treat­ed with dual bron­chodila­tor (LAMA/LA­BA) and triple ther­a­py (LAMA/LA­BA/ICS), re­search sug­gests that up to 40% (ap­prox­i­mate­ly 800,000 pa­tients in the US alone) are un­con­trolled, re­main­ing symp­to­matic and at an in­creased risk of ex­ac­er­ba­tions, ac­cord­ing to Verona.

Da­ta have sug­gest­ed that en­sifen­trine is an ef­fec­tive ad­di­tion to sin­gle bron­chodila­tors. The com­pa­ny is cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing a Phase II tri­al to eval­u­ate a dry pow­der in­haler for­mu­la­tion of en­sifen­trine for the same pa­tient pop­u­la­tion, and plans to test en­sifen­trine in a me­tered-dose in­haler for­mu­la­tion in pa­tients with COPD. In ad­di­tion, the drug is al­so be­ing test­ed for use in cys­tic fi­bro­sis and asth­ma.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Right back at you, Pfiz­er: BeiGene and a Pfiz­er spin­out launch a new­co to de­vel­op a MEK/BRAF in­hibitor that could ri­val $11.4B com­bo

A day af­ter Pfiz­er bought Ar­ray and its ap­proved can­cer com­bo, BeiGene and Pfiz­er spin­out Spring­Works have part­nered in launch­ing a new biotech that has an eye on the very same mar­ket the phar­ma gi­ant just paid bil­lions for. And they’re plan­ning on us­ing an ex-Pfiz­er drug to do it.

In a nut­shell, Chi­na’s BeiGene is toss­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal BRAF in­hibitor — BGB-3245, which cov­ers both V600 and non-V600 BRAF mu­ta­tions — for a big stake in a new, joint­ly con­trolled biotech called Map­Kure with Bain-backed Spring­Works.

Sanofi aligns it­self with Google to stream­line drug de­vel­op­ment

Tech­nol­o­gy is bleed­ing in­to health­care, and big phar­ma is rid­ing the wave. Sanofi $SNY ap­point­ed its first chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer this Feb­ru­ary, fol­low­ing the foot­steps of its peers. By May, the French drug­mak­er and some of its big phar­ma com­pa­tri­ots joined forces with Google par­ent Al­pha­bet’s Ver­i­ly unit to aug­ment clin­i­cal tri­al re­search. On Tues­day, the Parisian com­pa­ny tied up with Google to ac­cess its cloud com­put­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech to spur the de­vel­op­ment of new ther­a­pies.

UP­DAT­ED: Roche fields first ap­proval for Ro­z­lytrek in the run-up to a show­down with Bay­er, Pfiz­er

While it’s wait­ing to hear back from FDA reg­u­la­tors, Roche is be­gin­ning the vic­to­ry lap for en­trec­tinib in Japan.

Roche is giv­ing Bay­er a run for their mon­ey with this tu­mor-ag­nos­tic drug, which tar­gets NTRK gene fu­sions. Now dubbed Ro­z­lytrek, it’s sanc­tioned to treat adult and pe­di­atric pa­tients in Japan with neu­rotroph­ic ty­ro­sine re­cep­tor ki­nase fu­sion-pos­i­tive, ad­vanced re­cur­rent sol­id tu­mors.

Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”