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.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Roche and Genen­tech re­searchers plot $53M dis­cov­ery quest aimed at spark­ing a 'Holy moly' piv­ot in neu­ro R&D

Roche and Genentech have committed $53 million to back a 10-year quest aimed at going back to the drawing board to use new technology and fresh scientific insights to generate a pipeline of drugs for neurological diseases.

Researchers from both Roche and its big South San Francisco hub — mixing teams from gRED and pRED this time — will mix it up with the scientists drawn together for the Weill Neurohub — formed in 2019 as a joint research partnership involving UCSF, Berkeley and the University of Washington — in an exploration of the field to develop new therapies for some of the toughest diseases in drug R&D: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and autism.

Am­gen, As­traZeneca speed to­ward fil­ing next-gen an­ti­body for asth­ma af­ter un­cork­ing full late-stage da­ta

On the hunt for a novel competitor to Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent in severe asthma, Amgen and AstraZeneca posted “exciting” results from their next-gen antibody late last year. Now, the partners are showing their hands, and the results look good enough for approval.

Amgen and AstraZeneca’s tezepelumab plus standard of care cut the rate of severe asthma attacks by 56% at the one-year mark compared with SOC alone, according to full data from the Phase III NAVIGATOR study presented Friday at the virtual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology meeting. And those significant results were consistent regardless of patients’ baseline eosinophil counts.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.