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.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

Laurent Fischer, Adverum CEO

Ad­verum faces murky fu­ture af­ter re­view turns up deep­er safe­ty is­sues for gene ther­a­py

Three months after revealing that a patient lost significant vision in one eye after receiving its experimental gene therapy, Adverum announced it found the safety issues were more widespread: Five of 12 patients who received a high dose of the therapy saw “similar clinically-relevant events.”

Three required surgery on their treated eye. And all 12 are being recommended “aggressive immunomodulatory treatments” to prevent further injury.

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Mol­e­c­u­lar Di­ag­nos­tics Can Trans­form Can­cer Care. Let’s Make It Hap­pen.

Like so many people around the world, my life has been profoundly shaped by cancer. Those personal experiences, along with a deep love of clinical laboratory science and a passion to apply the power of genomics in medicine, motivated me to launch a company that would improve cancer care through better diagnostics. Thirteen years later, I am proud that we are delivering more accurate information at multiple points along the patient journey, with a focus on eight of the 10 cancers that are most commonly diagnosed in the United States.

FDA lev­els clin­i­cal hold on Ma­gen­ta's sec­ond lead drug, ask­ing for an ad­di­tion­al bioas­say be­fore it gets to hu­mans

Earlier this summer, Magenta Therapeutics was forced to say goodbye to its head of R&D at a pivotal time as the biotech read out data for its lead stem cell conditioning hopeful. Just weeks later, the company’s second drug is facing a clinical hold from the FDA as the agency demands more info on how the candidate works in humans.

Magenta will be required to submit an additional bioassay to help determine the best path forward on dose escalation for the biotech’s Phase I/II study of MGTA-117, an antibody-drug conjugate used to deplete hematopoietic stem cells prior to a transplant of HSC-based gene therapy, the biotech said Wednesday.

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