Nek­tar takes the spot­light at SITC tout­ing some promis­ing ear­ly da­ta for hard-to-treat can­cers

WASH­ING­TON, DC — One of Nek­tar Ther­a­peu­tics’ top can­cer drugs gained the spot­light at the So­ci­ety for Im­munother­a­py of Can­cer meet­ing over the week­end with the first cut of some promis­ing re­sponse rates in a range of tu­mor types. And the pub­lic biotech $NK­TR be­lieves the re­sults point them to a short path at the FDA that could lead to the drug’s first, fast ap­proval.

Mary Tagli­a­fer­ri

The drug is NK­TR-214, an IL-2 im­muno-on­col­o­gy ther­a­py — built from the ground up by the biotech — which is de­signed to bind to the CD122 re­cep­tor on the sur­face of CD-8 and CD-4 pos­i­tive im­mune cells to whip up an at­tack on var­i­ous can­cers. Nek­tar struck a 50/50 deal with Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY to use their drug in com­bi­na­tion with Op­di­vo (nivolum­ab), match­ing a ther­a­py aimed at dri­ving an im­mune re­sponse with a pop­u­lar check­point block­buster that helps take the brakes off the as­sault.

At SITC, the com­pa­ny pro­duced a med­ley of da­ta points, in­clud­ing:

  • In treat­ment-naïve first-line pa­tients with stage IV melanoma, re­searchers tracked re­spons­es in 7 of 11 pa­tients (63%), with 2 com­plete re­spons­es — no vis­i­ble signs of the dis­ease — and 5 par­tial re­spons­es. Not all of these num­bers are pre­cise. It’s im­por­tant to note though that one of the CRs and one of the PRs were un­con­firmed — em­pha­siz­ing just how ear­ly these re­sults are.
  • Among 13 kid­ney can­cer pa­tients with one or more base­line scans, re­spons­es were ob­served in 6 (46%), with 1 com­plete re­sponse and 5 par­tials.
  • For a small group of 4 pa­tients with ad­vanced PD-L1/neg­a­tive non-small cell lung can­cer, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors tracked a re­sponse in 3 (75%), with 1 com­plete and 2 par­tials.

“Sin­gle-agent nivolum­ab is known for all these in­di­ca­tions, with a 34% re­sponse for melanoma,” Mary Tagli­a­fer­ri, se­nior vice pres­i­dent, clin­i­cal at Nek­tar, tells me. “We have a 64% re­duc­tion.”

That’s what in­vestors liked to hear. Nek­tar’s stock quick­ly jumped 23% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing on Mon­day.

Jonathan Za­levsky

“Our re­sponse rate is just over 50% even in PD-L1 neg­a­tive pa­tients,” says Jonathan Za­levsky, Nek­tar’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of bi­ol­o­gy and pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. “And what we like about those met­rics, it gives us a nice con­fir­ma­tion of the in­crease we’re see­ing in our com­bi­na­tion.”

This is an ear­ly snap­shot of this drug, to be sure, but Nek­tar’s team be­lieves that the safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy pro­files they’re see­ing in the first snap­shot of da­ta un­der­scores the biotech’s chances of go­ing af­ter an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for cer­tain pa­tient groups that face par­tic­u­lar­ly poor prospects.

“There is an op­por­tu­ni­ty for Nek­tar to pur­sue an ac­cel­er­at­ed path­way in those pa­tient pop­u­la­tions where the re­sponse rate is very, very low,” says Tagli­a­fer­ri.

They wouldn’t be the first to suc­ceed at that, ei­ther. The FDA has proven ea­ger to get new ther­a­pies to pa­tients with poor prospects, and Nek­tar has filed for “break­through” sta­tus to help en­list reg­u­la­tors’ sup­port for their plans.

The Phase II has now been ex­pand­ed from 250 to 330 pa­tients with 13 co­horts.

So what’s an ap­proval worth here?

Cowen an­a­lyst Chris Shibu­tani is one of the most op­ti­mistic an­a­lysts cov­er­ing the drug, es­ti­mat­ing its 2023 rev­enue at $950 mil­lion — but every­thing has to go right for it to get close to the block­buster mark.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Am­gen sev­ers 14-year Cy­to­ki­net­ics part­ner­ship, bail­ing on ome­cam­tiv af­ter mixed PhI­II re­sults

Amgen is shrugging off a 14-year development alliance and the tens of millions of dollars spent to develop a new heart drug at Cytokinetics after a Phase III trial turned up weak data — leaving Cytokinetics to soldier on alone.

Omecamtiv mecarbil technically worked, meeting the primary composite endpoint in the Phase III GALACTIC-HF study. But it missed a key secondary endpoint, which analysts had been following as a key marker for success — reduction of cardiovascular (CV) death. While Cytokinetics celebrated the results, its stock tanked 43% upon the news, and analysts warned of an uncertain path ahead. Now, Amgen wants out.

Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

News brief­ing: Ab­b­Vie part­ner Teneo­bio ex­pands tech li­cense with CAR-T play­er Po­sei­da; Ar­genx buys PRV from Bay­er for $98M

Teneobio may be best known for its pact with AbbVie and Gilead, but before its big break the bispecific player had licensed its antibodies for a different use: as binders in CAR-T therapies being developed by Poseida.

Now, the biotechs are expanding their partnership, with Poseida exercising four options to deploy Teneobio’s heavy chain only domain antibodies commercially.

The commercial licensing fees remained under wraps, but Teneobio is eligible for $250 million in milestones for these CAR-Ts against undisclosed targets.