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.

UP­DAT­ED: A small, ob­scure biotech just won big with their IPO. In this mar­ket. Are you kid­ding me?

How could a small, largely unknown biotech that emerged from stealth mode just months ago with early-stage cancer programs jump onto Wall Street in the middle of a Category 6 financial hurricane and sail through with a $165 million IPO?

And what does that mean for the rest of the industry waiting to see just how much damage global lockdowns will wreak on clinical development?

The biotech is a company called Zentalis. The crew there nabbed an $85 million crossover round late last year — notably waiting 5 years before waving the numbers around to attract attention, according to my read of a FierceBiotech story. Perceptive joined in, but the syndicate was not in general the kind of marquee affair that gets tongues wagging.

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Gilead CEO Daniel O'Day attends a meeting with the President and other biopharma leaders at the White House on March 2, 2020 (AP Photo)

Ramp­ing up glob­al pro­duc­tion of remde­sivir, Gilead CEO Dan O’Day de­tails plans to dis­trib­ute 1.5M dos­es to fight Covid-19 — for free

Gilead is still some days away from turning the card on its first round of data on remdesivir’s ability to fight severe cases of Covid-19, but the big biotech is ramping up an emergency supply of a million courses of therapy as it starts free distribution of the drug to tens of thousands of patients under their compassionate use and expanded access program as well as clinical trials.

In his latest open letter posted over the weekend, Gilead CEO Dan O’Day outlined how the company has been successful in cutting production time on remdesivir while repurposing some of their own facilities and turning to contract manufacturers to build a near-term supply of 1.5 million doses. They are still working on efficacy and dosing, but that supply could cover 140,000 courses of treatment. That supply, he added, would be more widely available following a potential approval.

Bob Nelsen at the Milken Institute Global Conference on April 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH chief Bob Nelsen has $1.5B to prove 2 sim­ple points: ‘We’re in the most in­no­v­a­tive time ever’ and in­vestors are stay­ing

ARCH co-founder and managing director Bob Nelsen has a well known yen for the home run swing, betting big on potentially transformative meds and tech and the biotech teams he helps bring together. He thrives and bleeds on the cutting edge. And now Nelsen and the ARCH group have debuted 2 big funds to prove that this is the time for the best of biotech to shine — deadly pandemic be damned.

Two new funds, ARCH Venture Fund X and ARCH Venture Fund X Overage, gathered a combined $1.46 billion. And that’s a record. ARCH Venture Fund IX and ARCH Venture Fund IX Overage closed in 2016 with a combined $1.1 billion. ARCH Venture Fund VIII and ARCH Venture Fund VIII Overage closed in 2014 with a combined $560 million.

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Have a new drug that promis­es to fight Covid-19? The FDA promis­es fast ac­tion but some de­vel­op­ers aren't hap­py

After providing an emergency approval to use malaria drugs against coronavirus with little actual evidence of their efficacy or safety in that setting, the FDA has already proven that it has set aside the gold standard when it comes to the pandemic. And now regulators have spelled out a new approach to speeding development that promises immediate responses in no uncertain terms — promising a program offering the ultimate high-speed pathway to Covid-19 drug approvals.

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Once fu­ri­ous over No­var­tis’ da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion scan­dal, the FDA now says it’s noth­ing they need to take ac­tion on

Back in the BP era — Before Pandemic — the FDA ripped Novartis for its decision to keep the agency in the dark about manipulated data used in its application for Zolgensma while its marketing application for the gene therapy was under review.

Civil and criminal sanctions were being discussed, the agency noted in a rare broadside at one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Notable lawmakers cheered the angry regulators on, urging the FDA to make an example of Novartis, which fielded Zolgensma at $2.1 million — the current record for a one-off therapy.

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Covid-19 roundup: GSK, Am­gen tai­lor R&D work to fit the coro­n­avirus age; Doud­na's ge­nomics crew launch­es di­ag­nos­tic lab

You can add Amgen and GSK to the list of deep-pocket drug R&D players who are tailoring their pipeline work to fit a new age of coronavirus.

Following in the footsteps of a lineup of big players like Eli Lilly — which has suspended patient recruitment for drug studies — Amgen and GSK have opted to take a more tailored approach. Amgen is intent on circling the wagons around key studies that are already fully enrolled, and GSK has the red light on new studies while the pandemic plays out.

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In a stun­ning set­back, Amarin los­es big patent fight over Vas­cepa IP. And its high-fly­ing stock crash­es to earth

Amarin’s shares $AMRN were blitzed Monday evening, losing billions in value as reports spread that the company had lost its high-profile effort to keep its Vascepa patents protected from generic drugmakers.

Amarin had been fighting to keep key patents under lock and key — and away from generic rivals — for another 10 years, but District Court Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas ruled against the biotech. She ruled that:
(A)ll the Asserted Claims are invalid as obvious under 35 U.S.C.§ 103. Thus, the Court finds in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s remaining infringementclaim, and in their favor on their counterclaims asserting the invalidity of the AssertedClaims under 35 U.S.C. § 103.

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Aaron Royston, venBio

In­vest­ing in the time of coro­n­avirus: the good, the bad and the hope­ful, as biotech VC firms close funds worth $3B

Apart from disrupting biopharma R&D and regulatory timelines, the coronavirus pandemic has inevitably ravaged financial markets and eroded investor risk appetite. Investing in the time of coronavirus feels reckless, but if biotech venture funds are any indication, the time is ripe.

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Drug dis­cov­ery in the age of coro­n­avirus

Developing new drugs is incredibly hard. That’s why, despite superhuman efforts from the industry, we’re still looking at 12-18 months minimum before we can realistically hope for a vaccine for Covid-19, and probably months before there’s a proven viable drug treatment.

But our increasing ability to begin to industrialize the drug discovery and development process through an engineering approach means that we have more hope for speeding up this process than ever before — and not just to defeat coronavirus, but to benefit the development of all new medicines in the future.