New peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­pies aren’t as ef­fec­tive — or near­ly as in­ex­pen­sive — as ab­sti­nence, says ICER

While peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­pies from Aim­mune and DBV Tech­nolo­gies are locked in a race to the fin­ish line, in­flu­en­tial cost-ef­fec­tive­ness watch­dog ICER has de­ter­mined that nei­ther ther­a­py of­fers su­pe­ri­or net health ben­e­fit com­pared to strict peanut avoid­ance, in a fi­nal re­port pub­lished on Wednes­day.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, peanut al­ler­gies are man­aged by avoid­ance, but the threat of ac­ci­den­tal ex­po­sure can­not be nul­li­fied.

Some physi­cians have al­so been dos­ing pa­tients with peanut pow­der oral­ly, al­beit off la­bel. Aim­mune’s $AIMT AR101 and DBV’s $DB­VT Vi­askin Peanut are set to be the pi­o­neer­ing peanut al­ler­gy treat­ments ap­proved by the FDA. AR101 is ef­fec­tive­ly peanut flour, which must be mixed in­to pud­ding, ap­ple­sauce, or oth­er foods. Dos­ing is es­ca­lat­ed grad­u­al­ly, and the ther­a­py must be con­tin­ued dai­ly to main­tain de­sen­si­ti­za­tion. Vi­askin Peanut is a patch ap­plied dai­ly to the up­per back that de­liv­ers peanut anti­gen to de­sen­si­tize the pa­tient. The patch must be worn for longer pe­ri­ods as time pass­es and used every day to main­tain de­sen­si­ti­za­tion.

While the ICER pan­el ac­knowl­edged that de­sen­si­ti­za­tion as a sur­ro­gate out­come is promis­ing, they were look­ing for da­ta to demon­strate that de­sen­si­ti­za­tion is linked to im­proved qual­i­ty of life and re­duced re­ac­tions to ac­ci­den­tal ex­po­sure to peanuts.

Based on sur­ro­gate out­comes — oral food chal­lenges — AR101 ap­pears to be more ef­fec­tive than Vi­askin Peanut, but car­ries more ad­verse ef­fects. In ad­di­tion, in stud­ies of AR101, Vi­askin Peanut, and off-la­bel ther­a­py (OIT), ep­i­neph­rine use and sys­temic al­ler­gic re­ac­tions in­creased, ICER found.

Over­all, the body of ev­i­dence is not strong enough to sug­gest that AR101 or Vi­askin Peanut of­fer a su­pe­ri­or net health ben­e­fit ver­sus strict peanut avoid­ance, the pan­el said, adding that there is al­so un­cer­tain­ty about the long-term ef­fects of ei­ther ther­a­py.

“There is hope that the rates of sys­temic al­ler­gic re­ac­tions, ep­i­neph­rine use, and re­ac­tions to ac­ci­den­tal ex­po­sure will de­crease with con­tin­ued ther­a­py, but this re­mains to be demon­strat­ed. The po­ten­tial need for life­long ther­a­py rais­es is­sues about long-term ad­her­ence to treat­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing ado­les­cence and young adult­hood,” ICER said.

ICER did ac­knowl­edge, as it did in its draft re­port, that one of the lim­i­ta­tions of its analy­sis is that it as­sumed the util­i­ty of the two peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­pies on the ba­sis of ex­ist­ing da­ta on food al­ler­gies, but not specif­i­cal­ly the peanut al­ler­gy pa­tient pop­u­la­tion, due to “the pauci­ty of pref­er­ence-weight­ed health-re­lat­ed qual­i­ty of life es­ti­mates in food al­ler­gy pa­tients and their care­givers.”

“With both AR101 and Vi­askin, pa­tients still need to spend the rest of their life avoid­ing peanuts and still wor­ried about ac­ci­den­tal ex­po­sure and won­der­ing if their peanut treat­ment will pro­tect them from ana­phy­lax­is,” said James Wallen, who owns AMW Con­sul­tants, which is fo­cused on as­sist­ing for­eign biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies un­der­stand the US al­ler­gy im­munother­a­py mar­ket.

“With OIT (off-la­bel oral im­munother­a­py), the pa­tient is eat­ing peanuts dai­ly so they no longer have that fear of avoid­ing ac­ci­den­tal ex­po­sure. When you are deal­ing with chil­dren (since both ther­a­pies on­ly looked at or “suc­ceed­ed” in kids), the QOL (qual­i­ty of life) dif­fer­ences al­so have to con­sid­er the par­ent’s lev­el of com­fort with their child’s de­sen­si­ti­za­tion suc­cess. This is where OIT is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent and vast­ly su­pe­ri­or from both AR 101 and Vi­askin in my opin­ion,” he told End­points News.

Nei­ther com­pa­ny has di­vulged its pric­ing plans, so ICER used an­a­lyst pro­jec­tions to eval­u­ate each ther­a­py’s long-term cost-ef­fec­tive­ness: AR101 at $4,200/year and Vi­askin Peanut at $6,500/year.

One of the ways ICER makes these cal­cu­la­tions is on qual­i­ty-ad­just­ed-life-years (QALYs), a mea­sure of the state of health of a per­son or group in which the ben­e­fits — in terms of length of life — are ad­just­ed to re­flect the qual­i­ty of life.

Treat­ment with AR101 re­sult­ed in 0.75 in­cre­men­tal QALYs, while treat­ment with Vi­askin Peanut came up rel­a­tive­ly short, re­sult­ing in 0.26 in­cre­men­tal QALYs — when both were com­pared to no im­munother­a­py treat­ment over a life­time, ICER’s analy­sis sug­gest­ed.

“These ben­e­fits are due to im­proved sub­jec­tive qual­i­ty of life de­spite the rel­a­tive rar­i­ty with which se­ri­ous events oc­cur. The ul­ti­mate val­ue of these prod­ucts will be de­ter­mined by the prices that are set by the man­u­fac­tur­ers and their long-term ef­fec­tive­ness,” ICER con­clud­ed.

ICER’s analy­sis al­so in­di­cat­ed on­ly 41% of el­i­gi­ble pa­tients could be treat­ed with AR101 and 71% of el­i­gi­ble pa­tients could be treat­ed with Vi­askin Peanut in a giv­en year with­out ex­ceed­ing ICER’s bud­get im­pact thresh­old of $991 mil­lion.

Both Aim­mune and DBV said ICER’s con­clu­sions were pre­ma­ture.

The fi­nal re­port is gen­er­al­ly bi­ased against im­munother­a­py — and fails to cap­ture the full val­ue of AR101, Aim­mune said, un­der­scor­ing that ICER did not in­clude in its analy­sis the long-term ef­fi­ca­cy and qual­i­ty-of-life da­ta from an open-la­bel fol­low-on study, as well as clin­i­cal out­comes da­ta from the com­pa­ny’s Eu­ro­pean late-stage tri­al.

“We be­lieve this fi­nal re­port rais­es more ques­tions than it an­swers and should be viewed as an ear­ly start­ing point for fu­ture con­ver­sa­tions—not the fi­nal word—about the val­ue of AR101,” Aim­mune chief Jayson Dal­las said in a state­ment.

Mean­while, DBV voiced sim­i­lar con­cerns, sug­gest­ing it dis­agreed with ICER’s method­ol­o­gy as well as the tim­ing of the re­port.

Among oth­er points of con­tention, DBV took is­sue with ICER’s in­clu­sion of a Lancet study on oral im­munother­a­py (OIT), which did not in­clude Vi­askin Peanut clin­i­cal tri­als. “DBV has con­cerns with group­ing Vi­askin Peanut’s rat­ing along with this sys­temic OIT analy­sis,” a spokesper­son told End­points News.

Aim­mune ef­fec­tive­ly leapfrogged DBV when the lat­ter re­scind­ed an ap­pli­ca­tion to mar­ket Vi­askin Peanut patch last year in re­sponse to FDA con­cerns about the state of man­u­fac­tur­ing and qual­i­ty con­trol da­ta sub­mit­ted.

An FDA de­ci­sion for AR101 is ex­pect­ed in Jan­u­ary 2020, while DBV is ex­pect­ed to sub­mit its mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion lat­er in 2019. The so far un­tapped mar­ket is ex­pect­ed to grow to $4.5 bil­lion in 2027 glob­al­ly, ac­cord­ing to Glob­al­Da­ta.

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during the Nevada Democrats' "First in the West" event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada (Getty Images)

Eliz­a­beth War­ren pro­pos­es us­ing com­pul­so­ry li­cens­ing, an­titrust ac­tions to break bio­phar­ma’s con­trol of drug pric­ing — and here are the block­busters she’s tar­get­ing first

Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill may have sparked some industrial strength headaches on the money side of biopharma, but Elizabeth Warren seems determined to become biopharma’s Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Warren, one of the top-ranked candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination backing Medicare for all, is circulating a new plan that promises to break the industry’s grip on drug prices — and she has some very specific examples of how she would do it.
The Warren plan would rely on the federal government’s compulsory licensing powers to seize the IP of blockbuster drugs like Truvada and Harvoni to provide them at a fraction of what Gilead sells them for in the US. And she would throw some antitrust actions in as needed to rein in the price of Humira, AbbVie’s cash cow that continues to dominate the list of the most profitable therapeutics on the market.
Notably, she plans to rely on the powers already vested in the federal government, rather than suggest remedies that would require the assent of a deeply divided Congress.
In addition to the blockbusters on the list, Warren sends a clear signal that the same tactics would be used to beef up the supply of cheap antibiotics, as needed. And the same action could befall any other therapy patients can’t afford.

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Mer­ck’s $1B cash gam­ble pays off with a sur­pris­ing PhI­II car­dio suc­cess for Bay­er’s heart drug veri­ciguat

More than 3 years after Merck stepped up and paid $1 billion in cold, hard cash to gain the US commercial rights to Bayer’s high-risk heart drug vericiguat in a broad-ranging cardio alliance, the partners say their Phase III study has come through with promising data and a date with regulators.
We don’t have the data, and won’t until they put it out at an upcoming scientific session, but Merck touted the results, saying that their big Phase III VICTORIA study hit the primary endpoint  — with vericiguat combined with available therapies reducing “the risk of the composite endpoint of heart failure hospitalization or cardiovascular death in patients with worsening chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) compared to placebo when given in combination with available heart failure therapies.”
Depending on the hard data, and how it breaks out with the combinations used, this drug could pose a threat to Novartis’ blockbuster drug Entresto, currently at $1.6 billion while analysts expect peak sales to hit $4 billion.
The drug is a soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) stimulator, which Bayer and Merck have had high hopes for. Evidently, so did cardiologists. Cowen’s last analysis set potential sales at $400 million in 2024, but that number could go up significantly now.
Cowen’s Steve Scala noted this morning:
Vericiguat could be a lucrative product for Merck, and one with potentially under-appreciated value. At Cowen’s Therapeutics Conference in September 2019, 80% of specialists anticipated a positive result from VICTORIA whereas only 51% of investors shared this optimism.
Investigators recruited more than 5,000 patients at more than 600 centers in 42 countries for this study — one of the most expensive propositions in R&D. Millions of people in the US suffer from heart failure with reduced ejection fraction when the failing heart fails to contract properly to eject blood into the system. Bayer holds ex-US rights to the drug and also stands to earn cash from the $1.1 billion in milestones Merck agreed on for their collaboration.
Remarkably, the drug was pushed into Phase III despite failing the mid-stage trial — though investigators flagged a success at the high dose of 10 mg. In VICTORIA, researchers started patients at 2.5 mg and then titrated up to 5 and then 10 mg.

Alk­er­mes forges $950M biotech buy­out deal in a bold bet on an ear­ly-stage CNS drug plat­form

Alkermes $ALKS is investing $100 million cash and committing up to $850 million more in milestones in a big wager on a very early-stage CNS discovery platform. And the biotech is adding $20 million more to fund next year’s new research work on the platform it’s acquiring in today’s buyout with an eye to expanding the research work in oncology.

The biotech, helmed by Richard Pops, is buying Rodin Therapeutics, which had focused early on Alzheimer’s disease. Pops’ buyout, though, isn’t focused solely on the most troublesome sector in pharma R&D.

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(Image: Associated Press)

Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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Left to right: Arthur Pappas, Robert Nelsen, Peter Kolchinsky Doug Cole and David Beier

In rare po­lit­i­cal for­ay, top biotech in­vestors urge Con­gress to re­ject drug pric­ing bill

Thirteen of the top biotech venture capitalists in the country wrote a letter last week warning lawmakers that if Congress passes a drug pricing bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put before lawmakers, they won’t be able to invest in biomedical research at their current rate, and patients will suffer.

“If policies such as those included within H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, are passed, our ability to continue to invest in future biomedical innovation will be severely constrained, thus crushing the hopes of millions of patient waiting for the next breakthroughs to treat or cure their cancers, rare genetic diseases, Alzheimer’s, or other serious and life-threatening conditions,” they wrote in a letter addressed to the highest-ranking Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate and acquired by Endpoints News. 

Dicer­na scores broad, 'rest of liv­er' deal with No­vo Nordisk, bag­ging $225M in cash to hit some 30 tar­gets with RNAi plat­form

Turns out Dicerna wasn’t done with deals yet after locking in $200 million upfront from Roche for a hepatitis B cocktail two weeks ago.

Novo Nordisk has signed on as the latest partner to its GalXC RNAi platform, handing over $175 million in cash to claim any and all targets of interest in liver-related cardio-metabolic diseases that are not already reserved in previous pacts. The Danish drugmaker — which has signaled its interest to expand considerably beyond its core diabetes franchise into areas like NASH — is also purchasing $50 million worth of Dicerna’s equity at a 25% premium of $21.93 per share. More research payments and milestones extending to the billions are on the line.

Gene ther­a­py wins the in­side track at EMA; PPD files for IPO

→ Gene therapy maker Orchard Therapeutics has been granted an accelerated assessment for OTL-200 by the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP). The gene therapy — in development in partnership with the San Raffaele-Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) in Milan, Italy — being used towards the treatment of metachromatic leukodystrophy.

→ Pharmaceutical Product Development has announced that its parent company, PPD, Inc has submitted a draft to the SEC relating to the proposal of an IPO of the parent company’s common stock. Number of shares and price range have not yet been determined.