New safe­ty da­ta ex­pose po­ten­tial weak­ness as Pfiz­er's abroc­i­tinib takes on Dupix­ent in eczema

Last Sep­tem­ber, when Pfiz­er cel­e­brat­ed pos­i­tive da­ta from a sec­ond Phase III study of abroc­i­tinib, many watch­ers ap­plaud­ed the ef­fi­ca­cy but were still wait­ing to see whether the JAK1 in­hibitor is “safe enough to be a for­mi­da­ble com­peti­tor to Dupix­ent,” the clear leader in the atopic der­mati­tis field. The full slate of safe­ty da­ta are now out and, ac­cord­ing to one an­a­lyst, the an­swer is: prob­a­bly not.

The broad­er class of JAK in­hibitors has been plagued by se­ri­ous side ef­fects re­lat­ing to blood that threat­en to lim­it their adop­tion, and JAK1 drugs — which tar­get a more spe­cif­ic sub­type of the ki­nase — are still un­der heavy scruti­ny.

In a note, Jef­feries’ Re­gen­eron bull Biren Amin sin­gled out re­duc­tions in platelet count in JADE MONO-2 as a par­tic­u­lar cause for con­cern.

At week 4, platelet re­duc­tions of 26% were not­ed for the 200mg dose, 19% in the 100mg group, and less than 1% for those on place­bo. In the drug’s de­fense, the re­searchers wrote that platelet counts “re­turned to­wards base­line val­ues there­after de­spite con­tin­u­a­tion of treat­ment,” and that there were no re­ports of bleed­ing dis­or­ders in any treat­ment group.

Still, the fact that the mech­a­nism lead­ing to platelet re­duc­tions is un­known could be a con­cern, Amin not­ed.

Then there’s the da­ta point that 1.9% of pa­tients in the 100mg group re­port­ed a se­ri­ous in­fec­tion, com­pared to none on 200mg and 1.3% on place­bo. Her­pes zoster was ob­served in 2 pa­tients tak­ing 200mg (1.3%).

In Ab­b­Vie’s case, Amin point­ed out, 1% of pa­tients re­port­ing se­ri­ous in­fec­tions, op­por­tunis­tic in­fec­tions and her­pes zoster was enough for reg­u­la­tors to slap a black box warn­ing on Rin­voq’s rheuma­toid arthri­tis la­bel.

“Tak­en to­geth­er, giv­en the safe­ty sig­nals around con­cerns for JAK1i class, ini­tial adop­tion of abroc­i­tinib might be lim­it­ed to se­vere pa­tients or on­ly be used as a short course of in­duc­tion be­fore switch­ing pa­tients to oth­er ther­a­pies to re­duce the ex­po­sure,” he wrote.

For now, Pfiz­er is fo­cus­ing on the bright side, em­pha­siz­ing how abroc­i­tinib can of­fer po­ten­tial symp­tom re­lief to pa­tients — in­clud­ing the both­er­some itch that comes with mod­er­ate to se­vere atopic der­mati­tis. The rate of ad­verse events over­all was al­so low in the tri­al, back­ing the claim that the drug was well-tol­er­at­ed. Abroc­i­tinib is al­so giv­en in pill form rather than sub­cu­ta­neous­ly, of­fer­ing pa­tients a more con­ve­nient choice.

But as Sanofi and Re­gen­eron con­tin­ue to groom Dupix­ent — the prize gem of a fore­gone re­la­tion­ship that gen­er­at­ed $2.32 bil­lion in 2019 rev­enue — in­to an even big­ger block­buster, the fight is on­ly be­gin­ning to play out.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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Mer­ck scraps their $425M Covid-19 drug in lat­est pan­dem­ic set­back

Seven months after paying $425 million cash to acquire it, Merck is scrapping a Covid-19 drug they hoped could provide one of the only treatments for severe hospitalized patients.

Merck’s decision comes after they faced significant and unexpected regulatory delays in getting the drug, known as MK-7110 or CD24Fc, across the finish line. The Big Pharma licensed the drug under the belief that it had already shown sufficient benefit in severe patients and they could help scale it up far faster than OncoImmune, its former owner, could. But in February, the company reported that the FDA insisted Merck run a new trial before seeking authorization.

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Severin Schwan, Roche CEO (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP Images)

Look­ing to ce­ment its lead in packed MS mar­ket, Roche's Ocre­vus un­corks new da­ta in ear­ly-stage pa­tients

Among a positively jam-packed multiple sclerosis market, Roche’s Ocrevus has managed to stand out for what the Swiss drugmaker is calling the most successful launch in its long history. But in order to press its advantage, Ocrevus is looking to earlier-stage patients, and new interim data should help build its case there.

After 48 weeks on Roche’s Ocrevus, 85% of newly diagnosed primary progressing or relapsing MS patients without a history of disease modifying therapy posted no disease activity, including disease progression or relapse, according to interim data set to be presented this weekend at the virtual American Academy of Neurology meeting.

J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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