Study high­lights the FDA’s speed in ap­prov­ing can­cer drugs as a new com­mish looks to rev up re­views

Scott Got­tlieb

Dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing on Wednes­day Scott Got­tlieb em­pha­sized that he would start his new job as FDA com­mis­sion­er by fo­cus­ing on dif­fer­ent parts of the agency that have lagged in ac­cel­er­at­ing drug re­views. With the pres­i­dent beat­ing the ta­ble for a stream­lined ap­proval process, you can ex­pect some fresh pres­sure from the top to speed things up. And now Got­tlieb — who was al­ready on record on that score — has some ad­di­tion­al da­ta to point to for his ef­fi­cien­cy cam­paign, high­light­ing where the agency has been ef­fec­tive in speed­ing ap­provals and where it might push for faster ac­tion.

Writ­ing in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, re­searchers com­pared the ap­proval track record for the FDA against the EMA. And once again, the FDA comes out on top. But this is not a blan­ket en­dorse­ment.

Look­ing at reg­u­la­to­ry ac­tions tak­en be­tween 2011 and 2015, the re­searchers — Nicholas S. Down­ing, from Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal, Au­drey D. Zhang, New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, and Joseph S. Ross, Yale School of Med­i­cine — found that the FDA had ap­proved 170 ther­a­pies, com­pared to 144 from the EMA.

Richard Padzur

There were sig­nif­i­cant­ly more or­phan drug ap­provals at the FDA than the EMA, 43.5% vs. 25% of the ap­proved agents, which will al­so at­tract scruti­ny as crit­i­cism of the or­phan in­cen­tive pro­gram mounts. Re­views were, on av­er­age, sig­nif­i­cant­ly short­er at the FDA: 306 days com­pared to 383 days. And if you just look at the same drugs ap­proved by both agen­cies, the FDA still wins hand­i­ly — 303 days to 369 days.

But here’s the in­ter­est­ing part.

Where the FDA ex­celled in beat­ing the EMA was in can­cer and hema­to­log­i­cal drugs. Drugs de­signed as or­phan ther­a­pies were al­so ad­van­taged. That dis­tinc­tion in on­col­o­gy high­lights the role that Richard Paz­dur has played in re­mak­ing the way that drugs are re­viewed and ap­proved in his wing of the FDA. And he’ll be the ex­am­ple that is held up to oth­er reg­u­la­tors to em­u­late.

Can­cer, though, lends it­self to faster re­views, as they’re head­ed to dy­ing, ad­vanced stage pa­tients ini­tial­ly. The risk/ben­e­fit pro­file is sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent in, say, heart dis­ease or di­a­betes.

You can ex­pect to hear plen­ty more af­ter Got­tlieb nails down the job as FDA chief.

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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First place fin­ish: Eli Lil­ly just moved to fran­chise leader with their sec­ond mi­graine drug OK in 1 year

In a rare twist for Eli Lilly’s historically slow-moving R&D group, the pharma giant has seized bragging rights to a first-in-class new drug approval. And all signs point to an aggressive marketing followup as they look to outclass some major franchise rivals hobbled by internal dissension.

The FDA came through with an OK for lasmiditan on Friday evening, branding it as Reyvow and lining it up — once a substance classification comes through from the DEA — for a major market release. The oral drug binds to 5-HT1F receptors and is designed to stop an acute migraine after it starts. That makes it a complementary therapy to their CGRP drug Emgality, which has a statistically significant impact on preventing attacks.

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Allogene HQ Open House on September 17, 2019 in South San Francisco. (Jeff Rumans, Endpoints News)

The next 10 years: Where is biotech head­ed?

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in drug development. Timelines have shortened, particularly in oncology. Regulators have opened up. Investment has skyrocketed. China became a player. Biotechs have multiplied as gene and cell therapy has exploded — offering major new advances in the way diseases are treated, and sometimes cured.

So where are we headed from here? I journeyed out to San Francisco in September to discuss the answer to that question at Allogene’s open house. If the last 10 years have been an eye-opener, what does the next decade hold in store?

Patrick Mahaffy, Getty Images

Court green-lights Clo­vis case af­ter de­tail­ing ev­i­dence the board ‘ig­nored red flags’ on false safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Clovis investors have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running case against the board of directors, with a Delaware court making a rare finding that they had a strong enough case against the board to proceed with the action.

In a detailed ruling at the beginning of the month that’s been getting careful scrutiny at firms specializing in biotech and corporate governance, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the attorneys for the investors had made a careful case that the board — a collection of experts that includes high-profile biotech entrepreneurs, a Harvard professor and well-known investigator as well as Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy — repeatedly ignored obvious warnings that Mahaffy’s executive crew was touting inflated, unconfirmed data for their big drug Roci. Serious safety issues were also reportedly overlooked while the company continued a fundraising campaign that brought in more than a half-billion dollars. And that leaves the board open to claims related to their role in the fiasco.

The bottom line:

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Bill Gates backs Gink­go Biowork­s' $350M raise to fu­el the buzzy syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy 'rev­o­lu­tion'

If you want to understand Ginkgo Bioworks, the name should suffice: Bioworks, a spin off “ironworks,” that old industrial linchpin devoted to leveraging scale as a wellspring for vast new industries capable of remaking society. Ginkgo wants to be the ironworks for the revolution it’s heralded with as much fanfare as they can, playing off of one of the buzziest technologies in biotech.

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UCB bags a ri­val to Soliris in $2.1B buy­out deal — but will an in­creas­ing­ly vig­i­lant FTC sign off?

UCB is buying out Ra Pharma $RARX, announcing an acquisition deal that rings up at $48 a share, or $2.1 billion net of cash, and puts them toe-to-toe with Alexion on a clinical showdown.

Ra shares closed at $22.70 on Wednesday.

There’s a small pipeline in play at Ra, but UCB is going for the lead drug — a C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan in Phase III for myasthenia gravis (MG) looking to play rival to Alexion’s Soliris. Soliris has the market advantage, though, with a much earlier approval in MG in late 2017 that UCB feels confident in challenging.

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A new play­er is tak­ing the field in a push for a he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py, and it’s a big one

BioMarin, the execs at Spark (and buyer-to-be Roche) as well as the Sangamo/Pfizer team have a new rival striding onto the hemophilia block. And it’s a big one.

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Stuck with a PhI­II gene ther­a­py fail­ure at 96 weeks, Gen­Sight prefers the up­beat as­sess­ment

Two years after treatment, the best thing that GenSight Biologics $SIGHT can say about their gene therapy for vision-destroying cases of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is that it’s just a bit better than a placebo — just maybe because one treatment can cover both eyes.

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George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scangos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 million pennies short.

Scangos’ vaunted startup Vir Biotechnology raised $143 million in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 million. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 target.

Launched with backing from ARCH Venture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the infectious disease startup was one of a new wave of well-resourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough coffers to pursue a full R&D line rather than slowly build their case by picking off a single lead program.