New Zol­gens­ma da­ta sug­gest com­pa­ra­ble ef­fi­ca­cy to Spin­raza — an­a­lysts

As No­var­tis awaits the FDA de­ci­sion on its spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy (SMA) gene-ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, the com­pa­ny that de­vel­oped the treat­ment for the rare, dead­ly in­her­it­ed dis­or­der, AveX­is, pre­sent­ed da­ta snap­shots from on­go­ing tri­als on Sun­day, prompt­ing an­a­lysts to sug­gest that the one-shot ther­a­py was look­ing com­pa­ra­ble to Bio­gen’s ap­proved Spin­raza.

In the on­go­ing late-stage STR1VE study, de­signed to eval­u­ate the ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty of a one-time IV in­fu­sion of Zol­gens­ma in pa­tients with SMA Type 1 who are <6 months of age, da­ta showed pa­tients con­tin­ued to show event-free sur­vival well above nor­mal his­tor­i­cal con­trols, AveX­is sug­gest­ed at the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Neu­rol­o­gy an­nu­al meet­ing.

SMA caus­es mus­cle weak­ness and pro­gres­sive loss of move­ment, trig­gered by a ge­net­ic de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the nerve cells con­nect­ing the brain and spinal cord to the body’s mus­cles. Ba­bies with type 1 rarely sur­vive be­yond the first few years of life, while most chil­dren with type 2 sur­vive in­to adult­hood. Types 3 and 4 don’t usu­al­ly af­fect life ex­pectan­cy. The Swiss drug­mak­er has sug­gest­ed a price of $4 -$5 mil­lion for Zol­gens­ma, which it ac­quired via its $8.7 bil­lion takeover of AveX­is.

An­oth­er sig­nif­i­cant up­date was the snap­shot from the STRONG study, which is eval­u­at­ing the in­trathe­cal de­liv­ery of Zol­gens­ma in pa­tients with SMA Type 2. Pa­tients were strat­i­fied in­to two groups based on age at time of dos­ing: pa­tients who are ≥6 months but <24 months, and pa­tients who are ≥24 months but <60 months. The pri­ma­ry ef­fi­ca­cy out­come for pa­tients in the first group is the abil­i­ty to stand with­out sup­port ≥3 sec­onds; the main goal for the sec­ond group is a change in Ham­mer­smith Func­tion­al Mo­tor Scale-Ex­pand­ed (HFMSE) score from base­line. Since dos­ing, 22 mo­tor mile­stones in 10 pa­tients have been achieved across Dose A and Dose B, in­clud­ing two pa­tients who gained the abil­i­ty to stand in­de­pen­dent­ly, one of whom went on to walk alone, and one pa­tient who gained the abil­i­ty to walk with as­sis­tance. The me­di­an du­ra­tion of fol­low-up was 6.5 months and all 30 pa­tients are alive.

“The av­er­age age at en­roll­ment in STRONG was 17 months…these re­sults are chal­leng­ing to in­ter­pret or com­pare with the Spin­raza da­ta since the Bio­gen/Io­n­is study en­rolled pa­tients who were slight­ly old­er (3 years at base­line). Thus, we be­lieve the most com­pa­ra­ble dat­a­point is ef­fi­ca­cy on the HFMSE, which was the pri­ma­ry end­point in Bio­gen/Io­n­is’ Spin­raza tri­al. On this mea­sure, AVXS-101 pro­duced a mean 4.2 point im­prove­ment at a me­di­an fol­low up time of 7.5 months; by com­par­i­son, Spin­raza gen­er­at­ed a ~3 point im­prove­ment at 9 months in the Phase III CHER­ISH study. The mag­ni­tude of these im­prove­ments are ob­vi­ous­ly very close to one an­oth­er, and when we think about STRONG/CHER­ISH de­signs and the re­cruit­ed tri­al pop­u­la­tions, the bal­ance of con­found­ing vari­ables prob­a­bly fa­vors the STRONG study a lit­tle, un­der­ly­ing our con­clu­sion that the ef­fi­ca­cy of gene ther­a­py and Spin­raza are prob­a­bly pret­ty sim­i­lar,” Stifel an­a­lysts wrote in a note.

Ever­core ISI’s Umer Raf­fat sug­gest­ed that in the sec­ond group, al­though Zol­gens­ma ap­pears to kick in faster, both the gene-ther­a­py and Bio­gen’s $BI­IB Spin­raza plateau at the same. But, there is one cru­cial caveat — the pa­tients in AveX­is tri­al seemed to have low­er HFMSE scores to be­gin with, he wrote.

Over­all, no treat­ment-emer­gent deaths have been pre­sent­ed in the new da­ta, he not­ed. Rough­ly two weeks ago, AveX­is dis­closed that one of the in­fants in the STR1VE-EU study died from an in­fec­tion, and au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Zol­gens­ma played a role in the death. Al­though reg­u­la­to­ry bod­ies are ex­pect­ed to be ac­com­mo­dat­ing for safe­ty is­sues when it comes to a po­ten­tial once-and-done treat­ment for the lethal dis­ease, com­pe­ti­tion ab­sent these safe­ty con­cerns could cer­tain­ly tem­per adop­tion.

The AveX­is da­ta “looks com­pet­i­tive and like a vi­able op­tion for pa­tients, in­clud­ing new in­trathe­cal dos­ing for Type 2, etc, and be­yond just in­fants (where gene ther­a­py is most com­pet­i­tive to start). We think FDA ap­proval and a fair­ly ‘broad la­bel’ could be com­ing for No­var­tis as soon as this week. Our doc sur­vey sug­gests more than 1/3 of pa­tients could opt for this; hence, Bio­gen es­ti­mates may be too high for Spin­raza,” Jef­feries an­a­lysts wrote in a note.

PTC Ther­a­peu­tics $PTCT and Roche’s oral SMA ther­a­py, ris­diplam, will like­ly be tak­en to the FDA for re­view  lat­er this year for a broad pop­u­la­tion, and could be on the mar­ket by the end of 2020, they added.

“Bot­tom line — we could see a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 split of mar­ket over time,” Jef­feries an­a­lysts said. Doc­tors sug­gest gene ther­a­pies “could be 30-33% share of new SMA Type I-III pa­tients over time. An es­ti­mat­ed 20-25% could look to switch from Spin­raza to gene ther­a­py (de­pends on weight of pa­tient). 2) Sim­i­lar­ly, docs sug­gest 1/3 share for oral ris­diplam, too, af­ter 3-5 years; 3) Com­men­tary by docs sug­gests an even split of opin­ions on the mar­ket as well — from oral pills ‘very ap­peal­ing’ and ‘game chang­er’ and ‘es­pe­cial­ly at­trac­tive for teens/adults’ to oth­er ther­a­pies need more da­ta and like­ly com­bo,” cit­ing their sur­vey.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.