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.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.


ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology


ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development


CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Ted Ashburn. Oncorus

Cowen, Per­cep­tive lead $79.5M Se­ries B for 's­tand­out' biotech shep­herd­ing on­colyt­ic virus to clin­ic

As several Big Pharma players secure biotech partners in the oncolytic virus space for new immuno-oncology combos, Cowen and Perceptive Advisors have come out with their own bet on a startup that promises to shine.

The marquee investors are joining MPM, Deerfield, Celgene, Astellas, Arkin and UBS in backing the drug developer, Oncorus, which will now deploy the $79.5 million in Series B cash toward clinical development of its lead program. Other new investors include Surveyor Capital, Sphera Funds, IMM Investment, QUAD Investment Management, UTC Investment, SV Investment Corp and Shinhan Investment-Private Equity, the last five of which are Korean-based funds.

Fu­til­i­ty analy­sis au­gurs de­feat in piv­otal tri­al test­ing of Nu­Cana's lead drug in metasta­t­ic pan­cre­at­ic can­cer

Nearly two years after making its public debut, UK-based NuCana’s mission to make chemotherapies more potent and safer was dealt a blow, after a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug halted enrollment in a hard-to-treat advanced form of cancer, following a futility analysis.

The drug, Acelarin, is being evaluated for use in metastatic pancreatic cancer patients who were not considered suitable for combination chemotherapy. In the late-stage ACELARATE study — which compared the experimental drug against the chemotherapy gemcitabine — 200 patients had been enrolled by the sponsor, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, before an analysis from an independent safety and data monitoring panel suggested the study’s main goal would not be met.

UP­DAT­ED: Pay­back? An­a­lysts say Sarep­ta was blind­sided by an FDA re­jec­tion dri­ven by reg­u­la­to­ry re­venge

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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