No sur­prise: Ab­b­Vie turns cold shoul­der to a messy rheuma­toid arthri­tis part­ner­ship with Abl­ynx

Ab­b­Vie is punt­ing yet an­oth­er high-pro­file rheuma­toid arthri­tis de­vel­op­ment part­ner­ship. The phar­ma out­fit is tak­ing a pass on Abl­ynx’s Phase III-ready drug vo­bar­il­izum­ab and shrug­ging off its $175 mil­lion up­front buy-in.

The de­ci­sion will come as no sur­prise to any care­ful ob­serv­er of RA. The an­ti-IL-6R re­cent­ly failed to pass muster in a Phase IIb tri­al, de­spite Abl­ynx’s best ef­forts to get an­a­lysts to look past the fail­ure on the pri­ma­ry end­point and on to more up­beat re­sults in the study. And Ab­b­Vie al­ready has an in-house ri­val that it’s been much more pumped about.

I wrote up that IIb da­ta back in Au­gust, not­ing that the Bel­gian biotech had plen­ty of ex­plain­ing to do. Not on­ly did the treat­ment flop on the ACR20 goal, it al­so failed on a score of im­proved phys­i­cal func­tion when com­bined with methotrex­ate against methotrex­ate alone. Eli Lil­ly and In­cyte (baric­i­tinib), GSK and J&J (sirukum­ab) and Re­gen­eron/Sanofi (sar­ilum­ab), mean­while, have been tack­ling Hu­mi­ra in head-to-head stud­ies for their drugs.

The lat­est da­ta set ar­rived just one month af­ter Abl­ynx al­so demon­strat­ed that their drug was at best a matchup against Roche’s Actem­ra (ap­proved in 2010) on the key ACR scores, though it did bet­ter on dis­ease ac­tiv­i­ty scores.

Last year, Ab­b­Vie al­so left Gala­pa­gos at the al­tar with their drug fil­go­tinib. But Gilead im­me­di­ate­ly stepped in, pay­ing $725 mil­lion to ac­quire part­ner­ship rights. Now Abl­ynx will face the task of find­ing some­one will­ing to step in­to Ab­b­Vie’s shoes as well, try­ing to lure in part­ners with its pos­i­tive ACR50 and ACR70 scores as well as up­beat re­sults for low dis­ease ac­tiv­i­ty. But it will face some harsh com­par­isons.

Ab­b­Vie, mean­while, seems con­tent to stay fo­cused on ABT-494, which it be­lieves has a sol­id shot at emerg­ing from this com­pet­i­tive field as a best-in-class ther­a­py. And Abl­ynx CEO Ed­win Moses says he’s ready to march in­to a big late-stage study.

“We are ob­vi­ous­ly dis­ap­point­ed that Ab­b­Vie has de­cid­ed at this time not to ex­er­cise its right to li­cense vo­bar­il­izum­ab in RA. The strong Phase IIb re­sults in RA demon­strat­ed that vo­bar­il­izum­ab is not just an­oth­er an­ti­body but a mem­ber of a new ther­a­peu­tic class with unique dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fea­tures re­sult­ing in a su­pe­ri­or ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty pro­file as com­pared to oth­er bi­o­log­i­cals. We are ab­solute­ly com­mit­ted to pro­gress­ing this pro­gram and will there­fore start the prepa­ra­tions for the Phase III study with the first pa­tients ex­pect­ed to be en­rolled by the end of 2017.”

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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David Loew (Ipsen)

Ipsen snags an ap­proved can­cer drug in $247M M&A deal as an­oth­er bat­tered biotech sells cheap

You can add Paris-based Ipsen to the list of discount buyers patrolling the penny stock pack for a cheap M&A deal.

The French biotech, which has had plenty of its own problems to grapple with, has swooped in to buy Epizyme $EPZM for $247 million in cash and a CVR with milestones attached to it. Epizyme shareholders, who had to suffer through a painfully soft launch of their EZH2a inhibitor cancer drug Tazverik, will get $1.45 per share along with a $1 CVR tied to achieving $250 million in sales from the drug over four consecutive quarters as well as an OK for second-line follicular lymphoma by 1 Jan. 2028.

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AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.

Sanofi, GSK tout 72% Omi­cron ef­fi­ca­cy in PhI­II tri­al of next-gen, bi­va­lent shot — with an eye to year-end roll­out

Sometimes, being late can give you an advantage.

That’s what Sanofi and GSK are trying to say as the Big Pharma partners report positive results from a late-stage trial of their next-gen bivalent Covid-19 vaccine, which was designed to protect against both the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Beta variant. Specifically, against Omicron, they note, the vaccine delivered 72% efficacy in all adults and 93.2% in those previously infected.

Matt Kapusta, uniQure CEO

In trou­bled Hunt­ing­ton’s space, uniQure’s gene ther­a­py shows ear­ly promise

In randomized clinical trial data from a small number of patients, Dutch biotech uniQure shared that its gene therapy for Huntington’s disease seems to reduce the amount of the mutant protein responsible for the disease over the course of a year.

In seven patients with early-stage Huntington’s — four who got the treatment and three who got a placebo — mutant huntingtin protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid decreased by an average of just over 50% in patients who got the gene therapy compared to around a 17% drop in patients who got the placebo after a year.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”