(Image: Associated Press)

No­var­tis' Cosen­tyx miss­es main goal in head-to-head tri­al with Ab­b­Vie's Hu­mi­ra

Af­ter re­port­ing pos­i­tive da­ta in non-ra­di­ograph­ic ax­i­al spondy­loarthri­tis last month, No­var­tis’ block­buster Cosen­tyx was dealt a set­back on Fri­day.

In the 52-week EX­CEED tri­al in 800 bi­o­log­ic-naïve ac­tive pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis pa­tients, the IL-17A drug was test­ed against Ab­b­Vie’s flag­ship Hu­mi­ra. The main goal of the study was to show Cosen­tyx was sta­tis­ti­cal­ly su­pe­ri­or us­ing re­sponse rates to ACR20, a stan­dard mea­sure that looks for a 20% re­cov­ery in the num­ber of ten­der and num­ber of swollen joints, and a 20% im­prove­ment in three oth­er cat­e­gories at week 52.

Al­though Cosen­tyx monother­a­py re­sult­ed in high­er re­sults ver­sus Hu­mi­ra, it “nar­row­ly” missed the main goal of sta­tis­ti­cal su­pe­ri­or­i­ty. De­tailed da­ta will be pre­sent­ed at a lat­er date.

Cosen­tyx — ap­proved for pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis, plaque pso­ri­a­sis and anky­los­ing spondyli­tis — has been No­var­tis’ biggest sell­er in the first nine months of 2019, gen­er­at­ing about $2.6 bil­lion in sales over the pe­ri­od. It in­hibits a pro­tein called IL-17A from bind­ing to its re­cep­tor and was the first-ever ap­proved such ther­a­py to se­cure ap­proval, launch­ing in 2015.

Since then, ri­vals have emerged, in­clud­ing Eli Lil­ly’s IL-17A ther­a­py Taltz, and J&J’s an­ti-IL23 Trem­fya. Bausch Health’s (for­mer­ly Valeant’s) Siliq tar­gets IL-17RA and is ap­proved for plaque pso­ri­a­sis, but is cur­rent­ly be­ing eval­u­at­ed for pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis.

For Ab­b­Vie, its TNF in­hibitor Hu­mi­ra — ap­proved for an ar­ray of au­toim­mune con­di­tions — has been the gift that keeps giv­ing. The drug — which hit a stu­pen­dous $20 bil­lion in sales last year, earn­ing it the crown of the world’s best sell­ing ther­a­py — has be­gun to see ero­sion in Eu­ro­pean sales due to biosim­i­lar com­pe­ti­tion, and a US patent cliff is loom­ing.

In Au­gust, Ab­b­Vie’s JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib se­cured FDA ap­proval as part of the drug­mak­er’s post-Hu­mi­ra plans.  But the class of drugs has been blight­ed by safe­ty con­cerns — con­se­quent­ly, upadac­i­tinib’s ap­proval was ac­com­pa­nied by a black box warn­ing.  Mean­while, Ab­b­Vie has al­so planned for a post-Hu­mi­ra world with a $63 bil­lion deal to swal­low Al­ler­gan and its key­stone Botox fran­chise.

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

Covid-19 roundup: J&J be­gins piv­otal Phase III tri­al for vac­cine; Sanofi and GSK reach deal with Cana­da for 72 mil­lion vac­cine dos­es

Johnson & Johnson announced it’s beginning a pivotal Phase III trial for its Covid-19 candidate, JNJ-78436735 — the first single-dose vaccine in this stage.

The Phase III trial, dubbed ENSEMBLE, will enroll 60,000 patients worldwide, making it the largest Phase III study of a Covid-19 vaccine to date. J&J said the candidate achieved positive interim results in a Phase I/IIa study, which will be published “imminently.” There’s a possibility that the first batches will be ready for potential emergency use in early 2021, according to the biotech.

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FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials, and could help shore up public trust in the agency and any eventual vaccine.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Vas Narasimhan (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Still held down by clin­i­cal hold, No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma falls fur­ther be­hind Bio­gen and Roche as FDA asks for a new piv­otal study

Last October, the FDA slowed down Novartis’ quest to extend its gene therapy to older spinal muscular atrophy patients by slapping a partial hold on intrathecal administration. Almost a year later, the hold is still there, and regulators are adding another hurdle required for regulatory submission: a new pivotal confirmatory study.

The new requirement — which departs significantly from Novartis’ prior expectations — will likely stretch the path to registration beyond 2021, when analysts were expecting a BLA submission. That could mean more time for Biogen to reap Spinraza revenues and Roche to ramp up sales of Evrysdi in the absence of a rival.

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Patrick Enright, Longitude co-founder (Longitude)

As its biotechs hit the pan­dem­ic ex­it, Lon­gi­tude rais­es $585M for new neu­ro, can­cer, ag­ing and or­phan-fo­cused fund

The years have been kind to Longitude Capital. This year, too.

A 2006 spinout of Pequot Capital, its founders started their new firm just four years before the parent company would go under amid insider trading allegations. Their first life sciences fund raised $325 million amid the financial crisis, they added a second for $385 million and then in, 2016, a third for $525 million. In the last few months, the pandemic biotech IPO boom netted several high-value exits from those funds, as Checkmate, Vaxcyte, Inozyme and Poseida all went public.

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Scoop: ARCH’s Bob Nelsen is back­ing an mR­NA up­start that promis­es to up­end the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing side of the glob­al busi­ness

For the past 2 years, serial entrepreneur Igor Khandros relied on a small network of friends and close insiders to supply the first millions he needed to fund a secretive project to master a new approach to manufacturing mRNA therapies.

Right now, he says, he has a working “GMP-in-a-box” prototype for a new company he’s building — after launching 3 public companies — which plans to spread this contained, precise manufacturing tech around the world with a set of partners. He’s raised $60 million, recruited some prominent experts. And not coincidentally, he’s going semi-public with this just as a small group of pioneers appears to be on the threshold of ushering in the world’s first mRNA vaccines to fight a worldwide pandemic.

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Isaac Veinbergs, Libra CEO

With $29M in Se­ries A, Boehringer-backed Li­bra looks to tack­le neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion through cel­lu­lar clean­ing

Can the natural process by which cells clean out toxic proteins be harnessed to create potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders?

That’s the question Libra Therapeutics will be trying to answer, as the new biotech officially launched Wednesday morning with $29 million in Series A financing. The company has three preclinical programs at the ready, with its lead candidate targeting ALS and frontotemporal dementia. But CEO Isaac Veinbergs said he hopes to develop therapies for a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

Gene Wang, Immetas co-founder and CEO (file photo)

Im­metas Ther­a­peu­tics nabs $11M Se­ries A to nar­row their bis­pe­cif­ic work tar­get­ing in­flam­ma­tion in age-re­lat­ed dis­eases

How does a biotech celebrate its two-year anniversary? For Immetas Therapeutics, it’s with an $11 million Series A round and a game plan to fight age-related disease.

Co-founders Gene Wang and David Sinclair came together years ago around the idea that inflammation is the ultimate process driving age-related illnesses, including cancer. The duo launched Immetas in 2018 and packed the staff with industry experts. Wang, who says he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, has held lead roles at Novartis, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck. He’s worked on blockbuster drugs like Humira, Gardasil, Varubi and Zolinza. And now, he’s channeling that spirit as CEO.