No­var­tis’ part­ners at Cona­tus have an­oth­er NASH set­back to con­fess to­day

Eight months af­ter Cona­tus’ ex­ecs tried un­suc­cess­ful­ly to sell a sil­ver-lin­ing play­book sto­ry to in­vestors about the fail­ure of a Phase IIb tri­al for their drug em­ri­c­as­an in fi­bro­sis and cir­rho­sis, they’re back with an­oth­er failed Phase IIb — and once again they’ve set out to try and sell it as a win.

Steven Men­to

Cona­tus’ $CNAT shares were evis­cer­at­ed on Thurs­day, falling 52% in ear­ly trad­ing as in­vestors reg­is­tered their deep dis­con­tent hav­ing been forced to bot­tle their fury when the da­ta were re­leased on Wednes­day as the stock mar­ket was closed to hon­or George HW Bush’s fu­ner­al in Wash­ing­ton.

Cona­tus’ drug failed to demon­strate a mean im­prove­ment in he­pat­ic ve­nous pres­sure gra­di­ent, or HVPG, among pa­tients with com­pen­sat­ed NASH cir­rho­sis tak­ing one of three dos­es.

Cona­tus CEO Steven Men­to nev­er­the­less spot­light­ed the pos­i­tive, with a greater than 10% im­prove­ment in HVPG in two dos­es while the place­bo arm demon­strat­ed an un­spec­i­fied in­crease. In a pre­pared state­ment he said he was “en­cour­aged by the treat­ment ef­fect shown in this pop­u­la­tion in these top-line re­sults.”

Last year No­var­tis hand­ed the mi­crochip biotech a $50 mil­lion up­front to get their al­liance start­ed, which equaled their mar­ket cap at the time. No­var­tis al­so agreed to cov­er half the costs of a Phase IIb pro­gram for the drug. The sud­den and un­ex­pect­ed ar­rival of a gi­ant play­er in­spired a 146% in­crease in the share price at the time.

The biotech and the phar­ma gi­ant still have a ways to go, with 2 more clin­i­cal tests un­der­way.  

“Al­though the pri­ma­ry end­point was not met, the da­ta in­di­cates an ame­lio­ra­tion of por­tal pres­sures by em­ri­c­as­an,” said Arun Sanyal, chair of the NIH NASH Clin­i­cal Re­search Net­work and chair of the Liv­er Fo­rum. “Not sur­pris­ing­ly, those with the high­est HVPG had the great­est ben­e­fit and the trends in all groups on sen­si­tiv­i­ty analy­ses fa­vored ac­tive ther­a­py.”

Oth­ers were not as gen­er­ous. “We be­lieve these re­sults (and the to­tal­i­ty of da­ta ob­served across the em­ri­c­as­an de­vel­op­ment pro­gram to date) still high­light a num­ber of lin­ger­ing un­cer­tain­ties…which lim­it our abil­i­ty to con­fi­dent­ly rec­om­mend the stock in­to the next two da­ta read-outs, which will now ul­ti­mate­ly de­ter­mine the com­pa­ny’s longer-term fate,” Stifel’s Stephen Wil­ley wrote in a note on Thurs­day.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Michel Vounatsos, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Stay tuned: Bio­gen’s num­bers are great — it’s their wor­ri­some fu­ture that leaves an­a­lysts skit­tish

Biogen came out with an upbeat assessment of their Q2 numbers today, discounting the arrival of a key rival for its blockbuster Spinraza franchise. But the top execs remain grimly determined to not say much anything new about the sore points that have dragged down its stock, including the future of its big investment in Alzheimer’s or how it plans to invest the considerable cash that the big biotech continues to reap.

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Why wait? Cel­gene re­struc­tures a big Jounce pact — ze­ro­ing in on new I/O path­way with $530M deal and bump­ing ICOS

Celgene’s business team isn’t waiting for the big merger with Bristol-Myers Squibb to go through before syncing its strategy with the new mother ship.

Tuesday evening the big biotech unveiled a $530 million deal — $50 million in upfront cash — to amend their alliance with Jounce Therapeutics $JNCE to gain worldwide rights to JTX-8064, an antibody that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages. Their old, $2.6 billion deal is being scrapped, leaving Jounce with a pipeline that includes the lead drug, the ICOS-targeting vopratelimab.

PACT Phar­ma says it's per­fect­ed the tech to se­lect neoanti­gens for per­son­al­ized ther­a­py — now on­to the clin­ic

At PACT Pharma, the lofty goal to unleash a “tsunami” of T cells personalized for each patient has hinged on the ability to correctly identify the neoantigens that form something of a fingerprint for each tumor, and extract the small group of T cells primed to attack the cancer. It still has a long way to go testing a treatment in humans, but the biotech says it has nailed that highly technical piece of the process.

UP­DAT­ED: My­ovan­t's uter­ine fi­broid drug looks com­pet­i­tive in PhI­II — but can they van­quish mighty Ab­b­Vie?

Vivek Ramaswamy’s Myovant $MYOV has closely matched its positive first round of Phase III data for their uterine fibroid drug relugolix, setting up a head-to-head rivalry with pharma giant AbbVie as the little biotech steers to the market with a planned filing in Q4.

Here’s how Myovant plans to prevail over the AbbVie $ABBV empire.

In the study, 71.2% of women receiving once-daily relugolix combination therapy achieved the clinical response they were looking for, compared to only 14.7% in the control arm. The data comfortably reflected the same outcomes in the first Phase III — 73.4% of women receiving once-daily oral relugolix combination therapy achieved the responder criteria compared with 18.9% of women receiving placebo — which will reassure regulators that they are getting the carefully randomized data that qualifies for the FDA’s gold standard for success.

Lit­tle Mar­i­nus sees its shares eclipsed as the Sage ri­val fails to com­pare on PPD in PhII

The executive team at Sage $SAGE have skirted another potential pitfall on its way to racking up a big future for its depression drug Zulresso.

Little Marinus Pharmaceuticals $MRNS had sought to challenge the Sage drug with an IV formulation — followed by an oral version — of ganaxolone for postpartum depression. But researchers say their Phase II study failed to positively differentiate itself from a placebo at 28 days — leaving them to hold up “clinically meaningful” data within the first day of administration compared to the control arm.

Roche cuts loose Tam­i­flu OTC rights, hand­ing Sanofi the keys as the phar­ma gi­ant dou­bles down on Xofluza

Roche set out to make a better flu medicine than Tamiflu as that franchise was headed to a generic showdown. Now they’ll see just how well Xofluza stacks up against the mainstay drug after handing off over-the-counter rights in the US to Sanofi.

Sanofi $SNY says it will now step in to negotiate a deal with the FDA to steer Tamiflu into the OTC market, a role that could well involve new studies to ease passage of the drug out of doctor’s hands and into the consumer end of the market. And the French pharma giant will have first dibs over “selected” OTC markets around the world as they push ahead.

Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.