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.

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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San Diego cou­ple charged with steal­ing trade se­crets, open­ing Chi­nese biotech as DOJ crack­down con­tin­ues

A San Diego couple has been charged with stealing trade secrets from a US hospital and opening a business based off those secrets in China as the controversial industry-wide crackdown on alleged corporate espionage continues. On the same day, the Department of Justice announced they had arrested Beijing representative Zhongsan Liu for allegedly trying to obtain research visas for government recruiters.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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Tower Bridge in London [Shutterstock]

#UK­BIO19: Join GSK’s Hal Bar­ron and a group of top biotech ex­ecs for our 2nd an­nu­al biotech sum­mit in Lon­don

Over the past 10 years I’ve made a point of getting to know the Golden Triangle and the special role the UK biopharma industry plays there in drug development. The concentration of world class research institutes, some of the most accomplished scientists I’ve ever seen at work and a rising tide of global investment cash leaves an impression that there’s much, much more to come as biotech hubs are birthed and nurtured.

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen pulls the plug on prized IPF drug from $562M+ Stromedix buy­out

One of Biogen’s attempts to branch out has flopped as the biotech scraps a mid-stage program for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Warts for the win: Aclar­is' lead drug clears piv­otal study

Aclaris Therapeutics has found a way to get rid of the warts and all.

The company — which earlier this month decided to focus on its arsenal of kinase inhibitors — on Monday unveiled positive data from a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug for use in common warts.

The drug, A-101, was tested in a 502-patient study called THWART-2 — patients enrolled had one to six warts before qualifying for the trial. Patients either self-administered A-101 topical solution or a vehicle twice a week over a two-month period. A higher proportion of patients on the drug (a potent hydrogen peroxide topical solution) saw their warts disappear at day 60, versus the vehicle (p<0.0001) — meeting the main goal of the study.  Each secondary endpoint also emerged in favor of A-101, the company said.

Charles Nichols, LSU School of Medicine

Could psy­che­delics tack­le the obe­si­ty cri­sis? A long­time re­searcher in the field says his lat­est mouse study sug­gests po­ten­tial

Psychedelics have experienced a renaissance in recent years amid a torrent of preclinical and clinical research suggesting it might provide a path to treat mood disorders conventional remedies have only scraped at. Now a preclinical trial from a young biotech suggests at least one psychedelic compound has effects beyond the mind, and — if you believe the still very, very early hype — could provide the first single remedy for some of the main complications of obesity.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Ac­celeron drops a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram as #2 drug fails to spark func­tion­al ben­e­fits in pa­tients with a rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ail­ment

Acceleron is scrapping a muscular dystrophy development program underway for its number 2 drug in the pipeline after pouring over some failed mid-stage secondary data.

Gone is the ACE-083 project in patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. Their drug hit the primary endpoint on building muscle but flopped on key secondaries for functional improvements in patients, which execs felt was vital to the drug’s success.