No­var­tis wins a key OK for Kym­ri­ah, but con­tin­u­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing woes hob­ble roll­out — ri­val Gilead CAR-T breaks in­to Eu­rope

No­var­tis CAR-T man­u­fac­tur­ing woes are con­tin­u­ing to put a crimp in its abil­i­ty to pro­vide ther­a­py to all po­ten­tial pa­tients.

Vas Narasimhan

The phar­ma gi­ant re­port­ed this morn­ing that the EC has stamped its ap­proval on mar­ket­ing Kym­ri­ah in Eu­rope for B-cell acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia as well as treat­ment-re­sis­tant adults suf­fer­ing from dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma. But No­var­tis can on­ly make it avail­able to chil­dren with ALL now — adults will have to wait.

No­var­tis’s top ex­ecs have worked hard to smooth things over with an­a­lysts, but it’s been be­dev­iled by man­u­fac­tur­ing is­sues through­out the de­vel­op­ment stage and con­tin­ues to be af­fect­ed as it goes toe-to-toe with Gilead’s Kite, ap­proved for large B-cell lym­phoma. And Gilead is still com­ing on strong, not­ing this morn­ing that they re­ceived a Eu­ro­pean OK to mar­ket Yescar­ta for dif­fuse and pri­ma­ry me­di­asti­nal large B-cell lym­phoma.

A month ago No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan not­ed dur­ing the Q2 call that:

I think it’s ear­ly days and we’ve al­ways said this is go­ing to be a five-year jour­ney with Kym­ri­ah to re­al­ly get us to be the glob­al­ly suc­cess­ful brand we want it to be.

On man­u­fac­tur­ing, we have seen some vari­abil­i­ty in our prod­uct spec­i­fi­ca­tions. This is some­thing we’re look­ing at now in DL­B­CL to make sure that we can con­tin­ue to ramp-up the de­mand. We feel con­fi­dent in the over­all longer-term out­look for Kym­ri­ah.

Liz Bar­rett

Liz Bar­rett, who runs No­var­tis on­col­o­gy, had this to say:

I think the most im­por­tant thing to let you know is that the vari­abil­i­ty that we’ve seen in the com­mer­cial spec­i­fi­ca­tions, which isn’t un­usu­al with a new ther­a­py as you launch in­to a new tar­get pa­tient pop­u­la­tion, is that we have still been able to de­liv­er fi­nal prod­uct to the ma­jor­i­ty of pa­tients.

As we’ve re­port­ed, though, the cell man­u­fac­tur­ing chief’s of­fice has been out­fit­ted with a re­volv­ing door at No­var­tis in re­cent years. Karen Walk­er left that post in ear­ly 2017, fol­lowed last spring by Spencer Fisk as he jumped ship to join the No­var­tis ex­ecs at Ru­bius. Those de­par­tures came on top of a ma­jor re­vamp for the cell and gene ther­a­py unit in 2016, which raised ques­tions at the time about No­var­tis’ abil­i­ty to keep up with Kite — though the phar­ma gi­ant wound up with the pi­o­neer­ing first OK. And No­var­tis’ is­sues with man­u­fac­tur­ing cell ther­a­pies ex­tend back to the sna­fus it ex­pe­ri­enced with late de­liv­ery to a small but sig­nif­i­cant group of pa­tients en­rolled in clin­i­cal tri­als.

At one stage in the de­vel­op­ment process, No­var­tis had a 6% fail­ure rate on the man­u­fac­tur­ing process in a key clin­i­cal tri­al, which they lat­er said was large­ly re­solved and brought down to 3%.

This morn­ing No­var­tis is fol­low­ing up with plans to in­vest €78.8 mil­lion in­to their cell and gene ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions in Switzer­land in their lat­est stab at fix­ing the prob­lems.

But af­ter record­ing on­ly $16 mil­lion in sales for Q2, the big ques­tion loom­ing for No­var­tis is why pa­tients would want to take a risk with their ther­a­py if an­oth­er provider comes in­to the mar­ket which can do bet­ter on a com­plex task: ex­tract­ing T cells from pa­tients, mod­i­fy­ing them and then in­fus­ing pa­tients with a ther­a­peu­tic punch?

You can be sure that the top crew at Gilead and Kite — work­ing with a be­spoke man­u­fac­tur­ing site — are pay­ing close at­ten­tion.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks at the Rose Garden, May 26, 2020 (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Eli Lil­ly lines up a block­buster deal for Covid-19 an­ti­body, right af­ter it failed a NI­AID tri­al

Two days after Eli Lilly conceded that its antibody bamlanivimab was a flop in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, the US government is preparing to make it a blockbuster.

The pharma giant reported early Wednesday that it struck a deal to supply the feds with 300,000 vials of the drug at a cost of $375 million — once it gets an EUA stamp from the FDA. And once that 2-month supply deal is done, the government has an option on another 650,000 doses on the same terms — which could potentially add another $812 million.

Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Jude Samulski, Marianne De Backer

Bay­er buys a biotech ‘race horse’ with a $4B deal — $2B in cash — aimed at go­ing big in­to gene ther­a­py

In the latest sign that Big Pharma wants a leading place in the push to develop a new generation of cell and gene therapies, Bayer is stepping up today with a $2 billion cash deal to buy out one of the fast-moving pioneers in the field, while adding up to $2 billion more in milestones if the new pharma subsidiary can deliver the goods.

As part of a continuing series of deals engineered by Bayer BD chief Marianne De Backer, the pharma player has snapped up Asklepios, more commonly referred to in more casual fashion as AskBio. And they are paying top dollar for a Research Triangle Park-based company that raised $225 million a little more than a year ago to back the brainchild of Jude Samulski, the gene therapy pioneer out of the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center.

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Chi­nese rare dis­ease play­er inks first deal around nar­colep­sy drug Wak­ix af­ter grab­bing $80M to build an ecosys­tem

Two months ago, the narcolepsy therapy Wakix propelled Harmony Biosciences to a $128 million debut on Nasdaq. Now, the same drug is serving as the foundation for a Chinese biotech looking to pioneer a rare disease platform in the country.

Citrine Medicine — which closed $80 million in Series A funding in July — was incubated by F-Prime and Eight Roads, two VC funds affiliated with Fidelity Investments that saw an opening in China to replicate in the vibrant orphan drug landscape in the US (and to a lesser extent, Europe).

En­her­tu picks up an­oth­er win for As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi Sankyo, join­ing the pri­or­i­ty re­view lane for gas­tric can­cer

Five months after Enhertu received twin breakthrough therapy designations, AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo are one step closer to nabbing another approval for their potential blockbuster drug.

The companies announced Wednesday morning that their billion-dollar antibody-drug conjugate has received priority review for HER2 positive metastatic gastric cancer. Already approved in the US for third-line metastatic breast cancer patients that are HER2 positive, Enhertu’s gastric cancer PDUFA date is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.

Sci­en­tists warn Amer­i­cans are ex­pect­ing too much from a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

The White House and many Americans have pinned their hopes for defeating the Covid-19 pandemic on a vaccine being developed at “warp speed.” But some scientific experts warn they’re all expecting too much, too soon.

“Everyone thinks COVID-19 will go away with a vaccine,” said William Haseltine, chair and president of Access Health International, a foundation that advocates for affordable care.

No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan signs off on a $231M deal to try some­thing new in the R&D fight against SARS-CoV-2

Patrick Amstutz was baptized by pandemic fire early on.

He and colleagues attended the notorious Cowen conference in early March that included some of the top Biogen execs who helped trigger a superspreader event in Boston. Heading back to his post as CEO of Molecular Partners in Switzerland, the outbreak was sweeping through Italy, triggering near panic in some quarters and creeping into the voices of people he knew, including one friend on the Italian side of the country.

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Cedric Francois, Apellis CEO (Optum via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: So­bi bets $250M cash, about $1B in mile­stones for rights to a C3 ther­a­py be­ing pushed through 5 piv­otal tri­als

A couple years after licensing Novimmune’s emapalumab and turning around a quick FDA OK, Stockholm-based Sobi is betting up to $1.2 billion for rights to another rare disease drug.

The company is shelling out $250 million upfront and adding up to $915 million in milestones for rights to develop and commercialize Apellis Pharmaceuticals’ drug pegcetacoplan outside the US. Together, the companies will see the systemic C3 therapy through five registrational trials in hematology, nephrology and neurology.

Christian Rommel (via Roche)

Bay­er fol­lows R&D deal spree by raid­ing Roche's can­cer group for its new re­search chief

The day after Bayer signed off on a $4 billion deal designed to put the company among the leaders in gene therapy development, the pharma giant has recruited a new chief for its R&D division. And they opted for an expert in the cancer field.

Christian Rommel, Roche’s head of discovery and early-stage oncology development, has been tapped to take over the job. Joerg Moeller, who got the top research post after early- and late-stage development roles were combined 2 years ago, is hitting the exit “to pursue other career opportunities.”

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