No­vo Nordisk's new obe­si­ty da­ta tip the scales in semaglu­tide's fa­vor as land­mark piv­otal pro­gram looms

No­vo Nordisk has rolled out new da­ta points to back its be­lief that their new­ly ap­proved GLP-1 di­a­betes drug semaglu­tide al­so has the in­side track on a block­buster des­ig­na­tion for obe­si­ty.

No­vo’s re­searchers took cen­ter stage at the En­docrine So­ci­ety’s an­nu­al con­fer­ence in Chica­go with a new round of Phase II num­bers show­ing that the drug spurred weight loss of up to 13.8% among a group of obese adults.

Al­to­geth­er 83% of peo­ple treat­ed with semaglu­tide 0.4 mg lost greater than or equal to 5% of their body weight — com­pared to 23% with place­bo and 66% with li­raglu­tide (Sax­en­da) 3 mg, which al­so fac­tored in the study. Right at 2 of every 3 pa­tients lost at least 10% of their body weight, com­pared to 10% in the place­bo arm and half that in the li­raglu­tide group.

Mads Krogs­gaard Thom­sen

No­vo Nordisk al­ready has sol­id ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta on weight loss among the di­a­bet­ics it treat­ed dur­ing its de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for the drug, which helped in­spire the com­pa­ny to make a big in­vest­ment in obe­si­ty.

Those col­lec­tive num­bers help set the stage for a big Phase III piv­otal pro­gram, which in­cludes 4,500 obese pa­tients and a mas­sive car­dio out­comes study in­volv­ing 12,500 peo­ple.

No­vo has set out to win in a field where there’s been noth­ing but dis­ap­point­ment and fail­ure for more than a decade. Just a few days ago Orex­i­gen was forced to file for bank­rupt­cy af­ter rack­ing up in­ad­e­quate sales of Con­trave. And that drug had al­ready beat­en out Qsymia and Belviq, two oth­er ther­a­pies from the same class of biotechs that com­pet­ed for the FDA’s at­ten­tion 5 years ago. Con­trave al­so out­per­formed No­vo’s Sax­en­da, which has a more mod­est im­pact on weight.

No­vo has plans to go be­yond semaglu­tide, work­ing on com­bi­na­tion ther­a­pies that may be able to trim as much as 25% of body weight, which would ri­val the per­for­mance of some pop­u­lar weight-loss pro­ce­dures.

Some an­a­lysts es­ti­mate the drug could be worth more than $2 bil­lion a year in sales 5 years from now. And No­vo will like­ly tout the weight loss that di­a­bet­ics can ex­pect as they launch a ma­jor mar­ket­ing cam­paign trig­gered by the FDA’s ap­proval of the drug last De­cem­ber as Ozem­pic. In this field man­u­fac­tur­ers look for every ad­van­tage they can get to beat the com­pe­ti­tion, which in this case is pri­mar­i­ly Eli Lil­ly and Sanofi.

“In line with our long-term com­mit­ment, we plan to start the STEP phase 3 clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme lat­er this year to ex­plore the po­ten­tial of once-week­ly semaglu­tide as a treat­ment for peo­ple with obe­si­ty,” said Mads Krogs­gaard Thom­sen, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief sci­ence of­fi­cer of No­vo Nordisk.

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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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.

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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Albert Bourla, AP

UP­DAT­ED: Where's the Pfiz­er ef­fi­ca­cy read­out? CEO Bourla says 'soon,' but you're go­ing to have to wait for it

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had promised repeatedly that the pharma giant would know if its leading Covid-19 vaccine is effective by the end of this month — now just a few days away.

Instead, the company reported early Tuesday that it has yet to conduct any interim efficacy analyses. And it won’t now until sometime next month.

The news was included in a slide for their Q3 report.

In the morning Q3 call with analysts, Bourla says that they expect efficacy data “soon,” but noted that they wouldn’t be able to say anything until all the administrative work was done on the interim, which would take about a week. And he added that Pfizer isn’t going to say anything else about that hot topic until they have the data in hand.

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Charles Baum, Mirati CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Mi­rati plots a march to the FDA for its KRAS G12C drug, breath­ing down Am­gen’s neck with bet­ter da­ta

Mirati Therapeutics $MRTX took another closely-watched step toward a now clearly defined goal to file for an approval for its KRAS G12C cancer drug adagrasib (MRTX849), scoring a higher response rate than the last readout from the class-leading rival at Amgen but still leaving open a raft of important questions about its future.

Following a snapshot of the first handful of responses, where the drug scored a tumor response in 3 of 5 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the response rate has now slid to 45% among a pooled group of 51 early-stage and Phase II patients, 43% — 6 of 14 — when looking solely at the Phase I/Ib. Those 14 patients had a median treatment duration of 8.2 months, with half still on therapy and 5 of 6 responders still in response.

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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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Three years in­to a PhI­II pro­gram for a failed Duchenne MD drug, Cataba­sis hauls down the flag and ad­mits de­feat

Three years ago, Catabasis CEO Jill Milne and the crew insisted they had found good reason for great cheer once they plumbed the data from their failed study for the Duchenne MD drug edasalonexent. Plunging into the extended open-label data, they said, you could find solid evidence of efficacy. And that justified a try in Phase III.

But they were wrong.

Monday, after the bell, the little biotech acknowledged that their pivotal attempt following the mid-stage flop was another failure. The primary, change in baseline on the North Star Ambulatory Assessment, and the secondary on timed function tests both came up short of statistical significance.

Ul­tragenyx slams the brakes on rare dis­ease study af­ter all 5 pa­tients are hit with a se­ri­ous set­back

Ultragenyx $RARE and its partners at GeneTx have been forced to halt early-stage study for a drug to treat rare cases of Angelman syndrome after all 5 of the patients being treated for the first time experienced a severe adverse event at the highest dose.

The patients in the study experienced “lower extremity weakness believed to be related to local inflammation due to GTX-102,” triggering a red light on dosing and enrollment.

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