Omega-backed start­up sells it­self qui­et­ly; Ab­b­Vie breaks out more Rin­voq da­ta; Re­vance gets FDA date for Botox ri­val

→ When it came in­to the lime­light with a $35 mil­lion Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing in 2018, At­ten­ua promised to re­pur­pose three oral neu­ronal nico­tinic re­cep­tor as­sets dis­card­ed by Cat­a­lyst Bio­sciences (which in turn got the drugs through a merg­er with Tar­ga­cept). But now that it’s wrapped a proof-of-con­cept tri­al of the lead drug in chron­ic cough, At­ten­ua is flip­ping the port­fo­lio to an­oth­er buy­er for yet an­oth­er use.

CO­DA Bio­ther­a­peu­tics has bought At­ten­ua and its clin­i­cal stage small mol­e­cule can­di­dates, which they say will serve to con­trol their chemo­ge­net­ic re­cep­tors de­signed to treat neu­ro­path­ic pain, fo­cal epilep­sy and oth­er neu­ro­log­ic dis­or­ders.

The South San Fran­cis­co biotech liked that At­ten­ua’s drugs come with “high-qual­i­ty drug de­vel­op­ment work al­ready com­plet­ed, one with a cur­rent­ly ac­tive IND,” CEO Michael Narachi said.

Ac­cord­ing to clin­i­cal­tri­als.gov At­ten­ua com­plet­ed its chron­ic cough study in May last year, where it com­pared bradan­i­cline to place­bo, but has not post­ed the re­sults pub­licly. “We un­der­stand that the Phase II study end­points were not met,” Narachi told End­points News via email.

Omega Funds, Abing­worth, Or­biMed and Red­mile Group in­vest­ed in At­ten­ua. The fi­nan­cial terms of the buy­out deal were not dis­closed.

Ab­b­Vie’s oral JAK in­hibitor Rin­voq, which is part­ly ex­pect­ed to fill the gi­ant Hu­mi­ra hole af­ter the megablock­buster falls off its patent cliff, has more pos­i­tive da­ta back­ing its use. The com­pa­ny on Wednes­day is­sued da­ta from a piv­otal study in pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis pa­tients, months af­ter pub­lish­ing sim­i­lar­ly pos­i­tive re­sults from an­oth­er Phase III tri­al in the same pa­tient pop­u­la­tion. Rin­voq was ap­proved by the FDA in Au­gust for use in pa­tients with rheuma­toid arthri­tis, al­though the la­bel came with the dread­ed black box warn­ing that have plagued the class of drugs.

→  Co-founder Dan Browne may have stepped down in Oc­to­ber fol­low­ing a “mis­judg­ment in han­dling an em­ploy­ee mat­ter,” but Cal­i­for­nia-based Re­vance is go­ing full steam ahead with its Botox ri­val Dax­i­bot­u­linum­tox­i­nA for In­jec­tion (DAXI). The prod­uct has been ac­cept­ed for re­view by the FDA for use in frown lines, and the agency is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by No­vem­ber 25. DAXI is po­si­tioned as a di­rect com­peti­tor to Al­ler­gan’s Botox fran­chise — a prod­uct that is ap­proved for 13 in­di­ca­tions and gen­er­at­ed close to $3.6 bil­lion in 2018, de­spite the emer­gence of ri­vals: Ipsen’s Dys­port (man­u­fac­tured by Gal­der­ma for cos­met­ic use), Merz Phar­ma’s Xeomin. An­oth­er com­peti­tor, Evo­lus, scored FDA ap­proval for its prod­uct, Jeu­veau, in Feb­ru­ary 2019.

→ Italy’s Chiesi, which has al­lied with Is­raeli biotech Pro­tal­ix to de­vel­op an en­zyme re­place­ment ther­a­py for Fab­ry dis­ease, is now carv­ing out a whole new di­vi­sion to fo­cus on rare and ul­tra-rare dis­eases. It will be head­quar­tered in Boston and con­duct R&D in lyso­so­mal stor­age dis­or­ders, as well as rare hema­tol­ogy and oph­thal­mol­o­gy dis­eases.

→ Tiny Tonix, whose ex­per­i­men­tal PTSD drug Ton­mya lost its break­through ther­a­py sta­tus, ceased en­roll­ment of a piv­otal study on Wednes­day af­ter an in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing pan­el rec­om­mend­ed stop­ping the tri­al due to fu­til­i­ty on the ba­sis that the drug like­ly does not work. Be­set with mul­ti­ple set­backs, Tonix has done every­thing in its pow­er to get Ton­mya across the fin­ish line, in­clud­ing chang­ing tri­al goal­posts and us­ing sub­set analy­ses to take the pro­gram for­ward. The drug will con­tin­ue to be test­ed in pa­tients with fi­bromyal­gia.

→ The Chi­nese tech gi­ant Ten­cent man­aged to riv­et at­ten­tion its way when the com­pa­ny tem­porar­i­ly post­ed an up­date on the coro­n­avirus epi­dem­ic that list­ed close to 25,000 deaths and more than 154,000 cas­es in Chi­na. The of­fi­cial num­ber of deaths is a bit more than 500. The con­glom­er­ate quick­ly re­vert­ed to the of­fi­cial num­bers once the re­port had been flagged by alarmed ob­servers.

Tai­wan News re­port­ed that the com­pa­ny may have in­ad­ver­tent­ly re­vealed the ac­tu­al fig­ures be­ing tracked, as op­posed to the num­bers Chi­na prefers. Ei­ther way, the re­port un­der­scores some lin­ger­ing doubts that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is not be­ing com­plete­ly up­front about the way it’s han­dled the brew­ing pan­dem­ic so far. The gov­ern­ment has about 60 mil­lion cit­i­zens un­der lock­down to try and help con­tain the spread of the Wuhan virus, which has se­vere­ly dis­rupt­ed the coun­try’s econ­o­my.

→ Fol­low­ing up on some promis­ing mid-stage da­ta out of ES­MO, Curis has con­vinced its part­ners at Au­ri­gene to fund and con­duct a Phase IIb/III study of CA-170 among pa­tients with non-squa­mous non-small cell lung can­cer (nsNSCLC). In ex­change Au­ri­gene, a sub­sidiary of In­dia’s Dr. Red­dy’s Labs, gets the rights to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize the drug in all of Asia — adding to an ex­ist­ing agree­ment for In­dia and Rus­sia. De­signed to be used in com­bi­na­tion with chemora­di­a­tion, CA-170 is an oral drug that in­hibits both PD-L1 and VISTA.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

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Daniel O'Day, Gilead CEO (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A new study points to $6.5B in pub­lic sup­port build­ing the sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tion of Gilead­'s remde­sivir. Should that be re­flect­ed in the price?

By drug R&D standards, Gilead’s move to repurpose remdesivir for Covid-19 and grab an emergency use authorization was a remarkably easy, low-cost layup that required modest efficacy and a clean safety profile from just a small group of patients.

The drug OK also arrived after Gilead had paid much of the freight on getting it positioned to move fast.

In a study by Fred Ledley, director of the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, researchers concluded that the NIH had invested only $46.5 million in the research devoted to the drug ahead of the pandemic, a small sum compared to the more than $1 billion Gilead expected to spend getting it out this year, all on top of what it had already cost in R&D expenses.

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Zai Lab inks Chi­na deal with Turn­ing Point with $25M up­front; Xen­cor, Atre­ca team up on bis­pecifics

Zai Lab is paying out a $25 million upfront for the rights to sell Turning Point Therapeutics’ lead drug repotrectinib in Greater China. The San Diego-based biotech is also in line for up to $151 million in milestones, along with mid-to-high teen royalties. Zai plans to add sites to the Phase II trial of the drug, which is designed to treat ROS1-positive advanced NSCLC in patients who were not previously treated with a TKI.

FDA bars the door — for now — against Mer­ck’s star can­cer drug af­ter Roche beat them to the punch

Merck has been handed a rare setback at the FDA.

After filing for the accelerated approval of a combination of their star PD-1 drug Keytruda with Eisai’s Lenvima as a first-line treatment for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma, the FDA nixed the move, handing out a CRL because Roche beat them to the punch on the same indication by a matter of weeks.

According to Merck:

Ahead of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act action dates of Merck’s and Eisai’s applications, another combination therapy was approved based on a randomized, controlled trial that demonstrated overall survival. Consequently, the CRL stated that Merck’s and Eisai’s applications do not provide evidence that Keytruda in combination with Lenvima represents a meaningful advantage over available therapies for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic HCC with no prior systemic therapy for advanced disease. Since the applications for KEYNOTE-524/Study 116 no longer meet the criteria for accelerated approval, both companies plan to work with the FDA to take appropriate next steps, which include conducting a well-controlled clinical trial that demonstrates substantial evidence of effectiveness and the clinical benefit of the combination.

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Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na sticks to Ju­ly for its Phase III as ru­mors swirl; Fol­low­ing US lead, EU buys up Covid-19 treat­ments

The Phase III might be delayed from its original early July goal, but Moderna says it will still kick off the pivotal study for what could ultimately be the first Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the month.

A day after Reuters reported that squabbling between the Cambridge biotech and government regulators had held up the trial by about two weeks, Moderna released a statement saying that they had completed enrollment of their 650-person Phase II trial and were on track to begin Phase III by the end of the month. The protocol for that study, which is meant to prove whether or not the vaccine can prevent people from becoming sick, has been finalized, they said.

Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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Stephen Hahn, AP

Trump and Navar­ro press again for hy­drox­y­chloro­quine. Can the FDA stay in­de­pen­dent?

Tuesday morning, economist and Trump advisor Peter Navarro walked onto the White House driveway and promptly brought a political cloud back onto the FDA.

Speaking to a White House pool reporter, Navarro said that four Detroit doctors were, based on a single disputed study, filing for the FDA to again issue an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial pill that President Trump hyped for months as a Covid-19 treatment over the objections of his own scientists. Then, while avoiding directly calling for the FDA to OK the drug, blasted the agency. He said its decision to pull an earlier authorization “was based on bad science” and “had a tremendously negative effect” on doctors and patients.

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Boehringer In­gel­heim ties the knot with Num­ab on new an­ti­bod­ies; Ca­balet­ta inks pact with Ar­ti­san

→ Switzerland’s Numab Therapeutics has added Boehringer Ingelheim to its roster of collaborators. And they will start with two projects aiming at developing new drugs for difficult-to-treat lung and gastrointestinal cancers and patients with geographic atrophy. “Numab’s technology platform fits well with our internal antibody discovery and engineering capabilities and will enhance our efforts to deliver transformative antibody-based therapeutics to patients,” said Paige Mahaney, an SVP at Boehringer Ingelheim.