Once again No­var­tis’ car­dio team looks to beat the odds us­ing sketchy da­ta and a fa­mil­iar ar­gu­ment

When­ev­er a clin­i­cal tri­al team starts tout­ing the “to­tal­i­ty” of the da­ta, you know they’re in trou­ble.

Bioreg­num Opin­ion Col­umn by John Car­roll

For No­var­tis’ En­tresto (sacu­bi­tril/val­sar­tan) team, that’s the ear­ly go-to po­si­tion on their lat­est round of piv­otal da­ta for the block­buster — which the phar­ma gi­ant be­lieves has megablock­buster po­ten­tial. We al­ready knew that No­var­tis’ team plans to field the drug to reg­u­la­tors in search of a la­bel ex­ten­sion — but now we have a bet­ter idea of the hur­dles it faces. 

And they are steep.

En­tresto flat failed the pri­ma­ry end­point in re­duc­ing the com­pos­ite pri­ma­ry end­point of to­tal (first and re­cur­rent) heart fail­ure hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and car­dio­vas­cu­lar death — hit­ting a 13% re­duc­tion among heart fail­ure pa­tients with pre­served ejec­tion frac­tion (HF­pEF). The p-val­ue was 0.059, which means they couldn’t prove their case for the drug.

No­var­tis’ po­si­tion that this was a nar­row miss rarely pass­es muster at the FDA.

Then they made a sketchy move, switch­ing to a sub-pop­u­la­tion analy­sis which is sure to at­tract lots of skep­ti­cism among reg­u­la­tors — many of whom would have been in­volved in shut­ting down No­var­tis’ last play on that in car­dio with canakinum­ab, where the team shot (and missed) at a par­tic­u­lar sub-pop­u­la­tion where they felt the drug could suc­ceed com­mer­cial­ly. 

Stick­ing with “in­di­vid­u­als with a left ven­tric­u­lar ejec­tion frac­tion equal to or be­low the me­di­an of 57%” in this new study, re­searchers teased out a 22% re­duc­tion on the end­point. In women, it was 27.5%.

“While the re­duc­tion in the pri­ma­ry end­point was not sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant, the to­tal­i­ty of ev­i­dence from PARAGON-HF sug­gests po­ten­tial over­all ben­e­fit of sacu­bi­tril/val­sar­tan com­pared with val­sar­tan in HF­pEF, par­tic­u­lar­ly in pa­tients with ejec­tion frac­tion be­low nor­mal. It al­so high­lights the com­plex­i­ty of HF­pEF and may sug­gest that some treat­ments have a more pro­nounced im­pact in cer­tain pa­tient groups, in­clud­ing women, who are more like­ly to suf­fer from this con­di­tion than men,” said Har­vard’s Scott Solomon in a pre­pared state­ment.

While No­var­tis has been rack­ing up an im­pres­sive slate of pos­i­tive late-stage stud­ies in a va­ri­ety of fields, it hasn’t per­formed well in car­dio — one of the tough­est R&D sec­tors in the busi­ness, where reg­u­la­tors ex­pect pris­tine da­ta be­fore open­ing up la­bels to large num­bers of pa­tients. And No­var­tis likes to push the en­ve­lope in car­dio — though with­out much suc­cess.

Just 9 months ago they trot­ted out pos­i­tive da­ta un­der­scor­ing En­tresto’s abil­i­ty to beat on key sur­vival and re-hos­pi­tal­iza­tion num­bers in a head-to-head study with the cheap ACE in­hibitor enalapril. But some ex­perts in the field al­so ques­tioned why they used a low dose of the cheap ri­val when sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of pa­tients typ­i­cal­ly are pre­scribed a high­er dose.

No­var­tis, though, ap­pears in­tent on test­ing reg­u­la­tors’ in­creased open­ness to some­thing less than the gold stan­dard, mak­ing this a new case study on just what stan­dards the FDA plans to en­force. And if they do get by reg­u­la­tors, they will still face plen­ty of ques­tions from pay­ers, who had erect­ed some stiff bar­ri­ers to this drug af­ter its first ap­proval in 2015.

Ini­tial­ly a slow-mov­ing prod­uct ham­pered by physi­cians re­luc­tant to adopt a new med and pay­ers who were none too hap­py with the price, En­tresto is now com­fort­ably hit­ting its block­buster stride. But No­var­tis wants to add bil­lions more in an­nu­al sales, and its lat­est tri­al fail­ure won’t make that task any eas­i­er.

George Scangos (L) and Marianne De Backer

Pi­o­neer­ing biotech icon George Scan­gos hands in his re­tire­ment pa­pers — and this time it’s for re­al

George Scangos, one of the all-time great biotech CEOs, says the time has come to turn over the reins one last time.

The 74-year-old biotech legend spent close to three decades in a CEO post. The first was at Exelixis — which is still heavily focused on a drug Scangos advanced in the clinic. The second “retirement” was at Biogen, where he and his team were credited with a big turnaround with the now fading MS blockbuster Tecfidera. And the third comes at Vir, where he traded in his Big Biotech credentials for a marquee founder’s role back on the West Coast, hammering out a Covid-19 alliance with Hal Barron — then R&D chief at GSK — and breaking new ground on infectious diseases with some high-powered venture players.

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Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine (Credit: Jamie Scott Lytle)

A stem cell pi­o­neer sent an ex­per­i­ment in­to space. Pa­tients are the next fron­tier

Last July, Jeanne Loring stood on a dirt road surrounded by Florida swampland and watched as a nearby SpaceX rocket blasted into the sky. The payload included a very personal belonging: cell clusters mimicking parts of her brain.

For more than two decades, Loring has been at the forefront of a stem cell field that always seems on the brink of becoming the next thing in medicine, but has been slow to lift off.

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Pa­tient death spurs tri­al halt for Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics

Magenta Therapeutics is pausing an early-stage clinical trial after a patient died. The death was deemed to be possibly related to its drug, MGTA-117.

The biotech said the pause of the Phase I/II trial is voluntary and gives it time to review all available data before deciding what to do next. It’s also reported the known information to the FDA.

The dose-escalation trial was designed to test whether MGTA-117, an antibody-drug conjugate, could serve as a more targeted alternative to high-intensity chemotherapy as a conditioning agent for cancer patients who are set to receive a stem cell transplant. It recruited patients with relapsed/refractory acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.

FDA re­ports ini­tial 'no sig­nal' for stroke risk with Pfiz­er boost­ers, launch­es con­comi­tant flu shot study

The FDA hasn’t detected any potential safety signals, including for stroke, in people aged 65 years and older who have received Pfizer’s bivalent Covid booster, one senior official told members of the agency’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Thursday.

The update comes as the FDA and CDC investigate a “preliminary signal” that may indicate an increased risk of ischemic stroke in older Americans who received Pfizer’s updated shot.

Bris­tol My­ers claims win with CAR-T ther­a­py Breyanzi in leukemia

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to expand Breyanzi into more indications — and the pharma’s newest data readout makes progress on that front.

The Big Pharma put out word Thursday that the CAR-T cell therapy met the primary endpoint of complete response rate compared to historical control in a subset of patients with relapsed or refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) that were refractory to a BTK inhibitor and pretreated with a BCL-2 inhibitor.

FDA cuts off use for As­traZeneca’s Covid-19 ther­a­py Evusheld

The FDA has stopped use of another drug as a result of the new coronavirus variants. On Thursday, the agency announced that AstraZeneca’s antibody combo Evusheld, which was an important prevention option for many immunocompromised people and others, is no longer authorized.

The FDA said it made its decision based on the fact that Evusheld works on fewer than 10% of circulating variants.

Evusheld was initially given emergency authorization at the end of 2021. However, as Omicron emerged, so did studies that showed Evusheld might not work against the dominant Omicron strain. In October, the FDA warned healthcare providers that Evusheld was useless against the Omicron subvariant BA.4.6. It followed that up with another announcement earlier this month that it did not think Evusheld would work against the latest Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.

In­vestor 'misalign­men­t' leads to tR­NA biotech's shut­ter­ing

A small biotech looking to carve a lane in the tRNA field has folded, an investor and a co-founder confirmed to Endpoints News.

Similar to Flagship’s Alltrna and other upstarts like Takeda-backed hC Bioscience, the now-shuttered Theonys was attempting to go after transfer RNA, seen as a potential Swiss Army knife in the broader RNA therapeutics space. The idea is that one tRNA drug could be used across a galaxy of disorders and diseases.

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Vu Truong, Aridis Pharmaceuticals CEO (Aridis/Nasdaq)

Aridis' mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body fails PhI­II, but plans for sec­ond tri­al any­way

Aridis Pharmaceuticals’ monoclonal antibody missed the bar in a Phase III test in ventilator-associated pneumonia caused by the gram-positive bacteria S. aureus, the company announced Wednesday. 

But Aridis is planning for a second Phase III study anyway once it discusses the findings with the FDA and the European Medicines Agency. Execs blamed recruitment challenges stemming from Covid-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the miss, cutting their enrollment target in half.

Al Gianchetti, XyloCor CEO

Xy­lo­Cor wraps up PhII for heart dis­ease gene ther­a­py, plans for piv­otal tri­al

XyloCor Therapeutics says patients with heart disease who got its gene therapy could exercise for longer and had fewer chest pain attacks. The biotech announced it completed a Phase I/II trial of the gene therapy Thursday morning, and plans to move forward with a pivotal trial.

In the Phase II portion of the trial, 28 patients with angina (or chest pain) caused by coronary artery disease and who had no other treatment options were enrolled and were given the highest tested dose from the first part of the trial. Patients were followed for six months.