Once tout­ed as Lyri­ca ri­val for di­a­bet­ic nerve pain, Ko­re­an biotech's plas­mid prod­uct im­plodes in PhI­II

The Ko­re­an biotech in­dus­try’s bad year just got worse as one of its high­ly tout­ed mem­bers ad­mit­ted an em­bar­rass­ing late-stage flop.

He­lixmith — known as Vi­roMed just a few months ago — had much go­ing for it head­ing in­to the 507-pa­tient Phase III: The FDA had grant­ed VM202 or­phan drug and fast track des­ig­na­tions, and it even picked up an RMAT badge dur­ing the study. Some­times clas­si­fied as a gene ther­a­py, VM202 is a plas­mid prod­uct that en­codes for the hu­man he­pa­to­cyte growth fac­tor (HGF). Due to its dual neu­rotroph­ic and an­gio­genic prop­er­ties, the drug was be­lieved to al­le­vi­ate pain caused by di­a­bet­ic neu­ropa­thy.

The re­sults from the place­bo-con­trolled tri­al though did not bear that hy­poth­e­sis out. The pri­ma­ry end­point around the 3-month change in av­er­age pain score was not sta­tis­ti­cal­ly mean­ing­ful, the com­pa­ny re­port­ed.

Ex­ecs at­tempt­ed to sal­vage some in­vestor sym­pa­thy by dis­clos­ing that some pa­tients in the place­bo group was found to car­ry VM202 (al­so dubbed En­gen­sis) DNA, while oth­ers in the treat­ment arm had sus­pi­cious­ly low con­cen­tra­tions of the plas­mid. He­lixmith claims that re­mov­ing those sub­jects from the analy­sis gave dif­fer­ent re­sults, but de­tails won’t be avail­able un­til an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to those phar­ma­co­ki­net­ic re­sults — led by Vi­cal ex­ec Leonard Fish — is wrapped up.

The com­pa­ny plans to share more with the FDA in De­cem­ber, but post hoc analy­sis is un­like­ly to sway reg­u­la­tors un­til He­lixmith can pro­vide some sol­id da­ta from the two oth­er Phase III tri­als they are plan­ning.

Those stud­ies will start in the next six months and be com­plet­ed in ear­ly 2020, it said in a state­ment.

He­lixmith saw its shares drop 4.4% on the news, mak­ing a small dent in its $3 bil­lion mar­ket cap.

Ear­ly in VM202’s de­vel­op­ment, the biotech had her­ald­ed its po­ten­tial to beat Pfiz­er’s Lyri­ca, a block­buster treat­ment for di­a­bet­ic nerve pain.

“Ex­ist­ing drugs are most­ly pain killers with re­port­ed side-ef­fects such as headache, in­som­nia and de­pres­sion ex­pe­ri­enced if tak­en re­peat­ed­ly, not to men­tion the has­sle of tak­ing them twice a day for years, even for decades,” R&D di­rec­tor Jong-Mook Kim boast­ed at the time. “On the con­trary, VM202-DPN showed to have ex­cel­lent ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects even though it was tak­en at much less­er fre­quen­cy – on­ly two in­jec­tions at 2-week in­ter­vals.”

The sore dis­ap­point­ment to­day echoes a larg­er trend for Ko­re­an biotechs that have built uni­corn val­ues on bold promis­es, on­ly to tum­ble down on bad da­ta. Sil­la­Jen’s re­cent fail­ure with its on­colyt­ic virus, which shaved off $800 mil­lion in mar­ket cap, un­der­scored just how much could be at stake. And that fol­lowed some long­stand­ing trou­ble that’s been brew­ing at big­ger play­ers like Han­mi and Sam­sung Bi­o­Log­ics.

He­lixmith’s ex­per­i­men­tal drug is al­so be­ing test­ed for amy­otroph­ic lat­er­al scle­ro­sis, coro­nary artery dis­ease and foot ul­cers as­so­ci­at­ed with di­a­betes.

2019 Trin­i­ty Drug In­dex Eval­u­ates Ac­tu­al Com­mer­cial Per­for­mance of Nov­el Drugs Ap­proved in 2016

Fewer Approvals, but Neurology Rivals Oncology and Sees Major Innovations

This report, the fourth in our Trinity Drug Index series, outlines key themes and emerging trends in the industry as we progress towards a new world of targeted and innovative products. It provides a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of novel drugs approved by the FDA in 2016, scoring each on its commercial performance, therapeutic value, and R&D investment (Table 1: Drug ranking – Ratings on a 1-5 scale).

How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Aymeric Le Chatelier, Ipsen

A $1B-plus drug stum­bles in­to an­oth­er big PhI­II set­back -- this time flunk­ing fu­til­i­ty test -- as FDA hold re­mains in ef­fect for Ipsen

David Meek

At the time Ipsen stepped up last year with more than a billion dollars in cash to buy Clementia and a late-stage program for a rare bone disease that afflicts children, then CEO David Meek was confident that he had put the French biotech on a short path to a mid-2020 launch.

Instead of prepping a launch, though, the company was hit with a hold on the FDA’s concerns that a therapy designed to prevent overgrowth of bone for cases of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva might actually stunt children’s growth. So they ordered a halt to any treatments for kids 14 and under. Meek left soon after to run a startup in Boston. And today the Paris-based biotech is grappling with the independent monitoring committee’s decision that their Phase III had failed a futility test.

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Gilead claims Tru­va­da patents in HHS’ com­plaint are in­valid

Back in November, the Department of Health and Human Services took the rare step of filing a complaint against Gilead for infringing on government-owned patents related to the HIV drug Truvada (emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate) for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

But on Thursday, Gilead filed its own retort, making clear that it does not believe it has infringed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Truvada patents because they are invalid.

UP­DAT­ED: Eli Lil­ly’s $1.6B can­cer drug failed to spark even the slight­est pos­i­tive gain for pa­tients in its 1st PhI­II

Eli Lilly had high hopes for its pegylated IL-10 drug pegilodecakin when it bought Armo last year for $1.6 billion in cash. But after reporting a few months ago that it had failed a Phase III in pancreatic cancer, without the data, its likely value has plunged. And now we’re getting some exact data that underscore just how little positive effect it had.

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Roche's check­point play­er Tecen­triq flops in an­oth­er blad­der can­cer sub­set

Just weeks after Merck’s star checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda secured FDA approval for a subset of bladder cancer patients, Swiss competitor Roche’s Tecentriq has failed in a pivotal bladder cancer study.

The 809-patient trial — IMvigor010 — tested the PD-L1 drug in patients with muscle-invasive urothelial cancer (MIUC) who had undergone surgery, and were at high risk for recurrence.

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UP­DAT­ED: FDA’s golodirsen CRL: Sarep­ta’s Duchenne drugs are dan­ger­ous to pa­tients, of­fer­ing on­ly a small ben­e­fit. And where's that con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al?

Back last summer, Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram told Duchenne MD families and investors that the FDA’s shock rejection of their second Duchenne MD drug golodirsen was due to some concerns regulators raised about the risk of infection and the possibility of kidney toxicity. But when pressed to release the letter for all to see, he declined, according to a report from BioPharmaDive, saying that kind of move “might not look like we’re being as respectful as we’d like to be.”

He went on to assure everyone that he hadn’t misrepresented the CRL.

But Ingram’s public remarks didn’t include everything in the letter, which — following the FDA’s surprise about-face and unexplained approval — has now been posted on the FDA’s website and broadly circulated on Twitter early Wednesday.

The CRL raises plenty of fresh questions about why the FDA abruptly decided to reverse itself and hand out an OK for a drug a senior regulator at the FDA believed — 5 months ago, when he wrote the letter — is dangerous to patients. It also puts the spotlight back on Sarepta $SRPT, which failed to launch a confirmatory study of eteplirsen, which was only approved after a heated internal controversy at the FDA. Ellis Unger, director of CDER’s Office of Drug Evaluation I, notes that study could have clarified quite a lot about the benefit and risks associated with their drugs — which can cost as much as a million dollars per patient per year, depending on weight.

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Gilead dusts off a failed Ebo­la drug as coro­n­avirus spreads; Ex­elix­is boasts pos­i­tive Ph I/II da­ta

→ Less than a year ago Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir failed to make the cut as investigators considered a raft of potential drugs that could be used against an Ebola outbreak. But it may gain a new mission with the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, which is popping up now around the world.

Gilead put out a statement saying that they’re now in discussions with health officials in the US and China about testing their NUC against the virus. It’s the latest in a growing lineup of biopharma companies that are marshaling R&D forces to see if they can come up with a vaccine or therapy to blunt the spread of the virus, which has now sickened hundreds, killed at least 17 people and led the Chinese government to start quarantining cities.

Alex Karnal (Deerfield)

Deer­field vaults to the top of cell and gene ther­a­py CD­MO game with $1.1B fa­cil­i­ty at Philadel­phi­a's newest bio­phar­ma hub

Back at the beginning of 2015, Deerfield Management co-led a $10 million Series C for a private gene therapy startup, reshaping the company and bringing in new leaders to pave way for an IPO just a year later.

Fast forward four more years and the startup, AveXis, is now a subsidiary of Novartis marketing the second-ever gene therapy to be approved in the US.

For its part, Deerfield has also grown more comfortable and ambitious about the nascent field. And the investment firm is now putting down its biggest bet yet: a $1.1 billion contract development and manufacturing facility to produce everything one needs for cell and gene therapy — faster and better than how it’s currently done.