On­cono­va re­ports PhI­II flop, putting high-risk MDS pro­gram on the chop­ping block

Be­lea­guered biotech On­cono­va ran in­to an­oth­er set­back Mon­day morn­ing as a Phase III for its lead pro­gram flopped once again.

The tri­al re­sults for rigosert­ib, which blocks cel­lu­lar sig­nal­ing by tar­get­ing RAS ef­fec­tor path­ways, in high-risk myelodys­plas­tic syn­drome pa­tients did not meet its pri­ma­ry end­point of im­proved sur­vival. In in­di­vid­u­als who had tried and failed treat­ment with a hy­pomethy­lat­ing agent, rigosert­ib plus best sup­port­ive care achieved over­all sur­vival of 6.4 months, com­pared to 6.3 months for pa­tients on physi­cian’s choice.

“On­cono­va would like to thank the MDS com­mu­ni­ty for its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the IN­SPIRE tri­al,” pres­i­dent and CEO Steven Frucht­man said in a morn­ing call with in­vestors. “We re­port these re­sults with great dis­ap­point­ment.”

Mon­day’s news sent On­cono­va $ON­TX shares, which had al­ready been near­ing pen­ny-stock ter­ri­to­ry, spi­ral­ing al­most 70% in ear­ly trad­ing.

The fi­nal re­sults came as a bit of a shock to the com­pa­ny, as rigosert­ib’s MDS pro­gram in­di­cat­ed pos­i­tive in­ter­im re­sults in ear­ly 2018 — enough to cause On­cono­va to ex­pand its tri­al from 225 to 360 pa­tients.

But an un­ex­pect­ed shift oc­curred in the physi­cian’s choice arm fol­low­ing the in­ter­im read­out, caus­ing a “dra­mat­ic” im­prove­ment in sur­vival. Giv­en that there were no new out­side de­vel­op­ments in the high-risk MDS field that might have caused the in­crease, Frucht­man said it re­mained un­clear what sparked such a spike in sur­vival.

“The physi­cian’s choice has been con­sis­tent for the last decade,” Frucht­man said, “so we do not un­der­stand why there was a marked im­prove­ment in sur­vival on the physi­cian’s choice arm com­pared to his­tor­i­cal stud­ies. We will con­tin­ue to try to ex­plore that to gain ad­di­tion­al un­der­stand­ing.”

Frucht­man added that, in re­gards to po­ten­tial ad­di­tion­al agents as­so­ci­at­ed with MDS, the com­pa­ny has al­ready tak­en a look at things like bone mar­row trans­plants and af­ter “pre­lim­i­nary re­view” use of such agents ap­pear to be “quite equal” in both tri­al arms.

This marks the sec­ond time rigosert­ib has sput­tered in the Phase III stage, with the last oc­cur­rence in 2014, and the third time over­all it’s suf­fered a clin­i­cal set­back. Col­lab­o­ra­tions with Bax­al­ta and HanX al­so broke apart over the years, with the for­mer caus­ing a com­pa­ny re­struc­tur­ing and the lat­ter com­ing af­ter the Chi­nese com­pa­ny failed to make re­quired pay­ments.

The newest fail­ure will re­sult in On­cono­va ax­ing the rigosert­ib pro­gram for MDS treat­ments, though the com­pa­ny will con­tin­ue to pur­sue ef­forts in oth­er ar­eas. Cur­rent­ly, On­cono­va is re­search­ing the com­pound in a Phase I/IIa study in KRAS-pos­i­tive lung ade­no­car­ci­no­ma and hopes to ex­pand ef­forts in oth­er sol­id tu­mor types.

Mov­ing for­ward, On­cono­va is prepar­ing an IND sub­mis­sion for the ON 123300 pro­gram to treat CDK4/6 over­ac­tive tu­mors some­time be­fore the end of the year.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

No­var­tis dumps AveX­is pro­gram for Rett syn­drome af­ter fail­ing re­peat round of pre­clin­i­cal test­ing

Say goodbye to AVXS-201.

The Rett syndrome gene therapy drug made by AveXis — the biotech that was bought, kept separate, then renamed and finally absorbed by Novartis into its R&D division — has been dropped by the biopharma.

In Novartis’ third quarter financial report, the pharma had found that preclinical data did not support development of the gene therapy into IND-enabling trials and beyond. The announcement comes a year after Novartis told the Rett Society how excited it was by the drug — and its potential benefits and uses.

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FDA is much worse than its reg­u­la­to­ry peers at proac­tive­ly dis­clos­ing da­ta, re­searchers find

The European Medicines Agency and Health Canada continue to outpace the FDA when it comes to proactively releasing data on drugs and biologics the agency has reviewed, leading to further questions of why the American agency can’t be more transparent.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, Yale and other academic lawyers and researchers found that between 2016 and April 2021, the EMA proactively released data for 123 unique medical products, while Health Canada proactively released data for 73 unique medical products between 2019 and April 2021. What’s more, the EMA and Health Canada didn’t proactively release the same data on the same drugs. In stark contrast, the FDA in 2018 only proactively disclosed data supporting one drug that was approved that year.

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As pres­sure to share tech­nol­o­gy mounts, BioN­Tech se­lects Rwan­da for lat­est vac­cine site

BioNTech’s first mRNA-based vaccine site in Africa will call Rwanda home, and construction is set to start in mid-2022, the company announced Tuesday at a public health forum.

The German company signed a memorandum of understanding, after a meeting between Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, Senegal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aïssata Tall Sall, and senior BioNTech officials. Construction plans have been finalized, and assets have been ordered. The agreement will help bring end-to-end manufacturing to Africa, and as many as several hundred million doses of vaccines per year, though initial production will be more modest.

UP­DAT­ED: Eli Lil­ly toss­es a mar­quee pain drug and hits the gas on Alzheimer’s — as Bio­gen’s suf­fer­ing opens mar­ket to ri­vals

The furious chorus of critics that brought sales of Biogen’s ultra controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab (sold as Aduhelm) to a near halt is opening up some big opportunities for a major league rival that has long sought the lead role in this largely untapped megamarket.

In its Q3 update today, Eli Lilly — noted for its dogged persistence in attempting for years to get solanezumab across the FDA finish line — said that it has begun a rolling submission of its rival Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in search of an accelerated approval. Anne White, senior VP of Lilly’s neuroscience unit, acknowledged during the investor call the challenges Biogen has faced with uptake and noted Lilly may face similar hurdles.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With San­doz con­tin­u­ing to drag on No­var­tis, Vas Narasimhan says he may fi­nal­ly be ready for a sale or spin­off

After years of rehab work aimed at getting Sandoz in fighting trim to compete in a market overshadowed by declining prices, CEO Vas Narasimhan took a big step toward possibly selling or spinning off the giant generic drug player.

The pharma giant flagged plans to launch a strategic review of the business in its Q3 update, noting that “options range from retaining the business to separation.”

Analysts have been poking and prodding Novartis execs for years now as Narasimhan attempted to remodel a business that has been a drag on its performance during most of his reign in the CEO suite. The former R&D chief has made it well known that he’s devoted to the innovative meds side of the business, where they see the greatest potential for growth.

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James Peyer, Cambrian CEO

Brent Saun­ders joins $100M Se­ries C for a com­pa­ny out to be the Bridge­Bio of ag­ing

About a year ago, James Peyer, a CEO and co-founder of the little known longevity biotech Cambrian Biopharma, was trying to find some R&D talent last year when he met with more than a bit of experience in that department: David Nicholson, the former R&D chief of the erstwhile pharma giant Allergan.

It turned out Nicholson already had an interest in Peyer’s field. In their Allergan days, he and COO Brent Saunders held weekly meetups where they tried to figure out how to take the company’s dominance in aesthetics — which, until recently, was often what people meant by anti-aging science — and expertise with more traditional drug development, and use it to make drugs that extend people’s lifespan.

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