Opin­ion: US and EU re­views of blood clots and J&J’s Covid vac­cine show why a trans­par­ent process mat­ters

When the CDC’s top ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee met last week to re­view whether a hand­ful of very rare but po­ten­tial­ly fa­tal blood clots with low platelets might be linked to J&J’s Covid-19 vac­cine, the as­sump­tion was that the com­mit­tee would, at the very least, fol­low its own agen­da and vote on whether to wait for more da­ta, or make in­ter­im age- or risk-based rec­om­men­da­tions for the vac­cine.

In­stead, the com­mit­tee did nei­ther, punt­ing its vote un­til this Fri­day when it can hold a longer dis­cus­sion with the lat­est da­ta. None of the ACIP mem­bers raised ma­jor con­cerns with the de­ci­sion, or lack there­of, de­spite some calls to not pause the vac­cine in­def­i­nite­ly.

But the in­ac­tion al­so raised con­cerns about whether the CDC and FDA were shirk­ing their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and un­nec­es­sar­i­ly de­lay­ing J&J vac­ci­na­tions as the race to slow the spread of the coro­n­avirus con­tin­ues.

In con­trast, the Eu­ro­pean Med­i­cines Agency’s safe­ty com­mit­tee quick­ly con­clud­ed its re­view of the blood clots and the J&J vac­cine on Tues­day, de­cid­ing the vac­cine’s ben­e­fits out­weigh the risks, while adding a warn­ing to the vac­cine’s la­bel, even as no one in Eu­rope has re­ceived the vac­cine yet. Fol­low­ing the com­mit­tee’s an­nounce­ment, J&J said it would re­sume ship­ments of the vac­cine.

At first blush, the EMA, which just went through a sim­i­lar re­view with As­traZeneca’s vac­cine and came to a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion, seems to have been the more proac­tive reg­u­la­tor. The EMA made a quick de­ci­sion on the avail­able da­ta and re-start­ed the process for get­ting more shots in­to arms.

But be­yond the head­line and fi­nal de­ci­sion lies a very dif­fer­ent sto­ry.

In the case of the CDC’s com­mit­tee, any mem­ber of the pub­lic (any­where in the world) could turn on a com­put­er and watch the pro­ceed­ings, lis­ten to the se­ri­ous­ness of the de­tails, hear the ar­gu­ments and see the slides that each of the com­mit­tee mem­bers re­view. The pub­lic even has an op­por­tu­ni­ty to weigh in at the CDC meet­ing, al­though it’s un­clear how those com­ments are ac­tu­al­ly used.

The ACIP de­ci­sion to de­lay ac­tion and wait for more da­ta on the blood clots may seem like an al­most neg­li­gent re­sponse, es­pe­cial­ly giv­en the EMA’s snap de­ci­sion, when time is of the essence. But the risk cal­cu­la­tions for the two re­gions are very dif­fer­ent. The US has more of the Pfiz­er and Mod­er­na Covid vac­cines than the EU to fill the gap left by the J&J pause. The US al­so has about 10 mil­lion dos­es of the J&J vac­cine wait­ing on shelves so if the FDA and CDC of­fer a green­light, those dos­es will im­me­di­ate­ly be ad­min­is­tered.

Al­so, the EMA’s safe­ty com­mit­tee com­plet­ed its analy­sis of the J&J and As­traZeneca vac­cine da­ta be­hind closed doors, on­ly of­fer­ing a peek in­to what oc­curred via lim­it­ed press re­leas­es and press con­fer­ences that usu­al­ly lead to as many new ques­tions as an­swers.

Pe­ter Ar­lett

For in­stance, at each of the EMA press con­fer­ences on the vac­cine la­bel up­dates, Pe­ter Ar­lett, the head of phar­ma­covig­i­lance at the EMA, has un­veiled new fig­ures on the cas­es of blood clots with low platelets for each of the vac­cines au­tho­rized in the EU.

But in do­ing so, Ar­lett fails to of­fer any fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on how many to­tal dos­es of the vac­cines have been ad­min­is­tered or where these new cas­es oc­curred. At least twice now, ei­ther Ar­lett or some­one else at the EMA has had to cor­rect or clar­i­fy what the num­bers mean, or where the cas­es did or did not oc­cur.

If the EMA is go­ing to re­lease these num­bers, why not put them in a press re­lease and ful­ly ex­plain them? In­stead, the agency leaves it to the pub­lic to de­cide on what they might mean, which is con­cern­ing as they are not ap­ples-to-ap­ples com­par­isons. Pfiz­er see­ing 25 cas­es of the blood clots and low platelets ver­sus J&J see­ing 8 cas­es are not com­pa­ra­ble con­sid­er­ing how many tens of mil­lions of more dos­es of the Pfiz­er vac­cine have been ad­min­is­tered.

In oth­er in­stances (e.g. re­leas­ing clin­i­cal tri­al re­sults), the EMA has tak­en a lead­ing role in show­ing the world how trans­paren­cy works. But in this case, even with the FDA and CDC tak­ing ex­tra days to make its de­ci­sion, and even if the de­ci­sion is to re­strict the use of the J&J vac­cine to a spe­cif­ic pop­u­la­tion, the im­por­tance of trans­paren­cy is clear.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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