Over a year af­ter re­jec­tion, Im­munomedics emerges with po­ten­tial block­buster ap­proval

A tur­bu­lent 16 months for Im­munomedics has end­ed in a po­ten­tial block­buster ap­proval, as the FDA grant­ed an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK for their drug to treat an ag­gres­sive form of breast can­cer.

The drug, brand­ed as Trodelvy, is ap­proved for metasta­t­ic triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer — breast can­cers that lack the onco­genes that tar­get­ed ther­a­pies go af­ter and that have helped make the dis­ease treat­able for some pa­tients. The drug, which had break­through sta­tus and pri­or­i­ty re­view, showed a 33% re­sponse and me­di­an du­ra­tion of re­sponse of 7.7 months in 108 pa­tients en­rolled in their Phase II tri­al. Peak sales es­ti­mates can range as high as around $3 bil­lion.

The ap­proval comes over a month in ad­vance of the com­pa­ny’s June 2 PDU­FA date, con­tin­u­ing the agency’s trend of quick­ly ap­prov­ing can­cer drugs they deem ef­fec­tive.

Be­hzad Ag­haz­adeh

A lit­tle over a year ago, the FDA sur­prised both the com­pa­ny and in­vestors by re­ject­ing the drug. Al­though Im­munomedics $IM­MU said the con­cern had on­ly been with qual­i­ty con­trols over the fa­cil­i­ty where the drug is pro­duced, the re­jec­tion of the biotech’s main as­set shaved $1 bil­lion off the com­pa­ny’s mar­ket cap. Not long af­ter, an FDA in­spec­tion doc­u­ment raised con­cerns of a da­ta breach at one of the com­pa­ny’s fa­cil­i­ties. The CEO and CSO both lat­er ex­it­ed, and chair­man Be­hzad Ag­haz­adeh stepped in to run the com­pa­ny.

The drug, known chem­i­cal­ly as sac­i­tuzum­ab govite­can, is the com­pa­ny’s first ap­proval in their 37-year his­to­ry. An an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gate, it con­sists of a tu­mor-tar­get­ing an­ti­body at­tached to a cell-killing small mol­e­cule. The tu­mor en­gulfs the con­ju­gate and the mol­e­cule kills the can­cer cells. The idea first emerged in the ear­ly 2000s be­fore pe­ter­ing out, but has gained trac­tion again in re­cent years, most no­tably with the re­cent ap­provals of Seat­tle Ge­net­ics’ Ad­cetris and Pad­cev.

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics near­ly ac­quired the Im­munomedics drug in 2016. They agreed to an up-to $2 bil­lion deal worth $300 mil­lion be­fore ven­Bio, which owned a 9.9% stake in the com­pa­ny, led a cam­paign against the deal, with then-man­ag­ing parter Ag­haz­adeh ac­cus­ing the com­pa­ny’s lead­er­ship of try­ing to en­rich them­selves. The hus­band-and-wife team who then ran the com­pa­ny as CSO and CEO re­signed, and Ag­haz­adeh lat­er or­ga­nized a $250 mil­lion roy­al­ty deal to fund the com­pa­ny’s work.

Harout Se­mer­jian

An ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval is con­di­tion­al on the com­pa­ny con­duct­ing a fol­low-up study. That tri­al, though, has al­ready been stopped, with an in­de­pen­dent re­view board telling Im­munomedics ear­ly this month their drug had al­ready shown enough com­pelling ef­fi­ca­cy. On the same day of the tri­al news, the com­pa­ny al­so an­nounced that No­var­tis On­col­o­gy vet Harout Se­mer­jian had been named as the new CEO.

Com­mit­tee chair and Fred Hutch re­searcher Julie Gralow called the re­sults of the Phase III tri­al “re­mark­able.” The com­ment led Cowen’s Phil Nadeau to write, “There is lit­tle ques­tion that sac­i­tuzum­ab will soon be­come stan­dard of care in the treat­ment of re­lapsed and re­frac­to­ry mTNBC.”

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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The fu­ture of mR­NA, J&J's vac­cine ad­comm, Mer­ck­'s $1.85B au­toim­mune bet and more

Welcome to the third installment of 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.

If this report was helpful in recapping it all for you, please do share it with your colleagues.

Get ready for FDA’s third Covid-19 vaccine

On the heels of a ringing endorsement from FDA reviewers earlier in the week, J&J‘s single-dose vaccine — which proved 66% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and 85% effective at stopping severe disease 28 days after administration — the advisory committee convened by the agency voted unanimously to recommend its emergency use authorization. It was “a relatively easy call,” according to one of the committee members — although that doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. Jason Mast has the highlights from the discussion, including new information from the company, on this live blog.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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