Pfiz­er ax­es a key Duchenne MD pro­gram af­ter PhII flop, rais­ing new doubts for a drug cat­e­go­ry that at­tract­ed Roche and Bio­gen

Pfiz­er is jet­ti­son­ing an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ing drug that’s been in the clin­ic for Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy. The phar­ma gi­ant says it’s ax­ing work on do­ma­grozum­ab (PF-06252616) — rais­ing the odds against one R&D fo­cus in the field that has at­tract­ed some mar­quee play­ers around the world.

The drug is one of sev­er­al de­signed to in­hib­it myo­statin, which flopped against a one-year test of mus­cle strength, fail­ing to help pa­tients to any sig­nif­i­cant de­gree. By sup­press­ing myo­statin, which blunts mus­cles, the the­o­ry is that a prop­er ther­a­py can help slow the mus­cle-wast­ing ail­ment that in­evitably proves fa­tal to the boys who in­her­it this dis­ease.

Seng Cheng

The fail­ure elim­i­nates one of sev­er­al an­ti-myo­statin ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing BMS-986089, a drug which Bris­tol-My­ers sold to Roche in the spring of 2017 for $170 mil­lion in cash and $205 mil­lion in mile­stones. That drug — now called RG6206 (RO7239361) — is in a Phase II/III study.

Just a month ago Bio­gen al­so got in­to the myo­statin game, pay­ing $27 mil­lion in cash to grab a Phase Ia drug called ALG-801 (BI­IB110) and a pre­clin­i­cal drug ALG-802 from Alive­G­en. Bio­gen not­ed at the time that the two drugs “rep­re­sent nov­el ways of tar­get­ing the myo­statin path­way, which is one of the most thor­ough­ly stud­ied ap­proach­es for mus­cle en­hance­ment.” These ther­a­pies are de­signed to tar­get the nys­tatin path­way, which Bio­gen be­lieves could work bet­ter than oth­er drugs in the clin­ic.

There’s noth­ing un­usu­al about fail­ure in this field, though, where Duchenne MD has proven a tough ob­jec­tive. No­var­tis ex­pe­ri­enced a late-stage set­back with their myo­statin drug bima­grum­ab (BYM338) in 2016. Atara–an Am­gen ($AMGN) spin­off–saw its clin­i­cal can­di­date PIN­TA 745 fail a Phase II study for pro­tein en­er­gy wast­ing in pa­tients with end-stage re­nal dis­ease, forc­ing the biotech to halt de­vel­op­ment ef­forts and switch fo­cus to can­cer. Back in 2011, Ac­celeron ($XL­RN) and Shire ($SH­PG) al­so halt­ed clin­i­cal work on ACE-031, an­oth­er myo­statin drug with big dreams in fight­ing mus­cle wast­ing, then de­cid­ed to scrap it al­to­geth­er in 2013 af­ter run­ning some ad­di­tion­al pre­clin­i­cal tests.

It’s just as bad in oth­er re­lat­ed mus­cle drug fields. Two months ago shares of Sum­mit were crushed in the wake of their failed Phase II for a utrophin mod­u­la­tor, ezutro­mid.

Duchenne MD has al­so been a mine field of con­tro­ver­sy in R&D. Sarep­ta gained an ap­proval for eteplirsen, with­out con­vinc­ing reg­u­la­tors it ac­tu­al­ly works. Now the biotech has been shift­ing at­ten­tion to its gene ther­a­py — put on hold re­cent­ly due to im­pu­ri­ties found in a third-par­ty pro­vid­ed plas­mid — which has looked promis­ing at the very ear­li­est stages of track­ing pa­tient re­spons­es. PTC, mean­while, has been pur­su­ing an FDA OK for ataluren, ap­proved in Eu­rope de­spite re­peat­ed fail­ures in the clin­ic. 

Not to be over­looked is Schol­ar Rock, where the ex­ec­u­tive team be­lieves they can find suc­cess by tar­get­ing la­tent rather than ac­tive myo­statin. The biotech, though, felt the heat Thurs­day morn­ing, with its shares plung­ing 12% on the news. That set­back trig­gered a flur­ry of de­fen­sive posts from an­a­lysts de­fend­ing Schol­ar Rock and bur­nish­ing their chances, with one less ri­val to wor­ry about.

Pfiz­er hasn’t quite giv­en up on its drug, leav­ing the door open to fu­ture tri­als in mus­cu­lar dis­eases. But its big re­main­ing ef­fort in DMD is in a gene ther­a­py pro­gram it has un­der­way for PF-06939926, an AAV de­liv­ered treat­ment which car­ries a short­ened ver­sion of the hu­man dy­s­trophin gene (mi­ni-dy­s­trophin).

“We are dis­ap­point­ed by these re­sults and while we are not pro­gress­ing with the stud­ies, the da­ta will con­tribute to a greater un­der­stand­ing of this dis­ease and we will eval­u­ate the to­tal da­ta set to see if there is a place for this med­i­cine in mus­cu­lar dis­eases,” said Seng Cheng, the CSO for the Pfiz­er Rare Dis­ease Re­search Unit.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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The Advance Clinical leadership team: CEO Yvonne Lungershausen, Sandrien Louwaars - Director Business Development Operations, Gabriel Kremmidiotis - Chief Scientific Officer, Ben Edwards - Chief Strategy Officer

How Aus­tralia De­liv­ers Rapid Start-up and 43.5% Re­bate for Ear­ly Phase On­col­o­gy Tri­als

About Avance Clinical

Avance Clinical is an Australian owned Contract Research Organisation that has been providing high-quality clinical research services to the local and international drug development industry for 20 years. They specialise in working with biotech companies to execute Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials to deliver high-quality outcomes fit for global regulatory standards.

As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

De­nali un­veils new way of cross­ing blood brain bar­ri­er as the big neu­ro­science bets en­ter its clin­i­cal years

Five years ago, as much of pharma began leaving neuroscience, three big-name scientists from Genentech and some A-list investors, including ARCH and Flagship, made a $217 million bet that new genetic insights and a reliance on biomarkers could bring them success. They called it Denali Therapeutics.

Still, Denali faced the problem that neuroscience developers have faced for decades: How do you get a large molecule across the blood-brain barrier, a natural defense evolved precisely to keep them out? Enzyme replacement therapy, for instance, would be a great candidate to treat several neurological disorders, but enzymes can’t cross the barrier.

Bryan Roberts, Venrock

Ven­rock sur­vey shows grow­ing recog­ni­tion of coro­n­avirus toll, wan­ing con­fi­dence in ar­rival of vac­cines and treat­ments

When Venrock partner Bryan Roberts went to check the results from their annual survey of healthcare leaders, what he found was an imprint of the pandemic’s slow arrival in America.

The venture firm had sent their form out to hundreds of insurance and health tech executives, investors, officials and academics on February 24 and gave them two weeks to fill it out. No Americans had died at that point but the coronavirus had become enough of a global crisis that they included two questions about the virus, including “Total U.S. deaths in 2020 from the novel coronavirus will be:”.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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Covid-19 roundup: Roche pairs Actem­ra with remde­sivir in new PhI­II; GSK makes its own 1B vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ing plan

A month after a small study in France suggested that Roche’s IL-6 inhibitor Actemra helped Covid-19 patients do better — even as Sanofi and Regeneron found somewhat disappointing results with their rival drug — Roche is doubling down on the strategy.

The Swiss pharma giant is kicking off a second Phase III global placebo-controlled study involving Actemra. But rather than testing it as a monotherapy, they will add Gilead’s remdesivir to the regimen.

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Fabrice Chouraqui, Cellarity CEO-partner (LinkedIn)

Drug de­vel­op­er, Big Phar­ma com­mer­cial ex­ec, now an up­start biotech chief — Fab­rice Chouraqui is ready to try some­thing new as a ‘CEO-part­ner’ at Flag­ship

Fabrice Chouraqui’s career has taken some big twists along his life journey. He got his PharmD at Université Paris Descartes and jumped into the drug development game for a bit. Then he took a sharp turn and went back to school to get his MBA at Insead before returning to pharma on the commercial side.

Twenty years later, after steadily rising through the ranks and journeying the globe to nab a top job as president of US pharma for the Basel-based Novartis, Chouraqui exited in another career switch. And now he’s headed into a hybrid position as a CEO-partner at Flagship, where he’ll take a shot at leading Cellarity — one of the VC’s latest paradigm-changing companies of the groundbreaking model that aspires to deliver a new platform to the world of drug R&D.

Al­ny­lam nabs speedy re­view, set­ting up 3rd pos­si­ble ap­proval in 3 years

After nearly two decades in the haze of preclinical and clinical development, things seem to be coming into focus for Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

Two years ago the company landed the first approved drug for RNA interference (RNAi), a Nobel Prize-winning technique discovered in plants and pioneered around the turn of the century. Then last year, they landed another approval. Now, fresh off a massive investment from Blackstone, they’ve received an FDA priority review designation for a third therapy, setting them up to potentially nab three different approvals in three consecutive years.