Pfiz­er fi­nal­ly fin­ish­es a 3-year reg­u­la­to­ry odyssey, bag­ging an FDA OK for 1st Epogen knock­off

A decade af­ter Hos­pi­ra launched its biosim­i­lar of Am­gen’s ag­ing ane­mia drug Epogen in Eu­rope, its suc­ces­sors at Pfiz­er have fi­nal­ly pushed it over the fin­ish line at the FDA. The ap­proval of the first Epogen copy­cat to­day — sold by J&J as Pr­o­crit — comes af­ter their knock­off Re­tacrit was snubbed twice at the FDA, first in 2015 and again last sum­mer, when reg­u­la­tors voiced dis­sat­is­fac­tion with their man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­ter.

Leah Christl

The reg­u­la­to­ry path­way proved much longer and hard­er than Pfiz­er an­tic­i­pat­ed when it bought Hos­pi­ra in 2015. But the phar­ma gi­ant has been plug­ging away, join­ing No­var­tis, Cell­tri­on and Am­gen it­self as they ad­vanced var­i­ous gener­ic copies of first-gen­er­a­tion bi­o­log­ics to the FDA. 

Un­der com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb, the FDA has voiced its will­ing­ness to help move things along as ef­fi­cient­ly as pos­si­ble, but that hasn’t pre­vent­ed a se­ries of re­jec­tions over the past few years.

Epogen was first ap­proved by the FDA in 1989, cre­at­ing a fran­chise that sus­tained Am­gen as it de­vel­oped Big Phar­ma sta­tus. And Am­gen con­tin­ued to wage a long-run­ning le­gal bat­tle to de­lay the ar­rival of Re­tacrit, even though in the long run it didn’t need to. The FDA ac­com­plished that task on its own.

Even as the Eu­ro­pean ri­val ate in­to Epogen’s rev­enue and Am­gen low­ered prices, it’s been a durable block­buster, earn­ing a lit­tle more than a bil­lion dol­lars last year af­ter gar­ner­ing about $1.3 bil­lion in 2016. But its block­buster days are num­bered, es­pe­cial­ly as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion push­es low­er cost al­ter­na­tives as a way to re­duce the coun­try’s drug bill.

“It is im­por­tant for pa­tients to have ac­cess to safe, ef­fec­tive and af­ford­able bi­o­log­i­cal prod­ucts and we are com­mit­ted to fa­cil­i­tat­ing the de­vel­op­ment and ap­proval of biosim­i­lar and in­ter­change­able prod­ucts,” said Leah Christl, di­rec­tor of the Ther­a­peu­tic Bi­o­log­ics and Biosim­i­lars Staff in the FDA’s Cen­ter for Drug Eval­u­a­tion and Re­search. “Biosim­i­lars can pro­vide greater ac­cess to treat­ment op­tions for pa­tients, in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion and po­ten­tial­ly low­er­ing costs.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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Marty Duvall, Oncopeptides CEO

On­copep­tides stock craters as it pulls can­cer drug Pepax­to from the mar­ket

Shares of Oncopeptides crashed more than 70% in early Friday trading after the company said it’s pulling its multiple myeloma drug Pepaxto (melphalan flufenamide) from the US market after failing a confirmatory trial. The move will force the company to close its US and EU business units and enact significant layoffs.

The FDA had scheduled an adcomm meeting next Thursday to discuss Pepaxto, which first won accelerated approval in February and costs about $19,000 per course of treatment. The committee was to weigh in on whether the confirmatory trial demonstrated a worse overall survival in the treatment arm compared to the control arm.

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How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data are messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data are exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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Pfiz­er pitch­es its Covid-19 vac­cine for younger chil­dren ahead of ad­comm next week

Pfizer will present its case to the FDA’s vaccine adcomm next week, seeking authorization for a lower-dose version of its Covid-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 through 12, which the Biden administration said will likely begin rolling out early next month.

Two primary doses of the 10 µg vaccine (the dose for those ages 12 and up is 30 μg) given 3 weeks apart in this group of children “have shown a favorable safety and tolerability profile, robust immune responses against all variants of concern including Delta, and vaccine efficacy of 90.7% against laboratory-confirmed symptomatic COVID-19,” the company said in briefing documents ahead of next Tuesday’s meeting of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

Jay Flatley, new Zymergen CEO

Fol­low­ing Au­gust melt­down, Zymer­gen hints at sal­vage plans — cut­ting jobs and rene­go­ti­at­ing loans

Two months after a spectacular implosion that saw its founding CEO leave his post amid customer reports its only product didn’t work, Zymergen provided the first peek behind the curtain for its plans moving forward.

In an SEC filing Wednesday, Zymergen told regulators it would slash about 100 jobs and had renegotiated a $100 million loan from Perceptive that loomed like a storm cloud over the company, moving up the maturity date 18 months to June 30, 2022. Jed Dean, one of Zymergen’s three co-founders and VP of operations, will also step down at the end of the month.

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David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er throws its weight be­hind LNP play­er eye­ing mR­NA treat­ments for CF, PCD

David Lockhart did not see the meteoric rise of messenger RNA and lipid nanoparticles coming.

Thanks to the worldwide fight against Covid-19, mRNA — the genetic code that can be engineered to turn the body into a mini protein factory — and LNPs, those tiny bubbles of fat carrying those instructions, have found their way into hundreds of millions of people. Within the biotech world, pioneers like Alnylam and Intellia have demonstrated just how versatile LNPs can be as a delivery vehicle for anything from siRNA to CRISPR/Cas9.

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Bris­tol My­ers pledges to sell its Ac­celeron shares as ac­tivist in­vestors cir­cle Mer­ck­'s $11.5B buy­out — re­port

Just as Avoro Capital’s campaign to derail Merck’s proposed $11.5 billion buyout of Acceleron gains steam, Bristol Myers Squibb is leaning in with some hefty counterweight.

The pharma giant is planning to tender its Acceleron shares, Bloomberg reported, which add up to a sizable 11.5% stake. Based on the offer price, the sale would net Bristol Myers around $1.3 billion.

To complete its deal, Merck needs a majority of shareholders to agree to sell their shares.