Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA say their PD-L1 Baven­cio al­so flunked PhI­II in the all-im­por­tant lung can­cer field

Play­ing catch-up in the crowd­ed PD-1/L1 field in can­cer R&D is prov­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly tough for Mer­ck KGaA and Pfiz­er $PFE.

The part­ners re­port­ed this morn­ing that their Phase III lung can­cer study JAVELIN Lung 200 failed the pri­ma­ry end­point for over­all sur­vival com­par­ing Baven­cio (the PD-L1 avelum­ab) against do­c­etax­el in sec­ond-line lung can­cer, a ma­jor field for all the play­ers in this par­tic­u­lar field.

Re­searchers swift­ly fin­gered the crossover of pa­tients to oth­er avail­able check­points as a like­ly rea­son for the flop — rais­ing a threat that may well arise for every­one test­ing check­points in the all-im­por­tant group of lung can­cer pa­tients.

De­tails are scant as the da­ta will be pre­sent­ed at an up­com­ing con­fer­ence, but the part­ners made sure to pro­vide an ex­pla­na­tion:

While the tri­al did not meet its pre­spec­i­fied end­point of im­prov­ing over­all sur­vival (OS) in pa­tients with pro­grammed death lig­and-1-pos­i­tive (PD-L1+) (1% or high­er) tu­mors (HR: 0.90 [96% CI: 0.72–1.12], p-val­ue 0.1627, one-sided), the pro­por­tion of pa­tients in the chemother­a­py arm cross­ing over to im­mune check­point in­hibitors out­side the study was high­er than pre­vi­ous­ly re­port­ed in post-plat­inum im­munother­a­py clin­i­cal tri­als, and this may have con­found­ed this tri­al out­come.

Re­searchers al­so point­ed to im­prove­ments in OS in a sub-group with mod­er­ate-to-high and high PD-L1+ ex­pres­sion, as well as lack of new safe­ty con­cerns, as pos­i­tive signs. But they face some tough com­peti­tors in lung can­cer, where Mer­ck has been mak­ing head­way with Keytru­da as Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and As­traZeneca fight to gain ground. And the com­pa­nies got some kick­back from Ever­core ISI’s Uber Raf­fat: “The news to­day on Pfiz­er’s 2L lung fail­ure marks the first time we can start to say that PFE may have un­der­per­formed.”

Raf­fat al­so ques­tioned if crossovers could re­al­ly ex­plain the set­back, as Mer­ck has re­port­ed suc­cess be­fore in stud­ies with a 15% crossover rate.

The two big part­ners won an ap­proval to use their PD-L1 drug against Merkel cell car­ci­no­ma, but they’re find­ing it tough ex­pand­ing its use to oth­er can­cers. Just a cou­ple of months ago they al­so re­port­ed that Baven­cio had failed a Phase III study for gas­tric can­cer, putting a crimp in their plans to ramp up sales.

Chris Boshoff

“We are com­mit­ted to un­der­stand­ing the da­ta in the con­text of the sub­pop­u­la­tions and the im­pact of ac­cess to oth­er im­mune check­point in­hibitors,” said Chris Boshoff, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent and head of im­muno-on­col­o­gy at Pfiz­er. “We will con­tin­ue to progress the broad avelum­ab pro­gram, ex­plor­ing var­i­ous in­di­ca­tions.”

With con­tri­bu­tion from John Car­roll.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Joshua Liang, Clover Biopharmaceuticals CEO

With world still in sore need of dos­es, Clover says its Covid-19 vac­cine is 67% ef­fec­tive in Phase III

With concerns about the Delta variant rising and much of the world still in desperate need of vaccine doses, a Chinese biotech announced Wednesday that a new shot has shown positive results in a large trial against Covid-19, including new variants.

Clover Biopharmaceuticals announced Wednesday that its vaccine candidate showed 79% efficacy against the Delta variant in a Phase II/III trial dubbed Spectra, and 67% effective against Covid-19 overall.

Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.