Pfiz­er im­press­es car­dio crowd with mor­tal­i­ty and hos­pi­tal­iza­tion rates for tafamidis in AT­TR-CM -- but Al­ny­lam quick­ly blasts back

Pfiz­er has scored the kind of po­ten­tial­ly game-chang­ing piv­otal da­ta for tafamidis in rare cas­es of transthyretin amy­loid car­diomy­opa­thy that an­a­lysts have been on the look­out for. And the phar­ma gi­ant is rolling out an ex­pand­ed ac­cess pro­gram for AT­TR-CM pa­tients now — just as a ri­val ther­a­py from Al­ny­lam is hit­ting the mar­ket for the first time.

Re­searchers to­day fol­lowed up pos­i­tive top-line da­ta with the news that tafamidis spurred a 30% drop in mor­tal­i­ty risk along with a 32% re­duc­tion in the risk of car­dio-re­lat­ed hos­pi­tal­iza­tion.  That’s good enough to win over a key crowd of top an­a­lysts, but you can bet that there will be plen­ty of ques­tions to­day as every­one hunts for the dev­il in the de­tail. And Al­ny­lam wast­ed no time in rais­ing doubts about the da­ta, which is like­ly go­ing to re­lieve in­vestors fret­ting over the com­pe­ti­tion.

Cred­it Su­isse an­a­lysts ear­li­er not­ed that “even a mod­est im­prove­ment in mor­tal­i­ty (10% to 15%) would be fa­vor­able.” Any­thing 20% to 25% could prove to be a game-chang­er, they added, in a field where a land­mark RNAi ther­a­py from Al­ny­lam is about to hit the mar­ket and an­oth­er — less at­trac­tive — ther­a­py from Akcea and Io­n­is is like­ly right be­hind it.

The da­ta al­so hit a sec­ondary on an im­prove­ment in the re­duc­tion of per­for­mance in the 6-minute walk test along with an im­prove­ment in qual­i­ty of life scores.

But some ques­tions re­main. And at first blush Al­ny­lam got a quick thumbs up for re­main­ing com­pet­i­tive as a mar­ket show­down looms be­tween the lead­ers in the field.

Al­ny­lam fol­lowed up by point­ing out that Pfiz­er looks weak­est where it looks strongest, with­out a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant read­out for hered­i­tary AT­TR. The com­pa­ny al­so spot­light­ed the pooled dose re­sults, an un­usu­al de­ci­sion by Pfiz­er. They added:

  • In APOL­LO, over 50% of patisir­an pa­tients showed IM­PROVE­MENT rel­a­tive to base­line on both mNIS+7 and Nor­folk.
  • In APOL­LO car­diac sub­pop­u­la­tion of hAT­TR pa­tients*, patisir­an re­sult­ed in:
    • De­crease from base­line (i.e., IM­PROVE­MENT) in NT-proB­NP lev­els (55% re­duc­tion for pati rel­a­tive to pbo)
    • 31.6% of pati pa­tients had de­crease change from base­line of NT-proB­NP ≥30% and ≥300 pg/mL, a key mor­tal­i­ty prog­nos­ti­ca­tor, at Month 18, where­as no pbo pa­tients had de­creas­es of this mag­ni­tude.

Per­haps most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Al­ny­lam al­so be­lieves that this field is pri­mar­i­ly a growth op­por­tu­ni­ty, as new and bet­ter di­ag­noses iden­ti­fy a grow­ing group of pa­tients for both. In that sce­nario, pa­tients and physi­cians can make their own choic­es as all the biotechs ben­e­fit.

You can get more de­tails in the study pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine.

In­vestors seem fair­ly hap­py ini­tial­ly with both sides. Al­nyam shares jumped 16% by the end of the day — a re­lief ral­ly — while Pfiz­er stock end­ed down a cou­ple of points.

Bren­da Coop­er­stone

Re­searchers of­fered pooled da­ta for two dos­es of the drug — an 80 mg and 20 mg reg­i­men — rather than break­ing the re­sults out in­to dosage groups, leav­ing it un­like­ly that they saw a clear dose re­sponse. An­a­lysts will be fol­low­ing up Pfiz­er’s state­ment to­day with more ques­tions on how the ther­a­py worked. But it’s clear that Pfiz­er will be claim­ing an ad­van­tage here, pro­vid­ing one rea­son for CEO Ian Read’s re­cent vote of con­fi­dence that the com­pa­ny’s late-stage pipeline can pro­vide the big drugs it needs to keep rev­enue on the up­swing.

The drug is al­ready armed with both a break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion as well as a Saki­gake ti­tle from Japan­ese reg­u­la­tors. Look for some quick mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tions and an ag­gres­sive roll­out if the da­ta hold up.

What we al­so didn’t get im­me­di­ate­ly was much de­tail on safe­ty da­ta. The drug arm and place­bo had a “com­pa­ra­ble” safe­ty pro­file, the com­pa­ny re­port­ed.

Cred­it Su­isse has es­ti­mat­ed peak sales at $600 mil­lion, with a shot at more un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances. The big ques­tion now is how much Al­ny­lam — whose drug On­pat­tro was ap­proved for TTR polyneu­ropthay — might be af­fect­ed by the com­pe­ti­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the an­a­lysts:

Though the in­di­ca­tions may be dif­fer­ent, the prod­ucts will like­ly com­pete, as physi­cians we spoke with in­di­cat­ed that many pa­tients with car­diomy­opa­thy tend to al­so have polyneu­ropa­thy and vice ver­sa. A few physi­cians be­lieve Al­ny­lam’s prod­uct is the safer prod­uct and will use patisir­an to treat car­diomy­opa­thy while get­ting re­im­burse­ment for polyneu­ropa­thy. Oth­er physi­cians ex­pect to pri­mar­i­ly pre­scribe tafamidis if the out­come da­ta are clin­i­cal­ly mean­ing­ful.

Pfiz­er, though, al­so faces a chal­lenge in get­ting physi­cians to do a much bet­ter job at di­ag­nos­ing TTR-car­diomy­opa­thy. But their de­ci­sion to be­gin a wide-open ex­pand­ed ac­cess pro­gram is a clear shot over Al­ny­lam’s bow. The drug is al­ready ap­proved as Vyn­daqel and on the mar­ket to treat fa­mil­ial amy­loid polyneu­ropa­thy.

Their mar­ket ri­val­ry starts to­day.

Al­so af­fect­ed by to­day’s an­nounce­ment is Ei­dos Ther­a­peu­tics $EI­DX, which re­cent­ly went pub­lic as it pur­sued its own work in the field.

“We be­lieve the AT­TR-ACT study find­ings bring us a sig­nif­i­cant step clos­er to our goal of pro­vid­ing an ur­gent­ly need­ed ther­a­py for a se­ri­ous and of­ten fa­tal dis­ease,” said Bren­da Coop­er­stone, Pfiz­er’s chief de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer for rare dis­ease. “We look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing dis­cus­sions with glob­al reg­u­la­to­ry au­thor­i­ties about the po­ten­tial of tafamidis as a treat­ment op­tion for peo­ple liv­ing with AT­TR-CM.” 

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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Mer­ck’s $1B cash gam­ble pays off with a sur­pris­ing PhI­II car­dio suc­cess for Bay­er’s heart drug veri­ciguat

More than 3 years after Merck stepped up and paid $1 billion in cold, hard cash to gain the US commercial rights to Bayer’s high-risk heart drug vericiguat in a broad-ranging cardio alliance, the partners say their Phase III study has come through with promising data and a date with regulators.
We don’t have the data, and won’t until they put it out at an upcoming scientific session, but Merck touted the results, saying that their big Phase III VICTORIA study hit the primary endpoint  — with vericiguat combined with available therapies reducing “the risk of the composite endpoint of heart failure hospitalization or cardiovascular death in patients with worsening chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) compared to placebo when given in combination with available heart failure therapies.”
Depending on the hard data, and how it breaks out with the combinations used, this drug could pose a threat to Novartis’ blockbuster drug Entresto, currently at $1.6 billion while analysts expect peak sales to hit $4 billion.
The drug is a soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) stimulator, which Bayer and Merck have had high hopes for. Evidently, so did cardiologists. Cowen’s last analysis set potential sales at $400 million in 2024, but that number could go up significantly now.
Cowen’s Steve Scala noted this morning:
Vericiguat could be a lucrative product for Merck, and one with potentially under-appreciated value. At Cowen’s Therapeutics Conference in September 2019, 80% of specialists anticipated a positive result from VICTORIA whereas only 51% of investors shared this optimism.
Investigators recruited more than 5,000 patients at more than 600 centers in 42 countries for this study — one of the most expensive propositions in R&D. Millions of people in the US suffer from heart failure with reduced ejection fraction when the failing heart fails to contract properly to eject blood into the system. Bayer holds ex-US rights to the drug and also stands to earn cash from the $1.1 billion in milestones Merck agreed on for their collaboration.
Remarkably, the drug was pushed into Phase III despite failing the mid-stage trial — though investigators flagged a success at the high dose of 10 mg. In VICTORIA, researchers started patients at 2.5 mg and then titrated up to 5 and then 10 mg.

Dicer­na scores broad, 'rest of liv­er' deal with No­vo Nordisk, bag­ging $225M in cash to hit some 30 tar­gets with RNAi plat­form

Turns out Dicerna wasn’t done with deals yet after locking in $200 million upfront from Roche for a hepatitis B cocktail two weeks ago.

Novo Nordisk has signed on as the latest partner to its GalXC RNAi platform, handing over $175 million in cash to claim any and all targets of interest in liver-related cardio-metabolic diseases that are not already reserved in previous pacts. The Danish drugmaker — which has signaled its interest to expand considerably beyond its core diabetes franchise into areas like NASH — is also purchasing $50 million worth of Dicerna’s equity at a 25% premium of $21.93 per share. More research payments and milestones extending to the billions are on the line.

Gene ther­a­py wins the in­side track at EMA; PPD files for IPO

→ Gene therapy maker Orchard Therapeutics has been granted an accelerated assessment for OTL-200 by the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP). The gene therapy — in development in partnership with the San Raffaele-Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) in Milan, Italy — being used towards the treatment of metachromatic leukodystrophy.

→ Pharmaceutical Product Development has announced that its parent company, PPD, Inc has submitted a draft to the SEC relating to the proposal of an IPO of the parent company’s common stock. Number of shares and price range have not yet been determined.

Alk­er­mes forges $950M biotech buy­out deal in a bold bet on an ear­ly-stage CNS drug plat­form

Alkermes $ALKS is investing $100 million cash and committing up to $850 million more in milestones in a big wager on a very early-stage CNS discovery platform. And the biotech is adding $20 million more to fund next year’s new research work on the platform it’s acquiring in today’s buyout with an eye to expanding the research work in oncology.

The biotech, helmed by Richard Pops, is buying Rodin Therapeutics, which had focused early on Alzheimer’s disease. Pops’ buyout, though, isn’t focused solely on the most troublesome sector in pharma R&D.

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Pfiz­er gets biosim­i­lar ap­proved for Hu­mi­ra, set­ting up com­pe­ti­tion — in 2023

In the story lawmakers and drug pricing reform advocates have told about the drug industry, there are perhaps few greater villains than Humira and its maker AbbVie.

Between 2012 and 2018, AbbVie upped the drug’s annual after-rebates cost from $19,000 to $38,000 in the US, with sticker prices now over $60,000 per year — increases that led to accusations of price gouging, most recently from Democratic presidential frontrunner Elizabeth Warren.

Eye­ing one of the first RNAi ther­a­pies and cho­les­terol block­buster, Med­Co shows de­tailed in­clisir­an da­ta

The main question was not whether it would work; it was if it would be safe.

The Medicines Company is out with new data on its LDL cholesterol drug inclisiran, and they confirm the first, tentative answers: Yes. They also keep MedCo on track for an imminent  FDA submission for one of the first RNAi therapies and a drug that could flip the cholesterol market. An EU application will follow in the first quarter of 2020.

Image: Associated Press

Af­ter a late-stage miss, No­var­tis touts an­oth­er En­tresto analy­sis to con­vince the FDA to ex­pand the block­buster's la­bel

Fresh after getting its keenly watched sickle cell treatment endorsed by the FDA, Novartis is pulling out all the stops to expand the use of heart therapy Entestro using a raft of analyses after the drug “narrowly” failed a crucial late-stage test.

Entestro is a top seller for Novartis and is currently approved for HFrEF (formerly known as systolic heart failure) — in these patients the heart muscle does not contract effectively, reducing the level of oxygen-rich blood pumped into to the body. The drug is administered twice daily and is designed to cut the strain on the failing heart.

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