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.” 

Lessons for biotech and phar­ma from a doc­tor who chased his own cure

After being struck by a rare disease as a healthy third year medical student, David Fajgenbaum began an arduous journey chasing his own cure. Amidst the hustle of this year’s JP Morgan conference, the digital trials platform Medable partnered with Endpoints Studio to share Dr. Fajgenbaum’s story with the drug development industry.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation between Medable CEO Dr. Michelle Longmire and Dr. Fajgenbaum, and it is full of lessons for biotech executives charged with bringing the next generation of medicines to patients.

Kathy High (file photo)

Gene ther­a­py pi­o­neer Kathy High has left Spark af­ter com­plet­ing $4.3B union with Roche

Kathy High dedicated the past seven years of her life shepherding experimental gene therapies she’s developed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia toward the market as president and head of R&D at Spark Therapeutics. Now that the biotech startup is fully absorbed into Roche — with an FDA approval, a $4.3 billion buyout and a promising hemophilia program to boast — she’s ready to move on.

Roche confirmed her departure with Endpoints News and noted “she will take some well-deserved time off and then will begin a new chapter in a sabbatical at a university.”

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Tim Mayleben (file photo)

Es­pe­ri­on's goldilocks cho­les­terol fight­er wins FDA ap­proval — will its 'tra­di­tion­al' pric­ing ap­proach spur adop­tion?

It’s more effective than decades-old statins but not as good as the injectable PCSK9 — the goldilocks treatment for cholesterol-lowering, bempedoic acid, has secured FDA approval.

Its maker, Esperion Therapeutics, is betting that their pricing strategy — a planned list price of between $10 to $11 a day — will help it skirt the pushback the PCSK9 cholesterol fighters, Repatha and Praluent, got from payers for their high sticker prices.

The sky-high expectations for the pair of PCSK9 drugs that were first approved in 2015 quickly simmered — and despite a 60% price cut, coupled with data showing the therapies also significantly cut cardiovascular risk, sales have not really perked up.

Esperion is convinced that by virtue of being a cheaper oral therapy, bempedoic acid will hit that sweet spot in terms of adoption.

“We’re kind of like the old comfortable shoe,” Esperion’s chief commercial officer Mark Glickman remarked in an interview with Endpoints News ahead of the decision date. “It’s an oral product, once-daily and nontitratable — these are things that just resonate so true with patients and physicians and I think we’ve kind of forgotten about that.”

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James Collins, Broad Institute via Youtube

UP­DAT­ED: A space odyssey for new an­tibi­otics: MIT's ma­chine learn­ing ap­proach

Drug development is complex, expensive and comes with lousy odds of success — but in most cases, if you make it across the finish line brandishing a product with an edge (and play your cards right) it can be a lucrative endeavor.

As it stands, the antibiotic market is cursed — it harbors the stink of multiple bankruptcies, a dearth of innovation, and is consequently barely whetting the voracious appetites of big pharma or venture capitalists. Enter artificial intelligence — the biopharma industry’s cure-all for the pesky process of making a therapeutic, including data mining, drug discovery, optimal drug delivery, and addressable patient population.

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Gilead los­es two more patent chal­lenges on HIV pill, set­ting up court­room fight in Delaware

Gilead sustained two more losses in their efforts to rid themselves of an activist-backed patent lawsuit from the US government over a best-selling HIV pill.

Urged on by activists seeking to divert a portion of Gilead’s revenue to clinics and prevention programs, the Department of Health and Human Services made a claim to some of the patents for the best-selling HIV prevention drug, Truvada, also known as PrEP. Gilead responded by arguing in court that HHS’s patents were invalid.

Today, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Gilead was likely to lose the last two of those challenges as well. The USPTO ruled against Gilead on the first two patents earlier this month.

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Tal Zaks (Moderna via YouTube)

For two decades, a new vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy has been slow­ly ap­proach­ing prime time. Now, can it stop a pan­dem­ic?

Two months before the outbreak, Moderna CMO Tal Zaks traveled from Cambridge, MA to Washington DC to meet with Anthony Fauci and the leaders of the National Institutes of Health.

For two years, Moderna had worked closely with NIH researchers to build a new kind of vaccine for MERS, one of the deadliest new viruses to emerge in the 21st century. The program was one test for a new technology designed to be faster, cheaper and more precise than the ways vaccines had been made for over a century. They had gathered evidence the technology could work in principle, and Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a longtime advocate for better epidemic preparedness, wanted to see if it, along with a couple of other approaches, could work in a worst-case scenario: A pandemic.

“[We were] trying to find a test case for how to demonstrate if our technology could rapidly prepare,” Zaks told Endpoints News.

Zaks and Fauci, of course, wouldn’t have to wait to develop a new test. By year’s end, an outbreak in China would short circuit the need for one and throw them into 24/7 work on a real-world emergency. They also weren’t the only ones with new technology who saw a chance to help in a crisis.

An ocean away, Lidia Oostvogels was still on vacation and relaxing at her mother’s house in Belgium when her Facebook started changing. It was days after Christmas and on most people’s feeds, the news that China had reported a novel virus to the World Health Organization blurred into the stream of holiday sweaters and fir trees. But on Oostvogels’s feed, full of vaccine researchers and virus experts, speculation boiled: There was a virus in China, something contained to the country, but “exotic,” “weird,” and maybe having to do with animals. Maybe a coronavirus.

Lidia Oostvogels

“I was immediately thinking like, ‘Hey, this is something that if needed, we can play a role,'” Oostvogels told Endpoints.

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Christos Kyratsous (via LinkedIn)

He built a MERS treat­ment in 6 months and then the best Ebo­la drug. Now Chris­tos Kyrat­sous turns his sights on Covid-19

TARRYTOWN, NY — In 2015, as the Ebola epidemic raged through swaths of West Africa, Kristen Pascal’s roommates sat her down on their couch and staged an intervention.

“Are you sure this is what you want to be doing with your life?” she recalls them asking her.

Special report

Pascal, a research associate for Regeneron, had been coming home at 2 am and leaving at 6 am. At one point, she didn’t see her roommate for a week. For months, that was life in Christos Kyratsous’ lab as the pair led a company-wide race to develop the first drug that could effectively treat Ebola before the outbreak ended. For Pascal, that was worth it.

“I’m ok, I don’t have Ebola,” Pascal told them. “I see that death toll rising and I can’t not do something about it.”

Last August, Regeneron learned they had succeeded: In a large trial across West Africa, their drug, REGN-EB3, was vastly more effective than the standard treatments. It was surprise news for the company, coming just 10 months into a trial they thought would take several years and a major victory in the global fight against a deadly virus that killed over 2,000 in 2019 and can carry a mortality rate of up to 90%.

For Kyratsous and Pascal, though, it brought only fleeting reprieve. Just four months after the NIH informed them REGN-EB3 worked, Kyratsous was back in his office reading the New York Times for updates on a new outbreak on another continent, and wondering alongside Pascal and senior management whether it was time to pull the trigger again.

In late January, as the death toll swelled and the first confirmed cases outside China broke double digits, they made a decision. Soon they were back on the phone with the multiple government agencies and their coronavirus partners at the University of Maryland’s Level 3 bio lab. The question was simple: Can Kyratsous and his team use a process honed over two previous outbreaks, and create a treatment before the newest epidemic ends? Or worse, if, as world health experts fear, it doesn’t vanish but becomes a recurrent virus like the flu?

“Christos likes things immediately,” Matt Frieman, Regeneron’s coronavirus collaborator at the University of Maryland, told Endpoints. “That’s what makes us good collaborators: We push each other to develop things faster and faster.”

Kristen Pascal (Regeneron)

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The first time Regeneron tried to respond to a global outbreak, it was something of a systems test, Kyratsous explains from his office at Regeneron’s Tarrytown headquarters. Kyratsous, newly promoted, has crammed it with photos of his family, sketches of viral vectors and a shark he drew for his 3-year-old son. He speaks rapidly – an idiosyncrasy his press person says has only been aggravated this afternoon by the contents of his “Regeneron Infectious Diseases”-minted espresso glass – and he gesticulates with similar fluidity, tumbling through antibodies, MERS, the novel coronavirus, Ebola-infected monkeys.

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Jim Scholefield via PR Newswire

Mer­ck los­es its chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer, spot­light­ing tal­ent hunt for the hottest ti­tle in Big Phar­ma

Over the last few years we’ve seen the chief digital officer title become one of the hottest commodities in Big Pharma as global organizations hunt the best talent to sharpen the cutting edge of their tech platforms.

But Merck just discovered how hard it may be to keep them focused on pharma.

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Don't let Ab­b­Vie fool FTC with an easy di­vesti­ture, plead crit­ics in lat­est at­tack on $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out

If the FTC must let AbbVie and Allergan go ahead with their merger, at least make them divest their latest blockbuster on the market, a chorus of unions, consumer groups and public interest organizations plead in a new attempt to rein in the megamerger.

There’s a second part to their argument: If the antitrust watchdog does greenlight the divestiture AbbVie wants, then at least ensure the pharma giant cannot corner its future rivals with its exclusionary tactics.

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