PhI­II lung can­cer da­ta sig­nal po­ten­tial ap­proval for As­traZeneca's Imfinzi

The da­ta on As­traZeneca’s Phase III Imfinzi tri­al are out, and it bodes well for the UK out­fit’s bid to get their sig­na­ture im­munother­a­py ap­proved for front­line small-cell lung can­cer (SCLC).

Pa­tients re­ceiv­ing the PD-L1 Imfinzi (along­side a stan­dard chemother­a­py reg­i­men) in As­traZeneca’s CASPI­AN study sur­vived for 13 months on av­er­age, com­pared with 10.3 months for pa­tients re­ceiv­ing the stan­dard of care. Those num­bers com­pare fa­vor­ably to the re­sults of the piv­otal study that pushed Roche’s PD-L1 Tecen­triq across the fin­ish line. Tecen­triq pa­tients had an OS of 12.3 months in that study, which was an­nounced six months be­fore the FDA ap­proved the drug for front­line SCLC. 

In­ves­ti­ga­tors al­so tout­ed their drug’s dura­bil­i­ty, with 33.9% of pa­tients still alive at 18 months fol­low­ing treat­ment with Imfinzi plus chemother­a­py vs 24.7% of pa­tients fol­low­ing the stan­dard of care.

The study may prove a ma­jor boon for As­traZeneca in the heady race to ex­pand their mar­kets for PD-1/L1 drugs — and in the drug­mak­er’s steady growth in the lung can­cer mar­ket. Last year, its stand­out Tagris­so was ap­proved for front­line treat­ment of EGFR-mu­tat­ed non-small cell lung can­cer. And Imfinzi has seized an im­por­tant niche in the lung can­cer mar­ket with its ap­proval for stage III non-small cell lung can­cer.

Al­though it ac­counts for less than 20% of lung can­cer cas­es, SCLC re­mains par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult to treat.

PD-1 and PD-L1 drugs work by in­hibit­ing pro­teins can­cer cells use to block T cells from at­tack­ing them. This makes them a prime fo­cus for on­col­o­gy re­search, and six PD-1/L1 im­munother­a­pies, both for SCLC and a slew of oth­er can­cers, have al­ready been ap­proved by the FDA, with a host of tri­als un­der­way to ex­pand their use. 

Mer­ck has been the leader in PD-1/L1 thus far, with its sig­na­ture drug Keytru­da pro­ject­ed to be a glob­al top-10 block­buster by 2024. 

For As­traZeneca, the Phase III CASPI­AN re­sults come as wel­come news af­ter its com­bi­na­tion of Imfinzi and treme­li­mum­ab failed tri­als for head and neck can­cer, and for an­oth­er form of lung can­cer. The study was con­duct­ed on 537 pa­tients re­ceiv­ing first-line treat­ment for non-small cell lung can­cer in over 200 cen­ters, across 22 coun­tries and four con­ti­nents. 

José Basel­ga As­traZeneca

We are en­cour­aged to see more than a third of small cell lung can­cer pa­tients treat­ed with Imfinzi plus chemother­a­py alive at the 18-month land­mark, which is re­mark­able giv­en the ag­gres­sive na­ture of the dis­ease,” José Basel­ga, As­traZeneca’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of on­col­o­gy R&D, said in a state­ment. 

Imfinzi, al­ready ap­proved for un­re­sect­ed stage III SCLC, is al­so be­ing test­ed with con­cur­rent chemother­a­py for lim­it­ed-stage SCLC in As­traZeneca’s Phase III ADRI­AT­IC tri­al. Roche an­nounced to­day it will con­duct a Phase I/II tri­al with KAHR med­ical to treat NSCLC pa­tients who are re­frac­to­ry, or re­sis­tant, to check­point in­hibitors. 


Cor­rec­tion: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle in­cor­rect­ly iden­ti­fied Mer­ck as Mer­ck KGaA. Ref­er­ences to Mer­ck KGaA have been re­moved. 

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen scores a pri­or­i­ty re­view for its Alzheimer's drug ad­u­canum­ab, mov­ing one gi­ant leap for­ward in its con­tro­ver­sial quest

Biogen scored a big win at the FDA today as regulators accepted their application for the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab and gave it a priority review.

The PDUFA date is March 7, 2021.

Significantly, Biogen says it did not use its priority review voucher to win special treatment at the FDA. The agency handed that out gratis.

That’s the ideal scenario Biogen was looking for as disappointed analysts wondered aloud about the delayed application earlier in the year.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Moncef Slaoui, Getty Images

When will it end? Big Phar­ma's top vac­cine ex­pert at OWS of­fers a speedy time­line for a Covid-19 vac­cine — ei­ther be­fore or right af­ter the elec­tion

Moncef Slaoui hasn’t started making plans for his summer vacation next year. But he offers high odds that all Americans will be able to do that in the not too distant future.

In an interview with a pair of sympathetic podcasters at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Slaoui provides an education to listeners on how any drug or vaccine can be sped through trials. And he leaves the door wide open to the notion that the leading vaccine developers can demonstrate efficacy and safety in a compelling fashion as early as October — or as late as the end of this year.

Levi Garraway, Roche CMO (Source: Genentech)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA hands out a quick OK for po­ten­tial SMA block­buster ris­diplam, giv­ing Genen­tech and Roche a chance to chal­lenge ri­vals on the price

US regulators handed Roche and Genentech a big win Friday afternoon, one that has market-shaping potential for its high-priced rivals from Novartis and Biogen.

The FDA has green-lit the companies’ spinal muscular atrophy drug risdiplam, which will be marketed as Evrysdi in the US, for use in patients two months and older. It’s the first SMA drug that can be taken orally, as Biogen’s Spinraza is injected into the spine while Novartis’ Zolgensma is a gene therapy.

Per­cep­tive fields SPAC #3 as an­oth­er group of biotechs scoops up $364M in lat­est Nas­daq romp

There’s no sign that the windfall of cash dropping biotech’s way on Wall Street is abating. Three more biopharmas priced IPOs on Thursday and Friday morning, riding a historic boom with a $364 million payoff.

London-based biotech Freeline Therapeutics took home the lion’s share of the cash with $159 million after pricing 8,823,529 shares at $18 a pop. Checkmate Pharmaceuticals, of Cambridge, MA, raised $75 million with an offer of 5 million shares at $15 — right at the midpoint of its range. And Arya Sciences Acquisition Corp III, the third in a series from Perceptive, priced 13,000,000 shares at $10 per share.

Douglas Fambrough, Dicerna CEO (Boehringer Ingelheim via YouTube)

Roche-backed Dicer­na push­es in­to the pack rac­ing to­ward the block­buster hep B goal line, armed with PhI da­ta

Dicerna has lined up a set of proof-of-concept data from a small cohort of hepatitis B patients in a match-up against some heavyweight rivals which got out in front of this race. And right in the front row you’ll find a team from Roche, which paid $200 million in cash and offered another $1.5 billion in milestones to partner with Dicerna $DRNA on their RNAi program for hep B.

Right now it’s looking competitive, with lots of big challenges ahead.

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Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Covid-19 roundup: Gates Foun­da­tion pours $150M in­to In­dia’s Serum In­sti­tute; Pfiz­er teams with Gilead on remde­sivir

By CEO and scion Adar Poonawalla’s estimation, the Serum Institute in India has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into scaling up the unproven Covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford for use in low and middle income countries. It’s meant taking on a risk that other companies, including AstraZeneca, have mitigated with huge amounts of government funding.

Now, for the first time, Poonawalla is getting some outside help. The Gates Foundation has agreed to pay the institute $150 million to supply 100 million vaccines to India and other emerging economies next year, Reuters reported. That includes both the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the one being developed by Novavax. Those vaccines will be available in 92 countries and be priced at $3 per dose.

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