Prothena’s lead drug NEOD001 just im­plod­ed in 2 late-stage stud­ies — and there’s noth­ing left to sal­vage

Prothena’s lead drug has de­ci­sive­ly failed a cru­cial Phase IIb study for rare, sec­ond-line cas­es of AL amy­loi­do­sis. And af­ter con­clud­ing that their Phase III for front­line use is al­so head­ed to fail­ure, the biotech’s ex­ec­u­tive team is scrap­ping the whole pro­gram.

Gene Kin­ney

In a pre­view of the re­sults be­ing re­leased this morn­ing for one of the most close­ly watched cat­a­lysts of Q2, Prothena $PR­TA CEO Gene Kin­ney said the com­pa­ny faced a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion, and had on­ly one re­al op­tion.

“We are a sci­ence-led com­pa­ny,” Kin­ney told me. “I’m a sci­en­tist my­self.” And when you’re up against some­thing like this, he said, you have to “pay at­ten­tion to the da­ta and take the most ap­pro­pri­ate steps for­ward.”

It’s not pret­ty, and there will be no hunt for sil­ver lin­ings for a drug once reck­oned as a po­ten­tial block­buster worth around $1.5 bil­lion in peak sales. There will be no at­tempt to re­vive the ef­fort.

Prothena’s shares dropped 62% Mon­day morn­ing. And as an­a­lysts’ bleak as­sess­ments hit, things got even worse. By mid-af­ter­noon the stock was down near­ly 70%, wip­ing out close to a bil­lion dol­lars in mar­ket cap af­ter start­ing the day at $1.4 bil­lion.

“We’ve had a large set­back here with this pro­gram,” says the CEO, who is turn­ing to re­view “the most op­ti­mal way of mov­ing for­ward…All of us at Prothena had gen­uine­ly hoped that we had a drug that would help pa­tients suf­fer­ing from this dis­ease.”

Neil Wood­ford

Right now, Prothena plans to bring the Phase III to an end as they look over the fi­nal da­ta. But there’s no ques­tion in Kin­ney’s mind that the tri­als had foundered, with the Phase IIb de­liv­er­ing noth­ing sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant on the pri­ma­ry or sec­ondary end­points. 

Some of those end­points slight­ly fa­vored the drug, oth­ers slight­ly fa­vored the place­bo.

The haz­ard ra­tio in the Phase III tri­al was at 0.84 when they de­cid­ed to drop the ef­fort at the rec­om­men­da­tion of the in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing board.

The pri­ma­ry end­point of the Phase IIb PRON­TO study was a mea­sure­ment of car­diac best re­sponse us­ing the high­ly re­gard­ed bio­mark­er for NT-proB­NP as a like­ly sur­ro­gate for sur­vival. Prothena had told in­vestors and an­a­lysts that a suc­cess here could trig­ger a re­quest for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval at the FDA. 

“This is the worst case sce­nario for this pro­gram un­for­tu­nate­ly for PR­TA at this time,” not­ed Jef­feries an­a­lyst Michael Lee.

The re­sults will be a par­tic­u­lar­ly bit­ter pill for Neil Wood­ford to swal­low. The UK in­vestor bet heav­i­ly on Prothena’s suc­cess with NEOD001, reg­u­lar­ly of­fer­ing his en­thu­si­as­tic en­dorse­ment of the com­pa­ny and the team in charge. Now he’ll have to ac­count for an­oth­er painful set­back on the port­fo­lio, af­ter the stock falls far be­low what he paid to buy in.

The bru­tal­ly bad news for in­vestors comes on the heels of a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward for Prothena. The biotech re­cent­ly signed a rich, pre­clin­i­cal li­cens­ing deal with Cel­gene to beef up its fledg­ling neu­ro­sciences pipeline — with $150 mil­lion in cash tied to it — in­clud­ing an Alzheimer’s pro­gram for tau.

That ef­fort will take the spot­light, along with an­oth­er clin­i­cal pro­gram and the pre­clin­i­cal work un­der way on oth­er drugs.

AL amy­loi­do­sis is a rare con­di­tion that’s di­ag­nosed in about 3,000 peo­ple a year in the US, though it may al­so well be un­der­diag­nosed, ac­cord­ing to Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter. In the dis­ease, rogue plas­ma cells pro­duce an im­munoglob­u­lin light-chain pro­tein that pro­duces amy­loid, which is de­posit­ed in or­gans and gums the works, ca­pa­ble of se­vere dam­age. 

As there are no drugs ap­proved for the con­di­tion, doc­tors of­ten turn to au­tol­o­gous stem cell trans­plants fol­low­ing chemother­a­py to erad­i­cate the er­rant plas­ma cells. Treat­ment al­so some­times in­volved mul­ti­ple myelo­ma drugs like Vel­cade, with ev­i­dence that carfil­zomib and dara­tu­mum­ab can tamp down on the pro­duc­tion of the plas­ma cells. There are a va­ri­ety of stud­ies now in the clin­ic for myelo­ma drugs in this con­di­tion, but any ded­i­cat­ed drug that can mod­i­fy the dis­ease will find a big mar­ket.

Prothena’s share­hold­ers have had a lot to fret about on this de­vel­op­ment pro­gram. The com­pa­ny’s chief med­ical of­fi­cer, Sarah Noon­berg, abrupt­ly re­signed in Feb­ru­ary — less than a year af­ter the Bio­Marin vet joined Prothena — which in­evitably spurred some buzz on Twit­ter. More sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Sahm Ad­ran­gi’s Ker­ris­dale of­fered up one of their Nas­daq SWAT at­tacks on the drug and the com­pa­ny.

Ker­ris­dale set the chances of suc­cess in these tri­als at 0%.

“Prothena’s car­diac best re­sponse rate is mere­ly a byprod­uct of well-doc­u­ment­ed nat­ur­al vari­ance,” Ker­ris­dale not­ed, “and we be­lieve there is no chance of NEOD001 pro­duc­ing sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant re­sults in its cur­rent Phase 2b and Phase 3 tri­als.”

Next up for Prothena is their ex­per­i­men­tal Parkin­son’s drug, PRX002/RG7935, which is al­lied with Roche. It is their on­ly oth­er clin­i­cal stage pro­gram, fol­low­ing a de­ci­sion last fall to scrap a pro­gram for PRX003. 

Kin­ney says an­oth­er pre­clin­i­cal pro­gram will soon be ad­vanced in­to hu­man stud­ies, and there’s plen­ty of cash on hand. The biotech, which had 125 staffers on hand at the end of 2017, al­so list­ed $422 mil­lion in cash — lat­er aug­ment­ed with Cel­gene’s $150 mil­lion buy-in.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 76,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.