Roche boasts of stalling lung can­cer with Tecen­triq/chemo com­bo -- but ri­val Mer­ck stays out front

CHICA­GO — Roche ar­rived at AS­CO boast­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ad­vance for treat­ing front­line cas­es of ad­vanced squa­mous non-small cell lung can­cer with a com­bi­na­tion of Tecen­triq and chemo. But the ad­van­tage it of­fers may ap­pear rel­a­tive­ly mar­gin­al for pa­tients and was quick­ly eclipsed by more ex­ten­sive pos­i­tive da­ta from a dom­i­nant Mer­ck.

We al­ready learned the top-line re­sults ear­li­er from the phar­ma gi­ant, which con­tin­ues to have high hopes for the PD-L1 check­point in­hibitor, even as it’s in dan­ger of los­ing its third-place po­si­tion be­hind Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb to a surg­ing As­traZeneca.

Re­searchers came to Chica­go with some specifics on the da­ta, no­tably high­light­ing a dou­bling of pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival among large groups of pa­tients on the com­bo com­pared to chemo alone. 

Af­ter 12 months of treat­ment, can­cer had not wors­ened in 24.7% pa­tients get­ting the Tecen­triq/chemo com­bo com­pared to 12% for chemo alone. And that’s the first Phase III ad­van­tage that’s ap­peared for this group of pa­tients in the all-im­por­tant lung can­cer field.  Medi­an PFS was 6.3 months for the Roche check­point vs. 5.6 months for the con­trol — not the kind of gap that is like­ly to stir ex­cite­ment.

That like­ly cre­ates big trou­ble for Roche. Mer­ck re­leased its own read­out on pos­i­tive sur­vival da­ta on Sun­day from Keynote-407. Mer­ck is al­ready the PD-1 leader in treat­ing front­line lung can­cer, and Roche hasn’t changed those dy­nam­ics at AS­CO.

Daniel O’Day

What’s at stake?

Jef­feries has been ex­pect­ing to see $1.1 bil­lion of peak sales for Tecen­triq in this front­line squa­mous set­ting and pre­vi­ous­ly high­light­ed that a pos­i­tive re­sult from the tri­al could see 1%-3% up­side to EPS and val­u­a­tion.

There was no over­all sur­vival ben­e­fit vis­i­ble at this in­ter­im point of the Roche study as re­searchers re­port­ed me­di­an OS of 14 months for ate­zolizum­ab plus chemother­a­py vs. 13.9 months for chemother­a­py alone at this point. Re­searchers say they will have a fol­lowup OS read­out lat­er this year.

We’ll have to wait and see how that all fits in Roche phar­ma chief Daniel O’Day’s ex­pec­ta­tions that Roche “will di­men­sion­al­ize the first-line lung can­cer space in 2018.”

“Un­til now, there have been few treat­ment ad­vances for squa­mous non-small-cell lung can­cer. Our find­ings may pro­vide a new po­ten­tial treat­ment op­tion for this type of can­cer,” said lead study au­thor Robert Jotte. “We used to think that chemother­a­py just knocked down the pa­tient’s im­mune sys­tem and that it would be ir­ra­tional to com­bine it with im­munother­a­py, but grow­ing re­search, in­clud­ing this study, shows that chemother­a­py can help trig­ger the im­mune re­sponse to the tu­mor, help­ing the im­munother­a­py treat­ment work bet­ter.” 

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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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 au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

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.