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.” 

George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

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Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Joseph Kim, Inovio CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Pos­i­tive Covid-19 vac­cine da­ta? New mouse study? OWS in­clu­sion? Yep, but some­how, the usu­al tid­bits from In­ovio back­fire

You don’t go more than 40 years in biotech without ever getting a product to market unless you can learn the art of writing a promotional press release. And Inovio captures the prize in baiting the hook.

Tuesday morning Inovio, which has been struggling to get its Covid-19 vaccine lined up for mass manufacturing, put out a release that touched on virtually every hot button in pandemic PR.

There was, first and foremost, an interim snapshot of efficacy from their Phase I program for INO-4800.

Jan van de Winkel, Genmab CEO

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics, Gen­mab turn on TV for a high­light reel in cer­vi­cal can­cer — but a ri­val biotech promis­es a bet­ter show

Seattle Genetics $SGEN and their partners at Genmab $GMAB polished up some positive Phase II numbers for their antibody drug conjugate tisotumab vedotin — you can call it TV — for recurrent cervical cancer. And while they mapped out a shortcut to a potential quick approval, the big challenge for this team is being presented by a rival biotech which muscled its way into the spotlight for the same indication a year ago.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Days af­ter In­ter­cept re­jec­tion, Akero surges on ‘un­prece­dent­ed‘ NASH da­ta

A year and a half after scoring a $70 million Series B and a top Gilead executive as CEO, Akero Therapeutics has announced new data on their NASH drug. And with the field still reeling from a surprise FDA rejection this week, the news was enough to send their stock surging.

Akero had already said in March that its lead drug had beaten placebo in its Phase II trial, reducing liver fat by 14% in the highest dose group compared to 0.3% in placebo, according to MRI scans. But although NASH is an obesity-related condition and results from fatty buildup in the liver, the real immediate question for any therapy is whether it can resolve the fibrosis and inflammation that results from that buildup. Those data require biopsying the patients, a longer and more invasive process that was further complicated by a pandemic.