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.” 

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gink­go Bioworks re­sizes the de­f­i­n­i­tion of go­ing big in biotech, rais­ing $2.5B in a record SPAC deal that weighs in with a whop­ping $15B-plus val­u­a­tion

Ginkgo Bioworks execs always thought big. But today should redefine just how big an upstart biotech player can dream.

In the largest SPAC deal to clear the hurdles to Nasdaq, the biotech that envisioned everything from remaking synthetic meat to a whole new approach to developing drugs has joined forces with one of the biggest disruptors in biotech to slam the Richter scale on dealmaking.

Soon after becoming the darling of the VC crew and clearing the bar on a $4 billion valuation, Ginkgo — a synthetic biotech player out to reprogram cells with industrial efficiency — has now struck a deal to go public in the latest leviathan SPAC that sets its pre-money valuation at $15 billion. In one swift vault, Ginkgo will combine with Harry Sloan’s Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. and leap into the public markets.

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FDA un­veils six ICH guide­lines ahead of meet­ing with Health Cana­da

A sign that the FDA’s non-Covid-related processes are beginning to normalize: The release of six guidelines from the International Council of Harmonisation.

Years in development, the ICH documents offer an international perspective on drug development, with these latest guidelines covering everything from recommendations to support the classification of drug substances, featured in the M9 guidance, to standards for nonclinical safety studies for pediatric medicines in the S11 guideline.

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Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Boehringer ac­cused of play­ing games, de­stroy­ing emails re­lat­ed to law­suit over con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Zan­tac

A recent court filing raises new questions about how major pharma companies like Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim have dealt with a lawsuit related to recalls of certain over-the-counter heartburn drugs due to the presence of a potentially cancer-causing substance found in them.

More than 70,000 people who took Sanofi’s Zantac and other heartburn drugs containing ranitidine, which have been recalled over the past two years, have sued the manufacturers, including generic drugmakers, and other retailers and distributors as part of a consolidated suit before US District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg in Florida.

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Al Sandrock, Biogen R&D chief (Biogen via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen push­es in a fresh stack of chips and starts prep­ping a glob­al R&D game plan af­ter watch­ing the cards turn on ear­ly throm­bolyt­ic da­ta

After patiently steering through a decade-long journey for its early-stage clinical work, a small Tokyo biotech has clinched a deal to out-license its lead thrombolytic agent to US heavyweight Biogen — which sees a potentially game-changing impact on the clot-busting field after taking a careful look at some upbeat Phase IIa data.

Three years after Biogen anted up $4 million to gain an option on the drug from TMS, the big US biotech is making a small bet to beef up its stroke portfolio. The BD team inked a deal to go ahead and grab rights to the drug for $18 million, with another $335 million in milestone cash on the table for a successful outcome.

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Chris Garabedian (Xontogeny)

Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors, Xon­toge­ny bring the band back and then some with a $515M sec­ond fund sniff­ing out lead com­pounds

When Perceptive Advisors and startup accelerator Xontogeny initially teamed up on an early-stage VC round in 2019, the partners hoped to prove their investments could be a force multiplier for early-stage companies. Now, with that proof of concept behind them, the pair have closed a second VC round worth more than double the money.

Dubbed PXV Fund II and headed by Xontogeny CEO and former Sarepta head Chris Garabedian, the $515 million fund will target 10 to 12 early-stage preclinical companies with Series A rounds in the $20 million to $40 million range with opportunities for Series B follow-ups. The oversubscribed fund is bringing the band back with initial investors from PXVI as well as new investors that include “top-tier” asset managers, endowments, foundations, family offices, and individual investors.

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A clos­er look at the FDA’s more than 700 pan­dem­ic-re­lat­ed record re­quests to re­place on­site in­spec­tions

As the pandemic constrained the FDA’s ability to travel for onsite manufacturing inspections, the agency increasingly turned to requesting records to fill the gap, even for hundreds of US-based facilities.

FDA explains in its guidance on manufacturing inspections during the pandemic that the agency can request records (not to be confused with the FDA’s remote interactive evaluations) directly from facilities “in advance of or in lieu of” certain onsite inspections. Companies are legally required to fulfill those requests because a denial may be considered limiting an inspection, which could lead to the FDA deeming a drug made at that site to be adulterated.

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Stephen Squinto, Gennao Bio CEO (Gennao)

Alex­ion co-founder Stephen Squin­to is back in the game as CEO, this time for a small gene ther­a­py play­er

With his name already behind a rare disease success story in Alexion, Stephen Squinto was looking for a great story to drive him to jump back into the biotech game. He found that in a fledging non-viral gene therapy company, and now he’s got a few backers on board as well.

On Tuesday, Gennao Bio launched with a $40 million Series A co-led by OrbiMed and Logos Capital with participation by Surveyor Capital. The biotech, which is looking to use its cell-penetrating antibody platform to deliver nucleic acid “payloads” during into the nucleus, had to rush for its initial series — and had a name change along the way.

Alvotech takes Ab­b­Vie to court over al­leged patent 'mine­field' sur­round­ing megablock­buster Hu­mi­ra

AbbVie has so far been successful in shooing away competition to its megablockbuster Humira, deploying a number of patents and settlements to keep biosimilars off the US market until 2023. But one Icelandic drugmaker doesn’t want to wait — and on Tuesday, it filed a lawsuit challenging what it called a patent “minefield.”

Alvotech has accused AbbVie of trying to “overwhelm” and “intimidate” it with “an outrageous number of patents of dubious validity,” according to court documents. The company is currently seeking approval for its Humira copycat AVT02, which AbbVie says would infringe upon 62 patents.