Roche shares surge as a dou­ble-shot win in I/O and he­mo­phil­ia rais­es block­buster ex­pec­ta­tions

Roche has scored a win with one of the key im­muno/on­col­o­gy tri­als of the year, post­ing sig­nif­i­cant top-line gains for pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival and risk of death for a seg­ment of lung can­cer pa­tients get­ting first-line treat­ment with a triple com­bo of its check­point ther­a­py Tecen­triq, Avastin and chemo. And it swept a dou­ble head­er ear­ly this morn­ing with their re­port of an­oth­er suc­cess­ful late-stage study for its new­ly ap­proved he­mo­phil­ia A drug Hem­li­bra, fur­ther set­ting the stage for a painful show­down with mar­ket leader Shire.

The back-to-back suc­cess­es drove up Roche’s shares $RHH­BY by more than 6% this morn­ing, adding $12 bil­lion in mar­ket cap as in­vestors ral­lied to ev­i­dence that the phar­ma gi­ant could suc­cess­ful­ly put the patents to a trio of fran­chise drugs in the rear view mir­ror while join­ing Mer­ck in the front ranks of lung can­cer con­tenders. Mer­ck shares dipped 2%.

First, Tecen­triq.

San­dra Horn­ing

Some an­a­lysts had al­ready raised doubts that Roche could field a triple with Avastin and chemo in the all-im­por­tant mar­ket for first-line treat­ment of peo­ple with ad­vanced non-squa­mous non-small cell lung can­cer. Avastin could look too tox­ic and Mer­ck’s Keytru­da/chemo com­bo looked like the right ap­proach for now.

But IM­pow­er 150 suc­ceed­ed where As­traZeneca’s com­bi­na­tion of Imfinzi (dur­val­um­ab) and the CT­LA 4 im­munother­a­py treme­li­mum­ab had flunked out — at least in the first shot at PFS. Roche’s top-line re­port notes that it still has to cap­ture a ma­ture snap­shot of over­all sur­vival da­ta in the first half of next year.

In the mean­time the lead­ers in I/O, in­clud­ing Mer­ck $MRK, now face a new ri­val in one of the biggest can­cer mar­kets they’re scrap­ping over in a fren­zied race for mar­ket su­prema­cy. That will like­ly have se­ri­ous con­se­quences for Mer­ck, which worked hard to wres­tle the lead from Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY — an­oth­er play­er still in con­tention. And As­traZeneca $AZN has made lung can­cer a top pri­or­i­ty for its own I/O fran­chise.

The win by Roche al­so bol­sters the ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of adding chemo to the drug reg­i­men, with an on­go­ing de­bate over the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of in­clud­ing chemo or an­oth­er im­munother­a­py.

“Many ex­perts in the field will be re­lieved be­cause there has been un­cer­tain­ty … I think this will re­al­ly en­cour­age many of us to use this com­bi­na­tion up­front,” on­col­o­gist Ste­fan Zim­mer­mann told Reuters.

Roche chief med­ical of­fi­cer San­dra Horn­ing says that the com­pa­ny is now test­ing the triple in a range of can­cer types. And the full da­ta set on the triple will ar­rive at a con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber.

Now Hem­li­bra.

John­ny Mahlangu

Roche just won an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval of this drug for he­mo­phil­ia A on Fri­day, with da­ta from HAVEN 1 and 2. In HAVEN 3, Roche re­peat­ed its ear­li­er suc­cess and added a beat, demon­strat­ing su­pe­ri­or­i­ty to fac­tor VI­II pro­phy­lax­is. And it did it with­out trig­ger­ing any new cas­es of throm­bot­ic events that dogged its ear­li­er tri­als, forc­ing reg­u­la­tors to add a black box warn­ing on the la­bel.

“It is well es­tab­lished that pro­phy­lax­is is the pre­ferred ap­proach for treat­ment of he­mo­phil­ia A, but this can re­quire fre­quent in­tra­venous in­fu­sions, and some pa­tients on pro­phy­lax­is can still ex­pe­ri­ence bleeds, while oth­ers pre­fer on-de­mand treat­ment,” said John­ny Mahlangu, who’s on the fac­ul­ty of health sci­ences at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Wit­wa­ter­srand and NHLS in Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa. “Giv­en its po­ten­tial to be dosed through sub­cu­ta­neous in­jec­tion on­ly once week­ly or every oth­er week, Hem­li­bra may pro­vide a fur­ther ef­fec­tive pro­phy­lac­tic treat­ment op­tion for more peo­ple with he­mo­phil­ia A and help al­le­vi­ate some of the ad­min­is­tra­tion bur­den as­so­ci­at­ed with cur­rent treat­ment.”

The suc­cess­es weighed on he­mo­phil­ia play­er Shire, which is fac­ing a more pow­er­ful con­tender for its mar­ket share in he­mo­phil­ia, and As­traZeneca. Both ri­vals saw their shares slip against the Roche spike this morn­ing.

Mer­ck is tak­ing the ax to its US op­er­a­tions, cut­ting 500 jobs in its lat­est re­or­ga­ni­za­tion

Merck is cutting 500 jobs in its US sales and headquarters commercial teams in its latest effort to find new ways to streamline the operation.

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Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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The FDA will hus­tle up an ex­pe­dit­ed re­view for As­traZeneca’s next shot at a block­buster can­cer drug fran­chise

AstraZeneca paid a hefty price to partner with Daiichi Sankyo on their experimental antibody drug conjugate for HER2 positive breast cancer. And they’ve been rewarded with a fast ride through the FDA, with a straight shot at creating another blockbuster oncology franchise.

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Sean Parker, AP

Sean Park­er helps cre­ate a CRISPRed cell ther­a­py 2.0 play — and he’s got a high-pro­file set of lead­ers on the team

You can rack up one more high-profile debut effort in the wave of activity forming around cell therapy 2.0. It’s another appealing Bay Area group that’s attracted some of the top hands in the business to a multi-year effort to create a breakthrough. And they have $85 million in hand to make that first big step to the clinic.

Today it’s Ken Drazan and the team at South San Francisco-based ArsenalBio that are coming from behind the curtain for a public bow, backed by billionaire Sean Parker and a collection of investors that includes Beth Seidenberg’s new venture investment operation based in LA.
Drazan — a J&J Innovation vet with a long record of entrepreneurial endeavors — exited the stage in 2018 when his last mission ended as he stepped aside as president of Grail. It wasn’t long, though, before he was helping out with a business plan for ArsenalBio that revolved around the work of a large group of interconnected scientists supported by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology.

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Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.