Roche torch­es a moun­tain of biobucks, sweep­ing out a ros­ter of drugs in the lat­est pipeline cleanup

While Roche $RHH­BY post­ed its Q3 up­date on the num­bers, high­light­ing the im­por­tance of its new block­busters in re­plac­ing some ag­ing fran­chis­es, the R&D group used the oc­ca­sion to un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly sweep out a ros­ter of losers from the pipeline.

At the top of the list, Roche is drop­ping a Phase III pro­gram for Actem­ra as a treat­ment for sys­temic scle­ro­sis. The move comes af­ter re­searchers con­clud­ed last fall that the drug “is as­so­ci­at­ed with ben­e­fits for skin fi­bro­sis, lung fi­bro­sis and phys­i­cal func­tion in pa­tients with SSc but in­creased the risk for se­ri­ous in­fec­tions.”

Re­moved from their Phase II pipeline with­out ex­pla­na­tion: RG6125, a Cad­herin-11 mAb for rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

The phar­ma play­er was an­gling for the big sec­ond-line ther­a­py group for RA, for pa­tients who fail on methotrex­ate and an an­ti-TNF-al­pha drug. RG6125 was billed as the first an­ti­body that tar­get­ed stro­mal cells, of­fer­ing a shot at treat­ing the dis­ease with­out sup­press­ing the im­mune sys­tem — some­thing that has se­vere phys­i­cal con­se­quences for pa­tients.

The drug start­ed the Phase II about a year ago, and ev­i­dent­ly has not per­formed well.

Six Phase I pro­grams didn’t make it to the next lev­el.

On the scrap heap this quar­ter (on page 49 of the re­view) you’ll find an an­ti­body di­rect­ed against the ty­ro­sine ki­nase re­cep­tor colony stim­u­lat­ing fac­tor 1 re­cep­tor that Roche had been de­vel­op­ing in com­bi­na­tion pack­ages for sol­id tu­mors, a Nav 1.7 pain drug part­nered with Xenon, an­oth­er sol­id tu­mor pro­gram from Ar­ray, an asth­ma drug and a fi­bro­sis ther­a­py.

At the top of this list is RG7155, or emac­tuzum­ab, an an­ti­body de­signed to block in­flam­ma­tion by in­hibit­ing the bind­ing of colony-stim­u­lat­ing fac­tor-1 (CSF-1) to CSF1R.

There were two com­bos that didn’t make it out of ear­ly-stage test­ing:

  • RG7155 emac­tuzum­ab + Tecen­triq for sol­id tu­mors
  • RG7155 emac­tuzum­ab + seli­cre­lum­ab

The next drug works to stop DNA re­pair mech­a­nisms, fa­cil­i­tat­ing the death of can­cer cells, much like PARP. In this case it’s a check­point ki­nase 1 in­hibitor, tar­get­ing a key en­zyme in as­sist­ing chemo.

  • RG7741 (GDC-0575) Chk1 inh – sol­id tu­mors

Way back in 2011 Genen­tech re­port­ed­ly paid $28 mil­lion up­front to pick up the drug from Ar­ray. And the pact re­port­ed­ly in­clud­ed some big mile­stones for the pre­clin­i­cal drug, even though Roche had an­oth­er Chk1 — GDC-0425 (RG7602) — in the pipeline.

I asked Roche about these drugs and they replied:

Emac­tuzum­ab showed promis­ing bi­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty in a phase I study in sol­id tu­mours, as both a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er ther­a­pies. It was then in­ves­ti­gat­ed in ad­di­tion­al phase I/II stud­ies, in­clud­ing in com­bi­na­tion with Tecen­triq in pa­tients with ad­vanced sol­id tu­mours. Re­sults from this com­bi­na­tion tri­al in­di­cat­ed the com­bi­na­tion is not mean­ing­ful­ly bet­ter than Tecen­triq alone in this pa­tient pop­u­la­tion. As such, we are halt­ing the de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for emac­tuzum­ab. In Aug 2018 the de­ci­sion was made to dis­con­tin­ue futher de­vel­op­ment of emac­tuzum­ab.

As part of our com­mit­ment to fol­low the sci­ence, we al­so ex­plored emac­tuzum­ab as a treat­ment for oth­er in­di­ca­tions in­clud­ing pig­ment­ed vil­lon­odu­lar syn­ovi­tis (PVNS), a rare joint dis­ease that is caused by over­ex­pres­sion of CSF-1. While these in­di­ca­tions are not aligned with our core busi­ness, we want to en­sure pa­tients may one day be able to ben­e­fit from emac­tuzum­ab and will con­sid­er out-li­cens­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties as ap­pro­pri­ate.

As for RG6125 and RG7741: They “did not show the clin­i­cal ben­e­fit we ex­pect­ed and they were dis­con­tin­ued due to port­fo­lio pri­or­i­ti­za­tion.”

Next up: A pain deal gone bad. RG6029 (Genen­tech’s GDC-0310) Nav 1.7 in­hibitor for pain, which was be­ing de­vel­oped un­der a 7-year-old, $646 mil­lion deal with Xenon $XENE, is out the back door.  

Then there is RG7990 – a bis­pe­cif­ic from NovIm­mune tar­get­ing IL13/IL17 for asth­ma.

And fi­nal­ly we have a drug they marked as out-li­censed:

  • RG6069, an an­ti-fi­brot­ic agent.

Fail­ure, of course, is all part of R&D. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, de­vel­op­ers like Roche don’t like to pro­vide de­tails about what went wrong for its clin­i­cal drugs that flunk out.

Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Hal Barron. GSK

GSK's Hal Bar­ron her­alds their sec­ond pos­i­tive piv­otal for cru­cial an­ti-BC­MA ther­a­py, point­ing to a push for quick OKs in a crowd­ed field

Hal Barron has his second positive round of Phase III data in hand for his anti-BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin (GSK2857916). And GSK’s research chief says the data paves the way for their drive in search of an FDA approval for treating multiple myeloma.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this drug for GSK, a cornerstone of Barron’s campaign to make a dramatic impact on the oncology market and provide some long-lost excitement for the pharma giant’s pipeline. They’re putting this BCMA program at the front of that charge — looking to lead a host of rivals all aimed at the same target.

We don’t know what the data are yet, but DREAMM-2 falls on the heels of a promising set of data delivered 5 months ago for DREAMM-1. There investigators noted that complete responses among treatment-resistant patients rose to 15% in the extra year’s worth of data to look over, with a median progression-free survival rate of 12 months, up from 7.9 months reported earlier. The median duration of response was 14.3 months.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Why would Am­gen want to buy Alex­ion? An­a­lysts call hot­ly ru­mored takeover un­like­ly, but seize the mo­ment

A rumor that Amgen is closing in on buyout deal for Alexion has sparked a guessing game on just what kind of M&A strategy Amgen is pursuing and how much Alexion is worth.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed first lent credence to the report out of the Spanish news outlet Intereconomía, which said Amgen is bidding as much as $200 per share. While the source may be questionable, “the concept of this happening doesn’t sound too crazy to me,” he wrote.