Safe­ty con­cerns lead to a split FDA pan­el vote on Sanofi/Lex­i­con di­a­betes drug

The first po­ten­tial pill for pa­tients with the less com­mon type 1 di­a­betes, who pro­duce no in­sulin, was the sub­ject of an atyp­i­cal hung ju­ry vote at an FDA pan­el on Thurs­day, in which ex­perts were di­vid­ed even­ly over whether the life-threat­en­ing risk of di­a­bet­ic ke­toaci­do­sis as­so­ci­at­ed with the drug off­set its ben­e­fit.

The drug, so­tagliflozin, from Lex­i­con Phar­ma and Sanofi is be­ing de­vel­oped for both type I and type II di­a­betes. It is de­signed to in­hib­it two pro­teins in­volved in glu­cose reg­u­la­tion: SGLT1, which is re­spon­si­ble for glu­cose re­ab­sorp­tion in the GI tract and SGLT2, which is re­spon­si­ble for glu­cose re­ab­sorp­tion by the kid­ney.  Many ex­ist­ing di­a­betes drugs on­ly tar­get SGLT2. Al­though the mol­e­cule is cur­rent­ly be­ing test­ed in a pletho­ra of tri­als in pa­tients with type II di­a­betes, the oral drug is cur­rent­ly un­der FDA re­view for type 1 di­a­bet­ics, who face mul­ti­ple dai­ly in­jec­tions of in­sulin, or use an in­sulin pump, to achieve glycemic con­trol.

The ap­pli­ca­tion for type 1 di­a­bet­ics was on the ba­sis of three late-stage tri­als. How­ev­er, an in­crease in the risk of di­a­bet­ic ke­toaci­do­sis (DKA) was ob­served with so­tagliflozin treat­ment — and it was this is­sue that was cen­tral to the split 8-8 vote on Thurs­day. Al­though the FDA is not ob­lig­at­ed to fol­low the rec­om­men­da­tions of the pan­el, it usu­al­ly does. In this case, the reg­u­la­tor has re­ceived a de­cid­ed­ly mixed mes­sage, and is set to make its de­ci­sion by March 22. The drug is al­so un­der EMA re­view.

In a re­port pub­lished on Tues­day, FDA re­view­ers ac­knowl­edged that the risk of DKA has been ob­served with SGLT2 in­hibitor use in type II di­a­bet­ics, and ex­ist­ing ap­proved drugs in the class car­ry warn­ings to high­light the risk. “While all pa­tients with type 1 di­a­betes may to some de­gree be at risk for DKA, so­tagliflozin ther­a­py clear­ly in­creas­es that risk, and the risk may be un­pre­dictable,” reg­u­la­to­ry staff wrote.

In the meet­ing of in­de­pen­dent ex­perts on Thurs­day, near­ly all pan­elists, re­gard­less of their fi­nal vote, agreed the drug — to be sold as Zyn­quista — would on­ly be ap­pro­pri­ate for a small sub­set of par­tic­u­lar­ly at­ten­tive type I di­a­betes pa­tients, in con­text of the DKA risk.

Stifel’s Stephen Wil­ley said he was sur­prised at the emer­gence of a more-neg­a­tive tone from the agency’s pre­sen­ta­tion rel­a­tive to what was in­clud­ed with­in the FDA staff re­port post­ed two days pri­or, de­spite valid points made about the com­pa­ny’s risk mit­i­ga­tion plan.

Wil­ley wrote: “…the agency’s at­tempt to frame so­tagliflozin-me­di­at­ed DKA risk rel­a­tive to post-mar­ket­ing DKA events as­so­ci­at­ed with off-la­bel SGLT2i uti­liza­tion was in­her­ent­ly flawed. We’re not triv­i­al­iz­ing the risk here…How­ev­er, we do be­lieve the as­sump­tion of risk – par­tic­u­lar­ly for a drug which has sur­passed the re­quired ef­fi­ca­cy thresh­old in a dis­ease which has been ab­sent of in­no­va­tion since the ad­vent of in­sulin it­self – should be an in­di­vid­u­al­ized de­ci­sion made be­tween pa­tient/physi­cian…this same sto­ry has al­ready played out in the world of in­sulin pumps – where­by tran­si­tion­ing a type I di­a­betes pa­tient from in­jectable to pump-de­liv­ered in­sulin sig­nif­i­cant­ly in­creased DKA rates. Yet with suf­fi­cient pa­tient aware­ness/ed­u­ca­tion, these rates be­came man­age­able over time.”

Most an­a­lysts trimmed their ex­pec­ta­tions of the drug’s ap­proval for type I di­a­bet­ics.

Wil­ley said his mod­el still as­sumed a com­mer­cial launch in the US and EU in 2019, ac­knowl­edg­ing that the tim­ing was un­clear giv­en the re­sult of FDA pan­el meet­ing. He cut his 2021 US sales es­ti­mate to $245 mil­lion from $385 mil­lion. “If ap­proved, we still be­lieve this could prove to be a >$750M prod­uct in both the U.S. and EU with <12% mar­ket share amongst a grow­ing num­ber of type I di­a­bet­ic adults,” he not­ed.

Oth­er an­a­lysts were some­what more pes­simistic. Need­ham’s Alan Carr said he now be­lieves an FDA ap­proval in type I di­a­betes is pos­si­ble, but not prob­a­ble, and that he had elim­i­nat­ed the rev­enue stream from his mod­el. Cowen an­a­lysts, mean­while, were ready to throw in the tow­el, say­ing they now ex­pect an FDA re­jec­tion in March.

Lex­i­con’s shares $LXRX tum­bled about 25%, while Sanofi’s stock $SNY slipped about 1% in ear­ly trad­ing on Fri­day.

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

In what could be an early shot in the battle against drugmakers that whiff on confirmatory studies to support accelerated approvals, the FDA ordered Bristol Myers Squibb late last year to give up Opdivo’s approval in SCLC. Now, Merck is next on the firing line — are we seeing the FDA buckling down on post-marketing offenders?

Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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Michael Shpigelmacher

Khosla joins bet on un­con­ven­tion­al start­up look­ing to send drug de­liv­er­ing ro­bots in­to the brain

When Michael Shpigelmacher started the project, he knew he’d have to fund it himself. Every other effort of its kind was academic, rejected as too risky by investors.

Shpigelmacher, a robotics geek and entrepeneur who had drifted into consulting for pharma, wanted to build the real-life equivalent of technology from the 1960s film Fantastic Voyage, the one where a submarine crew is shrunk to “about the size of a microbe” and sent on a mission to repair a scientist’s brain. He scanned the literature, found the lab that was working on the most advanced project — at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, it turned out — and started funding them with money from his own account, along with some seed cash from friends and family.

Paul Sekhri

The next big biotech su­per­star? Paul Sekhri has some thoughts on that

It occasionally occurs to Paul Sekhri that if they pull this off, his company will be on the front page of the New York Times and a lead story in just about every major news outlet on the planet. He tries not to dwell on it, though.

“I just want to be laser-focused on getting to that point,” Sekhri says, before acknowledging, “Yes, it absolutely crossed my mind.”

Sekhri, a longtime biopharma executive with tenures at Sanofi and Novartis, is now entering year three as CEO of eGenesis, the biotech that George Church protégé Luhan Yang founded to genetically alter pigs so that they can be used for organ transplants. He led them through one megaround and has just closed another, raising $125 million from 17 different investors to push the first-ever (humanized) pig to human transplants into the clinic.

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Amit Munshi, Arena

One of Are­na's top drugs flops in a PhI­Ib study for IBS pain. But re­searchers tease out a pos­si­ble path for­ward as CEO ex­plores 's­trate­gic op­tion­s'

Four years ago, when Arena CEO Amit Munshi cut its ties to a troubled weight drug and doubled down on the pipeline, a cannabinoid receptor 2 agonist figured prominently in the biotech’s future. On Tuesday evening, however, Munshi’s high hopes for the drug took a nasty hit after it failed a Phase IIb study for patients with irritable bowel syndrome pain.

Put through a randomized pace with 273 patients, researchers said it flat failed the primary endpoint among the large group with abdominal pain. But they quickly went on to highlight subgroup data, always a tricky and controversial ploy, where they spotlighted a positive p value for patients with moderate to severe pain who received the high dose of the drug — one of 3 provided in the study.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

With stars aligned and cash in re­serve, Bob Nelsen's Re­silience plans a makeover at 2 new fa­cil­i­ty ad­di­tions to its drug man­u­fac­tur­ing up­start

Bob Nelsen’s new, state-of-the-art drug manufacturing initiative is taking shape.

Just 3 months after gathering $800 million of launch money, a dream team board and a plan to shake up a field where he found too many bottlenecks and inefficiencies for the era of Covid-19, Resilience has snapped up a pair of facilities now in line for a retooling.

The company has acquired a 310,000-square-foot plant in Boston from Sanofi along with a 136,000-square-foot plant in Ontario to add to a network which CEO Rahul Singhvi says is just getting started on building his company’s operations up. The Sanofi deal comes with a contract to continue manufacturing one of its drugs.

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Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (AP Images)

Pas­cal So­ri­ot cash­es in As­traZeneca’s chips on Mod­er­na for $1.2B cash in­jec­tion

While still working to prove its own Covid-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca has reportedly capitalized on the success of another.

The company has sold off its 7.7% stake in Moderna and turned it into $1.2 billion in cash, according to the Times, beefing up the reserves just as Pascal Soriot is wrapping up his $39 billion acquisition of Alexion and its rare disease pipeline.

AstraZeneca’s stock sale follows a similar move by Merck in December. But like its pharma brethren, the British giant is keeping its R&D collaborations with Moderna.

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CEO Marco Taglietti (Scynexis)

'N­ev­er been more ur­gent:' Scynex­is looks to tack­le su­per­bug cri­sis with late-stage read­out for an­ti­fun­gal hope­ful

As the superbug crisis heats up around the world, Scynexis says it has new data from two interim analyses that prove its antifungal has the potential to treat a broad range of infections.

“The need for new anti-infectives capable of fighting the most resistant pathogens has never been more urgent as we confront the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic,” CEO Marco Taglietti said in a statement.

A spot­light schiz­o­phre­nia drug in Neu­ro­crine's $2B Take­da deal flunks its first ma­jor test. But it's not giv­ing up yet

When Takeda spun out a pipeline of experimental psychiatry drugs to Neurocrine in a $2 billion deal amid a post-merger shakeout, R&D chief Andy Plump described the therapies as “very interesting but still difficult.”

On Tuesday, we got some idea of how difficult.

San Diego-based Neurocrine revealed that one of the three spotlight clinical programs they’d acquired failed the primary endpoint in a Phase II trial for schizophrenia, registering a negative outcome on the change from baseline in the positive and negative syndrome scale/negative symptom factor score (PANSS NSFS).

Af­ter bail­ing on Covid-19 vac­cines, Mer­ck will team up with J&J to pro­duce its shot as part of un­usu­al Big Phar­ma pact

Merck took a big gamble when it opted to jump into the Covid-19 vaccine race late, and made an equally momentous decision to back out in late January. Now, looking to chip in on the effort, Merck reportedly agreed to team up with one of the companies that has already crossed the finish line.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to announce a partnership between drugmakers Merck and Johnson & Johnson to jointly produce J&J’s recombinant protein Covid-19 vaccine that received the FDA’s emergency use authorization Saturday, the Washington Post reported.