Savara gets FDA break­through sta­tus de­spite large, late-stage fail­ure

Savara watched their stock crater in June as they an­nounced a late-stage fail­ure on their lead com­pound. But now, based on the same Phase III tri­al, the FDA is giv­ing the biotech and its rare lung dis­ease drug break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion.

The des­ig­na­tion comes for Mol­gradex, an in­halant meant to treat au­toim­mune pul­monary alve­o­lar pro­teinosis (aPAP). It was the lead com­pound in Savara’s 2016 buy­out of Seren­dex. The dis­ease is caused by au­toan­ti­bod­ies that neu­tral­ize a pro­tein called GM-CSF in the lungs, and the in­halant re­plen­ish­es the lungs with a re­com­bi­nant form of the pro­tein.

Savara said in June that the drug had failed to sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­prove oxy­gen lev­els in tri­al pa­tients’ alve­o­lar, the parts of the lung ob­struct­ed in PAP pa­tients. Savara tried to sal­vage the study, point­ing to sec­ondary and “ex­plorato­ry” end­points and blam­ing the pri­ma­ry fail­ure on an un­ex­pect­ed­ly high place­bo ef­fect. In­vestors didn’t buy it, tank­ing their stock price $SVRA 75%.

The FDA, though, ap­pears to think there’s a sto­ry there. It’s im­pos­si­ble to know the agency’s think­ing, but de­tailed slides Savara re­leased this fall em­pha­sized “a pat­tern of im­prove­ment” on sev­er­al met­rics in the 139-per­son tri­al and ar­gued that the “to­tal­i­ty of out­come da­ta” sup­port Mol­gradex over place­bo.

That da­ta in­clud­ed sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments on the Saint Georges Res­pi­ra­to­ry Ques­tion­naire and CT scans. The biotech al­so ar­gued the pri­ma­ry end­point (tech­ni­cal­ly called A-aDO2), as well as a walk­ing test called 6MWT, he­mo­glo­bin lev­els and the time be­fore res­cue surgery “trend­ed” to­ward sig­nif­i­cance.

Bruce Trap­nell

Mol­gradex was “ef­fec­tive as shown by changes in lung pathol­o­gy, phys­i­ol­o­gy, health sta­tus, func­tion,” lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor Bruce Trap­nell wrote.

That still leaves a lot of ques­tions about the ben­e­fit for pa­tients, and though in­vestors came back with the break­through des­ig­na­tion, they didn’t re­turn Savara to its pre-June sta­tus. The stock near­ly tripled on Mon­day, from $1.73 per share to $4.91. But that’s still less than half of the $10.57 price on June 12.

The news may al­so bol­ster con­fi­dence in Savara’s oth­er pro­grams. Those in­clude a Phase II tri­al ap­ply­ing Mol­gradex to non­tu­ber­cu­lous my­cobac­te­ria, with re­sults ex­pect­ed ear­ly this year, and a now-en­rolling study ap­ply­ing the drug to non­tu­ber­cu­lous my­cobac­te­ria in cys­tic fi­bro­sis pa­tients. There’s al­so a van­comycin in­halant for MR­SA in­fec­tions in CF pa­tients, with Phase III re­sults ex­pect­ed in about a year.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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Gen­mab ax­es an ADC de­vel­op­ment pro­gram af­ter the da­ta fail to im­press

Genmab $GMAB has opted to ax one of its antibody-drug conjugates after watching it flop in the clinic.

The Danish biotech reported Tuesday that it decided to kill their program for enapotamab vedotin after the data gathered from expansion cohorts failed to measure up. According to the company:

While enapotamab vedotin has shown some evidence of clinical activity, this was not optimized by different dose schedules and/or predictive biomarkers. Accordingly, the data from the expansion cohorts did not meet Genmab’s stringent criteria for proof-of-concept.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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