WATCH: Scott Got­tlieb vows to shake up the FDA, back­ing a trend to­ward faster drug de­vel­op­ment

FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb has sound­ed a crys­tal clear warn­ing over the high — and grow­ing — cost of drug de­vel­op­ment. And in a speech to reg­u­la­to­ry ex­ecs on Mon­day, Got­tlieb com­mit­ted the FDA to back­ing up more ef­fi­cient drug de­vel­op­ment pro­grams with new mea­sures to clear the reg­u­la­to­ry path for de­vel­op­ers bar­rel­ing ahead to rel­a­tive­ly swift piv­otal da­ta in search of an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK.

Got­tlieb start­ed by out­lin­ing a bleak pic­ture in drug R&D, not­ing that the eco­nom­ic mod­el for drug de­vel­op­ment is bro­ken. It costs too much to de­vel­op a drug so it can be ap­proved for mar­ket­ing. And costs are swelling fast at the dis­cov­ery end of the busi­ness, which will help swamp a sys­tem that al­ready doesn’t work par­tic­u­lar­ly well.

As he has in the past, Got­tlieb held up some of the rapid-fire clin­i­cal tri­als we’ve been see­ing in the can­cer field as a mod­el for what can work, paving the way to the ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval path­way at the FDA. And he be­lieves — though there is pre­cious lit­tle ev­i­dence to back it up — that mov­ing drug de­vel­op­ment in­to the fast lane can re­duce R&D costs and there­by al­low bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies to pass on sav­ings to pa­tients through low­er costs.

To help de­vel­op­ers, Got­tlieb vowed that the FDA, through CDER chief Janet Wood­cock and the Of­fice of New Drugs, will adapt the reg­u­la­to­ry path­way to en­able drug de­vel­op­ment at a more mod­er­ate cost.

Said Got­tlieb:

Com­pa­ra­ble reg­u­la­to­ry mile­stones need to be built in­to the new seam­less clin­i­cal tri­al process. We need to en­sure we pro­vide com­pa­ra­ble in­ter­ac­tions and over­sight.

He al­so not­ed that as de­vel­op­ers move to­ward faster, seam­less stud­ies — drop­ping the tra­di­tion­al Phase I through Phase III de­vel­op­ment plan — reg­u­la­tors al­so need to up­date pa­tients’ aware­ness of the risks in­volved in pro­vid­ing their con­sent for par­tic­i­pat­ing in these stud­ies.


Watch Got­tlieb’s speech and Q&A

Cred­it: RAPS


Here are some ex­cerpts from the speech, start­ing with an out­line of the trend to­ward a sin­gle de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for new drugs.

Ow­ing in part to these lead­er­ship ef­forts, we’ve seen more spon­sors de­vel­op on­col­o­gy drugs that for­go the con­ven­tion­al three se­quen­tial phas­es of drug de­vel­op­ment. They opt in­stead for seam­less ap­proach­es. Un­der these tri­al de­signs, they’ll typ­i­cal­ly add co­horts to a first-in-hu­man tri­al to in­ves­ti­gate dos­es and ac­tiv­i­ty in a va­ri­ety of can­cers.

We’ve seen ex­am­ples where this ap­proach has al­lowed the rapid de­vel­op­ment of drugs in mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent tu­mor types. If we had to stop and start for­mal Phase II tri­als in each dif­fer­ent or­gan sys­tem where a can­cer arose, it could have been a pro­tract­ed process. This ap­proach is well suit­ed to the kinds of drugs that are be­ing de­vel­oped now, where drugs in­ter­vene on com­mon el­e­ments found across mul­ti­ple kinds of dis­ease states. At FDA, we’ve iden­ti­fied more than 40 ac­tive com­mer­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al new drug ap­pli­ca­tions for large first-in-hu­man on­col­o­gy tri­als alone that use these seam­less strate­gies.

Got­tlieb al­so talked about us­ing broad pro­to­cols that al­low de­vel­op­ers to tack­le mul­ti­ple tar­gets at once.

We’re al­so ad­vanc­ing the use of ‘Mas­ter Pro­to­cols’ to en­able more co­or­di­nat­ed ways to use the same tri­al struc­ture to eval­u­ate treat­ments in more than one sub­type of a dis­ease or type of pa­tient.

This ap­proach is par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant when it comes to tar­get­ed drugs. These are drugs that may in­ter­vene on mark­ers that are rel­e­vant across many dif­fer­ent dis­ease sub­types. We may, for ex­am­ple, want to eval­u­ate these dif­fer­ent tar­gets si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, as part of one large study. This could give us a bet­ter way to un­der­stand the com­par­a­tive ben­e­fits of a drug across dif­fer­ent set­tings. To en­able these mas­ter pro­to­cols, it’s of­ten im­por­tant to do mol­e­c­u­lar pa­tient screen­ing. This can lead to the de­vel­op­ment of a di­ag­nos­tic that can al­so be used to guide pa­tient care.

Got­tlieb out­lined plans to in­vest more of the FDA’s mon­ey in new tech­nol­o­gy that can as­sist this faster/bet­ter/cheap­er ap­proach to drug de­vel­op­ment.

On the sec­ond point that I want­ed to high­light to­day, we’re al­so tak­ing new steps to mod­ern­ize how spon­sors can eval­u­ate clin­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, and how FDA re­views this da­ta as part of our reg­u­la­to­ry process.

This starts with bet­ter use of more ad­vanced com­put­ing tools, and more so­phis­ti­cat­ed sta­tis­ti­cal and com­pu­ta­tion­al method­olo­gies, as part of the drug de­vel­op­ment and the drug re­view process. This in­cludes more wide­spread use of mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion, and high per­for­mance com­put­ing clus­ters in­side FDA.

FDA al­ready has high per­for­mance com­put­ing clus­ters. These tools help us de­vel­op more so­phis­ti­cat­ed meth­ods for eval­u­at­ing the da­ta that’s sub­mit­ted to us from clin­i­cal tri­als. The com­put­ing tools al­so en­able us to prop­er­ly eval­u­ate the more so­phis­ti­cat­ed com­po­nents that are sub­mit­ted to us as part of prod­uct re­view ap­pli­ca­tions.

Got­tlieb al­so talked about shak­ing up the R&D ap­proach to some spe­cif­ic dis­eases that have proved par­tic­u­lar­ly hard to deal with.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, to bet­ter de­lin­eate how we’re go­ing to ap­proach the over­all de­vel­op­ment and eval­u­a­tion of drugs tar­get­ed to cer­tain un­met med­ical needs, we plan to be­gin work on at least ten new dis­ease-spe­cif­ic guid­ance doc­u­ments over the next year. Some of these doc­u­ments are al­ready un­der­way. Among the dis­eases we’re tar­get­ing are ar­eas of sig­nif­i­cant un­met need like Amy­otroph­ic Lat­er­al Scle­ro­sis (ALS).

Re­vamp­ing the eco­nom­ics of drug R&D is no sim­ple task.

The on­col­o­gy field has been able to move far­ther and faster than oth­er dis­ease fields due to its abil­i­ty to test new drugs on pa­tients with ad­vanced dis­ease and dwin­dling hope of sur­vival. So it won’t be easy to trans­late that same ap­proach to mass mar­ket dis­eases like di­a­betes and car­dio, where mil­lions are treat­ed for years for chron­ic dis­ease.

An­oth­er big ques­tion is whether bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies will ac­tu­al­ly pass along any sav­ings they get from a more ef­fi­cient de­vel­op­ment path­way to pay­ers and con­sumers. The en­tire in­dus­try has been tip­ping more and more of its de­vel­op­ment dol­lars to can­cer in part be­cause of the big re­wards that come from fast ap­provals. And the FDA has no con­trol what­so­ev­er over the fi­nal price drug de­vel­op­ers use for their new drugs.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

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Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Mer­ck flesh­es out Keytru­da win in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, adding more fire­pow­er to its ear­ly can­cer push

Merck has worked hard to bring its I/O blockbuster Keytruda into earlier and earlier lines of therapy, and now the wonder drug appears poised to make a quick entry into early advanced cervical cancer.

A combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy with or without Roche’s Avastin cut the risk of death by 33% over chemo with or without Avastin (p=<0.001) in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Boston skyline (Shutterstock)

Boston, the Bay Area and San Diego dom­i­nate the life sci­ences re­al es­tate mar­ket. Where to next?

With strong competition for life sciences real estate in key clusters — greater Boston, San Francisco and San Diego — where will the industry look to expand next? That’s the question that real estate company JLL sought to answer in its latest report, released on Wednesday.

JLL scored US biotech hubs on a variety of criteria to come up with this year’s ranking, including talent, industry depth, innovation and lab real estate dynamics. Unsurprisingly, they found that last year’s top three clusters remain unchanged. JLL predicts that these core clusters will be “immovable” for the foreseeable future, comparing them to the Silicon Valley of biotech.

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Skin tu­mors in mice force Pro­tag­o­nist to halt lead pro­gram, crush­ing stock

Protagonist Therapeutics just can’t catch a break.

Six months after the Newark, CA-based biotech unveiled grand plans to launch its lead candidate for blood disorders into a Phase III trial, the FDA has slapped the program with a clinical hold. The halt — which applies to all trials involving the candidate, rusfertide — comes after skin tumors were discovered in mice treated with the drug, according to Protagonist.

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