Susan Molineaux

Slammed with PhII flop for lead drug, Calithera lays off a third of its staffers

Calithera Bio­sciences will be go­ing in­to the new year with on­ly two-thirds of its staff.

The South San Fran­cis­co-based biotech is lay­ing off “around 30 em­ploy­ees,” it told End­points News — or 35% of its to­tal work­force — in the wake of a Phase II flop. Adding Calithera’s tela­gle­na­s­tat to Ex­elix­is’ Cabome­tyx, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­clud­ed, failed to im­prove pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival for pa­tients with re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma.

By the num­bers, pa­tients on Cabome­tyx and place­bo ac­tu­al­ly lived slight­ly longer — a PFS of 9.3 months com­pared to 9.2 months for those treat­ed with tela­gle­na­s­tat and Cabome­tyx, but at this point it doesn’t mean much. The haz­ard ra­tio of 0.94 was far off sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance (p=0.65), quash­ing pre­vi­ous hopes of tak­ing the da­ta to the FDA for po­ten­tial reg­is­tra­tion.

While dis­ap­point­ed, pres­i­dent and CEO Su­san Mo­lin­eaux’s faith in the drug has re­mained.

“Based on the strong sci­en­tif­ic ra­tio­nale for tela­gle­na­s­tat in KEAP1/NRF2 mu­tant non-small cell lung can­cer pa­tients, and the safe­ty pro­file ob­served in CAN­TA­TA, we re­main ded­i­cat­ed to ad­vanc­ing our ran­dom­ized KEAP­SAKE tri­al,” she said in a state­ment.

Al­so dubbed CB-839, tela­gle­na­s­tat is a glu­t­a­m­i­nase in­hibitor de­signed to cut off glu­t­a­mine con­sump­tion in tu­mor cells, which are more de­pen­dent on glu­t­a­mine than nor­mal cells.

The KEAP­SAKE tri­al start­ed in Sep­tem­ber, and Calithera said the $115 mil­lion in its re­serves should keep it afloat through a read­out lat­er this year to 2022. It is al­so run­ning a study of CB-280, an arginase in­hibitor, for cys­tic fi­bro­sis that is par­tial­ly sup­port­ed by the CF Foun­da­tion, on top of oth­er pipeline pro­grams. These on­go­ing pro­grams will be its fo­cus for now, it not­ed, hint­ing that the lay­offs like­ly tar­get drug dis­cov­ery and re­search units.

Fol­low­ing the re­struc­tur­ing, around 60 em­ploy­ees will re­main at Calithera.

Al­though an ar­ray of play­ers have pro­posed new ways to treat RCC, I/O ther­a­pies and ty­ro­sine ki­nase in­hibitors such as In­ly­ta and Cabome­tyx are still dom­i­nant.

In to­tal, the CAN­TA­TA tri­al en­rolled 444 pa­tients, 62% of whom were treat­ed with pri­or PD-(L)1-con­tain­ing ther­a­py. All had had one or two lines of sys­temic ther­a­py, in­clud­ing at least one drug tar­get­ed at the VEGF path­way or the Yer­voy/Op­di­vo com­bo.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'


Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Susan Galbraith speaking at Endpoints News' virtual EUBIO21 summit

Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo scores As­traZeneca an­oth­er OS win — this time in liv­er can­cer

Is the tide turning on AstraZeneca’s battered PD-L1/CTLA4 combo?

A single priming dose of the experimental tremelimumab, followed by Imfinzi every four weeks, beat Nexavar (sorafenib) in helping a group of liver cancer patients live longer in a Phase III study, the company reported, meeting the primary endpoint.

Specifically, the two drugs extended overall survival for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who had not received prior systemic therapy and were not eligible for localized treatment.

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FDA+ roundup: Marks on Wood­cock­'s tenure as act­ing com­mis­sion­er; FDA lead­ers of­fer per­spec­tive on bar­ri­ers to di­ver­si­ty in re­search

CBER director Peter Marks praised Janet Woodcock’s work as acting FDA commissioner, and while noting that Biden needs to nominate someone to fill the role permanently by Nov. 16, he said he has “no idea” when that actually might occur.

“Dr. Woodcock has been at the agency for over three decades and she, during that time, has proven herself to be a remarkably capable manager,” Marks said at the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine’s meeting Tuesday. “And she’s been managing as if she’s commissioner, unlike some previous acting [commissioners] who are afraid to actually do things. She doesn’t appear to be afraid to do things. I have not felt any different now from when we had a commissioner in place,” he added.

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FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.