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.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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Jackie Fouse, Agios CEO

Agios scores its sec­ond pos­i­tive round of da­ta for its lead pipeline drug — but that won't an­swer the stub­born ques­tions that sur­round this pro­gram

Agios $AGIO bet the farm on its PKR activator drug mitapivat when it recently decided to sell off its pioneering cancer drug Tibsovo and go back to being a development-stage company — for what CEO Jackie Fouse hoped would be a short stretch before they got back into commercialization.

On Tuesday evening, the bellwether biotech flashed more positive topline data — this time from a small group of patients in a single-arm study. And the executive team plans to package this with its earlier positive results from a controlled study to make its case for a quick OK.

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George Yancopoulos (L) and Len Schleifer (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron touts pos­i­tive pre­lim­i­nary im­pact of its Covid an­ti­body cock­tail, pre­vent­ing symp­to­matic in­fec­tions in high-risk group

Regeneron flipped its cards on an interim analysis of the data being collected for its Covid-19 antibody cocktail used as a safeguard against exposure to the virus. And the results are distinctly positive.

The big biotech reported Tuesday morning that their casirivimab and imdevimab combo prevented any symptomatic infections from occurring in a group of 186 people exposed to the virus through a family connection, while the placebo arm saw 8 of 223 people experience symptomatic infection. Symptomatic combined with asymptomatic infections occurred in 23 people among the 223 placebo patients compared to 10 of the 186 subjects in the cocktail arm.

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Pascal Soriot, AP

As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot sev­ers an un­usu­al board con­nec­tion, steer­ing clear of con­flicts while re­tain­ing im­por­tant al­liances

CSL Behring chief Paul Perreault scored an unusual coup last summer when he added AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot to the board, via Zoom. It’s rare, to say the least, to see a Big Pharma CEO take any board post in an industry where interests can simultaneously connect and collide on multiple levels of operations.

The tie set the stage for an important manufacturing connection. The Australian pharma giant agreed to supply the country with 10s of millions of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, once it passes regulatory muster.

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As­traZeneca scores new goal on the pipeline front, adding its first AI-gen­er­at­ed tar­get to the port­fo­lio

As more and more biopharmas develop artificial intelligence platforms, the drug discovery process is being reshaped to fit new goals on cutting down the prodigious amount of time, energy and money that go into a drug program. Now one of the most ambitious players in the drive to improve on ROI, AstraZeneca, is marking a milestone on that front by adding the first target generated by AI to its portfolio.

Adeno-associated virus-1 illustration; the use of AAVs resurrected the gene therapy field, but companies are now testing the limits of a 20-year-old technology (File photo, Shutterstock)

Af­ter 3 deaths rock the field, gene ther­a­py re­searchers con­tem­plate AAV's fu­ture

Nicole Paulk was scrolling through her phone in bed early one morning in June when an email from a colleague jolted her awake. It was an article: Two patients in an Audentes gene therapy trial had died, grinding the study to a halt.

Paulk, who runs a gene therapy lab at the University of California, San Francisco, had planned to spend the day listening to talks at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, which was taking place that week. Instead, she skipped the conference, canceled every work call on her calendar and began phoning colleagues across academia and industry, trying to figure out what happened and why. All the while, a single name hung in the back of her head.

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Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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