Susan Molineaux, Calithera CEO (via Lightstone Ventures)

Still reel­ing from PhII fail­ure, Calithera beefs up its on­col­o­gy port­fo­lio with a lit­tle help from Take­da

Calithera start­ed the year by ax­ing a third of its staff af­ter a mon­u­men­tal Phase II flop in re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma. And while CEO Su­san Mo­lin­eaux has re­fused to give up on the pro­gram, she’s go­ing to need an as­sist if she wants to close the year on a high­er note.

That’s where Take­da comes in.

For two up­front pay­ments of $10 mil­lion and $35 mil­lion, tiered roy­al­ties and an undis­closed amount in biobucks, Take­da is fork­ing over two Phase II-ready can­cer pro­grams to Calithera — one of which tar­gets KEAP1/NRF2 mu­ta­tions, the same ones Calithera is now pur­su­ing with its once-failed glu­t­a­m­i­nase in­hibitor tela­gle­na­s­tat.

“We have learned a great deal about the un­met med­ical need of pa­tients with KEAP1/NRF2 mu­ta­tions, as well as how to iden­ti­fy and re­cruit these pa­tients, dur­ing the con­duct of our KEAP­SAKE tri­al eval­u­at­ing tela­gle­na­s­tat,” Mo­lin­eaux said in a state­ment. “This com­ple­men­tary ap­proach in KEAP1/NRF2-mu­tant squa­mous NSCLC demon­strates our com­mit­ment to these pa­tients and the path­way.”

The first new can­di­date in Calithera’s bas­ket is Take­da’s dual TORC 1/2 in­hibitor sapanis­ert­ib. It’s de­signed to tar­get a key sur­vival mech­a­nism in KEAP1/NRF2-mu­tat­ed tu­mor cells, which are found in a con­sid­er­able amount of pa­tients with sol­id tu­mors, ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­nies. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, the pro­gram is head­ing in­to a Phase II tri­al ear­ly next year as a monother­a­py in pa­tients with squa­mous NSCLC har­bor­ing a NRF2 mu­ta­tion, with a read­out com­ing in the next 12 to 18 months.

The South San Fran­cis­co-based biotech is al­so get­ting mi­vavo­tinib, an SYK in­hibitor that’s al­so ex­pect­ed to en­ter Phase II next year for pa­tients with dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma with and with­out MyD88 and CD79 mu­ta­tions. Calithera al­so sees po­ten­tial for stud­ies in non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma and blood can­cer.

That makes five clin­i­cal pro­grams now in Calithera’s pipeline, ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­ny’s web­site.

Calithera is still reel­ing from its Phase II fail­ure in re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma, the re­sults of which were read out back in Jan­u­ary. Adding tela­gle­na­s­tat to Ex­elix­is’ Cabome­tyx failed to im­prove pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival, in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­clud­ed. In fact, pa­tients on Cabome­tyx and place­bo lived slight­ly longer — a PFS of 9.3 months com­pared to 9.2 months for those treat­ed with tela­gle­na­s­tat and Cabome­tyx, which doesn’t mean much con­sid­er­ing the haz­ard ra­tio of 0.94 was far off sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance (p=0.65).

The com­pa­ny’s stock $CALA is still trad­ing at less than half of what it was last De­cem­ber. Shares were up 1% in pre­mar­ket trad­ing on Tues­day, go­ing for $2.03 apiece.

While that was the end of the road for tela­gle­na­s­tat’s Phase II study in re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma, Mo­lin­eaux is push­ing for­ward with an­oth­er Phase II study in KEAP1/NRF2 mu­tant NSCLC pa­tients, dubbed KEAP­SAKE, which dosed the first pa­tients last sum­mer.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

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For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

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Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

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CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

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‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

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