Sweep­ing doubts aside, Eli Lil­ly beats Re­gen­eron to emer­gency OK — clear­ing low dose an­ti­body for quick roll­out

Eli Lil­ly has clinched the first emer­gency use au­tho­riza­tion is­sued for an an­ti­body against Covid-19, set­ting in mo­tion a $1.2 bil­lion deal to sup­ply the feds with the drug — al­beit at a dose that failed the pri­ma­ry end­point in a key tri­al.

Pri­or­i­tiz­ing a re­duc­tion in Covid-19-re­lat­ed hos­pi­tal­iza­tions or vis­its to the ER, the FDA opened the door for physi­cians to give 700 mg/20 mL in­jec­tions of the drug, dubbed bam­lanivimab, to re­cen­ly di­ag­nosed, non-hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients who don’t need ex­tra oxy­gen due to the coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion.

The emer­gency OK puts Lil­ly ahead of close ri­vals at Re­gen­eron, which an­nounced the EUA fil­ing for its an­ti­body cock­tail on the same day de­spite start­ing clin­i­cal tri­als slight­ly lat­er. That was al­so the day — Oc­to­ber 7 — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared with­out ev­i­dence he’s al­ready au­tho­rized the Re­gen­eron drug, which he re­ceived as part of his Covid-19 treat­ment.

In the EUA let­ter, FDA chief sci­en­tist Denise Hin­ton wrote the agency based its de­ci­sion on topline da­ta from the in­ter­im analy­sis of BLAZE-1 and con­clud­ed it is “rea­son­able to be­lieve that bam­lanivimab may be ef­fec­tive for the treat­ment of mild to mod­er­ate Covid-19” for pa­tients who are 12 or old­er, weigh at least 40 kg, and are at high risk of pro­gress­ing.

As is cus­tom­ary, she didn’t break down the ex­act num­bers reg­u­la­tors re­viewed. But an­a­lysts have been puz­zled by the lack of dose-de­pen­dent re­sponse in the Phase II tri­al: Out of three dos­es test­ed, on­ly the mid­dle, 2800 mg dose hit the pri­ma­ry end­point of re­duc­ing vi­ral load at sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance. The re­sults that Lil­ly re­cent­ly pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine raised fur­ther ques­tions about just how ef­fec­tive the low dose of bam­lanivimab is.

The 700 mg dose, mean­while, cut vi­ral lev­els by on­ly 0.20 com­pared to place­bo, for a p-val­ue of 0.38, far be­low the 0.05 thresh­old long con­sid­ered the in­dus­try stan­dard.

Lil­ly’s ar­gu­ment for ask­ing the FDA to au­tho­rize — and con­vinc­ing the feds to pur­chase — the low dose was that “sim­i­lar clin­i­cal ef­fects were seen across all dose lev­els,” which was the met­ric that mat­tered. In a new state­ment, CSO Daniel Skovron­sky high­light­ed that it ap­peared to re­duce Covid-re­lat­ed hos­pi­tal­iza­tions.

The FDA ap­par­ent­ly agreed with the com­pa­ny, not­ing in a press re­lease:

How­ev­er, the most im­por­tant ev­i­dence that bam­lanivimab may be ef­fec­tive came from the pre­de­fined sec­ondary end­point of COVID-19-re­lat­ed hos­pi­tal­iza­tions or emer­gency room vis­its with­in 28 days af­ter treat­ment. For pa­tients at high risk for dis­ease pro­gres­sion, hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and emer­gency room vis­its oc­curred in 3% of bam­lanivimab-treat­ed pa­tients on av­er­age com­pared to 10% in place­bo-treat­ed pa­tients. The ef­fects on vi­ral load and on re­duc­tion in hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and ER vis­its, and on safe­ty, were sim­i­lar in pa­tients re­ceiv­ing any of the three bam­lanivimab dos­es.

Go­ing with the low­er dose al­so meant that the same amount of drug ma­te­r­i­al could serve four times as many pa­tients as a 2800 mg reg­i­men could, a cru­cial dif­fer­ence giv­en lim­it­ed man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ty.

The an­ti­body for­mer­ly known as LY-CoV555 now joins con­va­les­cent plas­ma on the ros­ter of treat­ments with an EUA, with remde­sivir re­cent­ly grad­u­at­ing to full ap­proval sta­tus as Vek­lury.

HHS has agreed to pay $375 mil­lion for 300,000 vials of that dose, which it said is good for a 2-month sup­ply. The gov­ern­ment has an op­tion on an­oth­er 650,000 dos­es on the same terms, mean­ing $812 mil­lion more in po­ten­tial rev­enue for Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera, which orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped the drug in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the NIH.

The next step will be get­ting the man­u­fac­tur­ing in or­der af­ter in­spec­tors found qual­i­ty con­trol prob­lems at a New Jer­sey plant Lil­ly is us­ing to meet its goal of pro­duc­ing 1 mil­lion dos­es of the an­ti­body by year end.

Most of that will like­ly go to out­pa­tients af­ter the NI­AID shut­tered a study test­ing bam­lanivimab in com­bi­na­tion with remde­sivir for those hos­pi­tal­ized with Covid-19 , af­ter los­ing faith it could help sick­er pa­tients.

Lil­ly is al­so de­vel­op­ing a cock­tail that com­bines bam­lanivimab with ete­se­vimab from Jun­shi Bio­sciences, with a snap­shot of re­sults that had im­pressed com­men­ta­tors.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

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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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.

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.

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

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

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.

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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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Eu­ro­pean study finds that Gilead­'s Covid-19 an­tivi­ral remde­sivir shows no clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Gilead’s remdesivir — or Veklury, as it’s marketed in the US — raked in around $2.8 billion last year as the only FDA-approved antiviral to treat Covid-19. But new data from a European study suggest the drug, which has been given to about half of hospitalized Covid patients in the country, has no actual benefit.

The open-label DisCoVeRy trial enrolled Covid-19 patients across 48 sites in Europe to test a handful of treatments, including remdesivir, lopinavir–ritonavir, lopinavir–ritonavir and interferon beta-1a, and hydroxychloroquine. To participate, patients had to show symptoms for seven days and require oxygen support. A total of 429 patients were randomized to receive remdesivir plus standard of care, while 428 were assigned to standard of care alone.

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