That $95M Mer­ck gam­ble to ac­quire cCAM? It didn’t pay off.

Roger M. Perl­mut­ter, Mer­ck

When Mer­ck $MRK ac­quired cCAM Bio­ther­a­peu­tics in Is­rael in the sum­mer of 2015, R&D chief Roger Perl­mut­ter and his crew were in­trigued by the po­ten­tial of its lead drug, CM-24, in tar­get­ing the im­mune check­point pro­tein CEA­CAM1. The drug, in Phase I, of­fered an op­por­tu­ni­ty for a range of can­cers where the phar­ma gi­ant has been close­ly fo­cused.

In Perl­mut­ter’s words, the drug hit a sweet spot for the de­vel­op­er of Keytru­da: “stim­u­lat­ing tu­mor-di­rect­ed im­mune re­spons­es.”

It didn’t work.

A spokesper­son for the com­pa­ny con­firmed some­thing that is al­ready post­ed to the US pub­lic clin­i­cal tri­als reg­istry.

“Mer­ck has de­cid­ed to stop fur­ther clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of MK-6018 (CM-24). In the ini­tial Phase 1 dose-rang­ing study, no ef­fi­ca­cy sig­nals were de­tect­ed. The de­ci­sion to dis­con­tin­ue fur­ther de­vel­op­ment is not due to any known safe­ty risks.”

And there goes a deal com­plet­ed with a $95 mil­lion up­front and $510 mil­lion in mile­stones that won’t get paid.

Mer­ck typ­i­cal­ly doesn’t talk about any drug that hasn’t made it to Phase II. And it won’t be left hurt­ing by an ear­ly-stage fail­ure like this. A small bet failed to pay off, but Mer­ck’s I/O ef­fort is as big as ever.

A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

Su­per-se­cre­tive an­ti-ag­ing biotech Cal­i­co tees up the first vis­i­ble clin­i­cal tri­al of an ex­per­i­men­tal drug. And it’s for can­cer?

Over the past 7 years, Calico has been so much more than your average, run-of-the-mill secretive biotech players. It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, to repurpose an old Winston Churchill line dating from the time he confronted the Iron Curtain surrounding Stalin’s thoughts.

Launched by industry legend Art Levinson of Genentech fame, with the infinitely deep pockets of Google for support, one of the few big headlines the anti-aging biotech has sparked focused on a major alliance with AbbVie — a giant outfit that conversely likes to show off its drug prospects whenever it can. Together, they’ve been focused on diseases that limit life span — quite an arc of ailments.

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RBC's Bri­an Abra­hams holds a mock ad­comm on Bio­gen's iffy ad­u­canum­ab da­ta — and most of these ex­perts don't see a path to an ap­proval

As catalysts go, few loom larger than the aducanumab adcomm slated for Nov. 6.

With its big franchise under assault, Biogen is betting the ranch that its mixed late-stage Alzheimer’s data can squeak past the experts and regulators and get onto the market. And the topic — after a decade of Alzheimer’s R&D disasters in what still represents the El Dorado of drug markets — remains in the center ring of discussions around late-stage pipeline prospects.

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Covid-19 roundup: Pars­ing Bourla, a top an­a­lyst sees im­proved chances for Pfiz­er vac­cine; Fau­ci: No sur­prise that Trump was hit by Covid-19

With a medley of adverse events hobbling the late-stage development of vaccines and drugs, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s latest — extended — timeline for the mRNA approach they’re working on with BioNTech is giving some top analysts added confidence that the pharma giant can come up with the regulatory goods next month.

Parsing Bourla’s language in his comments last week, SVB Leerink’s Geoffrey Porges notes that Bourla’s decision to say they “may” be able to nail down the positive efficacy of their vaccine in a matter of days — a big change from his earlier certainty — may also indicate a delay on that to early November.

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CAR-plus: Irish biotech re­cruits Kite alum Chris Now­ers to prep dual-tar­get­ing NK cell ther­a­py for the clin­ic

Soon after Chris Nowers left Cell Medica — freshly rebranded Kuur Therapeutics — in February, the Kite Pharma alum was introduced to another cell therapy player.

The basic idea of building an off-the-shelf allogeneic platform with a CAR-NK approach was familiar to him, riding on the same wave as Takeda, J&J-backed Fate, Nkarta and others. But then there was something else that stood out: a membrane-bound TNF related apoptosis inducing ligand variant, or TRAIL variant, that’s also engineered onto the NK cell for a dual-targeted attack.

News brief­ing: Ab­b­Vie and Roche's Ven­clex­ta scores an­oth­er FDA OK; Im­muno­Gen nabs Chi­na deal with $40M cash

AbbVie and Roche’s Venclexta has gotten a new FDA thumbs up.

The pair announced Monday that regulators have approved the drug in combination with azacitidine or low-dose cytarabine for newly-diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia in adults who are 75 or older or those who can’t undergo intensive chemotherapy. This follows the drug’s accelerated approval in 2018 and positive data from two Phase III confirmatory trials.

James Sabry (Roche)

Roche's James Sabry inks his sec­ond AI deal in back-to-back pacts — this time part­ner­ing Genen­tech with Stan­ford spin­out Gen­e­sis Ther­a­peu­tics

Less than a week after Roche joined forces with Dyno Therapeutics to develop gene therapies using artificial intelligence, its giant subsidiary Genentech is hopping on the AI bandwagon with a different player.

Genentech has inked a deal with Stanford spinout Genesis Therapeutics to harness its AI power for drug development and discovery. Genesis is getting an upfront payment and milestones, but the companies are keeping the details under wraps for now. The Burlingame, CA-based biotech also stands to earn future royalties on any approved Genentech drugs that come from the deal.

Joe Biden (Carolyn Kaster, AP Images)

What about the Ger­man ne­go­ti­a­tion mod­el? Biden steers drug pric­ing de­bate to a show­down

From an ill-fated proposal to ban rebates for pharmacy benefit managers to an executive order demanding a “most-favored-nation price” for Medicare, if nothing else President Donald Trump has introduced Americans to a flurry of ideas to rein in pharma, an industry he once accused of “getting away with murder.” And now we’re getting the first glimpse of what a Joe Biden presidency might mean for prescription drug pricing.

En­do pays $658M in a fur­ther bet on col­la­gen-based med­i­cines, buy­ing out long­time bio­phar­ma part­ner

A little less than two years after Endo Pharmaceuticals’ deal to purchase Somerset Therapeutics fell through, the Irish drugmaker is returning to the well with a much bigger acquisition.

Endo has agreed to buy BioSpecifics Technologies for a whopping $658 million, the two companies announced Monday, in the culmination of a research agreement signed all the way back in 2004. Endo will purchase all of BioSpecifics’ outstanding stock for about $540 million, valuing the company at $88.50 per share — a 45% premium on the $61.02 share price at which the company closed on Friday.