That Alzheimer's drug that flunked a PhII? On sec­ond look, Bio­gen/Ei­sai say it's a win­ner

Sev­en months ago, Bio­gen and Ei­sai were forced to aban­don their plans for a quick piv­ot in­to Phase III as their Alzheimer’s drug BAN2401 failed a de­ci­sive Phase II. Now, with the full 18-month analy­sis in hand, the part­ners are say­ing they were right to per­sist.

Bio­gen’s stock $BI­IB surged 17.48% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing on an up­dat­ed snap­shot, a con­sid­er­able boost giv­en the size of the com­pa­ny. So far, the com­pa­ny has added rough­ly $10 bil­lion to its mar­ket cap since yes­ter­day. Mean­while BioArc­tic, the small Swedish biotech whose re­search al­liance with Ei­sai first gave birth to the prod­uct, saw their shares (CPH: $BIOA-B) sky­rock­et 209% as of press time.

Here’s what changed: When eval­u­at­ed by the Alzheimer’s Dis­ease Com­pos­ite Score (AD­COMS), the high­est dose of BAN2401 showed to cause “sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant slow­ing of dis­ease pro­gres­sion” af­ter 18 months of treat­ment. The tri­al re­cruit­ed 856 pa­tients with ear­ly Alzheimer’s dis­ease (and con­firmed amy­loid pathol­o­gy in the brain), a co­hort com­pris­ing those with mild cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment due to Alzheimer’s and oth­ers with mild Alzheimer’s de­men­tia.

Lynn Kramer, Ei­sai

What does this mean for a field fraught with fail­ures, a field that ab­sorbed the mil­lions of dol­lars thrown at it by big phar­mas and biotechs alike and churned out noth­ing in re­turn? While past fail­ures have re­peat­ed called the amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis — the idea that tar­get­ing the plaques ob­served in the brains of most Alzheimer’s pa­tients could change the tra­jec­to­ry of the dis­ease — in­to ques­tion, for Ei­sai CMO Lynn Kramer, their da­ta are “fur­ther val­i­dat­ing the amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis.” Some might al­so see it as a val­i­da­tion of ad­u­canum­ab, the much-tout­ed late-stage drug that’s al­so hit­ting the amy­loid be­ta path­way.

“We will dis­cuss these very en­cour­ag­ing re­sults with reg­u­la­to­ry au­thor­i­ties to de­ter­mine the best path for­ward,” Kramer said in a state­ment.

It would be a huge feat to demon­strate im­prove­ment in cog­ni­tion linked with a de­cline in amy­loid be­ta clus­ters. But un­til the full da­ta is out at a fu­ture med­ical con­fer­ence, ex­perts are care­ful­ly man­ag­ing their ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Giv­en the state of the field we have to be cau­tious­ly op­ti­mistic about a find­ing like this,” Mayo Clin­ic Alzheimer’s Dis­ease Re­search Cen­ter di­rec­tor Ron Pe­tersen told Forbes.

Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges is more skep­ti­cal, point­ing out how lit­tle in­for­ma­tion was giv­en in the press re­lease.

We do not feel that Bio­gen, Ei­sai or the whole amy­loid field de­serves much cred­it for this dis­clo­sure, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en the lack of ex­ter­nal val­i­da­tion of the AD­COMS end­point. There is very lit­tle de­tail about oth­er more val­i­dat­ed cog­ni­tive mea­sures in the joint press re­lease and we find no rea­son to be­lieve this ei­ther proves or dis­proves the amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis or has any im­pact on the like­li­hood that ad­u­canum­ab will suc­ceed in its on­go­ing phase III tri­al.

A few de­tails in the tri­al de­sign may al­so prove prob­lem­at­ic.

For one, the turn­around comes down to sta­tis­tics. When Bio­gen and Ei­sai re­port­ed in De­cem­ber that the study failed its pri­ma­ry end­point, it was re­fer­ring to a Bayesian analy­sis, in which the drug would have to hit a cer­tain prob­a­bil­i­ty for caus­ing a cer­tain out­come to be deemed ef­fec­tive. Be­cause of that, and an adap­tive tri­al de­sign, re­searchers could make changes dur­ing the tri­al and pa­tients could be switched to dif­fer­ent dos­es. That didn’t work, so they wait­ed un­til the stan­dard 18-month mark to eval­u­ate the re­sults again with “con­ven­tion­al sta­tis­ti­cal meth­ods.” Look­ing back with this new frame­work, the part­ners now say their drug showed sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant clin­i­cal ben­e­fit as ear­ly as six months.

The pos­i­tive out­come be­ing high­light­ed to­day al­so con­cerns on­ly the 10mg/kg bi­week­ly dose, which was one of five dos­es test­ed in the tri­al. It’s un­clear how many pa­tients end­ed up on that dos­ing scheme.

And fi­nal­ly there’s AD­COMS, the cho­sen mea­sure of cog­ni­tion, which was a nov­el end­point that com­bines a few stan­dard scales in Alzheimer’s.

But if there’s one thing we’re sure about, it’s that Bio­gen and Ei­sai are all in. The Japan­ese com­pa­ny re­cent­ly wa­gered more than $100 mil­lion on a be­spoke Alzheimer’s re­search cen­ter in its part­ner’s home of Cam­bridge, MA. And Bio­gen just tossed in an ex­tra $50 mil­lion for a big­ger slice of the roy­al­ties for ad­u­canum­ab.

RWE chal­lenges for to­day's bio­phar­ma

The rapid development of technology — and the resulting avalanche of data — are catalysts for significant change in the biopharmaceutical industry. This translates into urgent pressures for today’s biopharma, including a need to quickly and affordably develop products with proven therapeutic efficacy and value. This urgency is expedited by the growth of value-based contracting, where access to reimbursement and profit depends on these abilities.

UP­DAT­ED: In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — but da­ta min­ing in­cites con­tro­ver­sy and ques­tions

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company and its partners at Eisai say that a new analysis of a larger dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over with the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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As shares suf­fer from a lin­ger­ing slump, a bruised Alk­er­mes slash­es 160 jobs in R&D re­struc­tur­ing

With its share price in a deep slump after suffering through a regulatory debacle over their depression drug ALKS 5461, Alkermes CEO Richard Pops is taking the ax to its R&D organization in a restructuring aimed at cutting costs ahead of its next attempt at a rollout in a tough field.

Richard Pops, Endpoints via Youtube

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Acor­da's Ron Co­hen brings the ax back out as new drug sales on­ly trick­le in while cash cow is led to the slaugh­ter

With its new drug earning meager sums and its one-time cash cow reduced to a bony shadow of its former self, Acorda Therapeutics today is rolling out a new restructuring aimed at slashing the staff and cutting costs to get through the hard times ahead.

The biotech is chopping a quarter of its staff today, carving back R&D as well as SG&A expenses. And CEO Ron Cohen is cutting deep.

Under the new austerity budget, Acorda’s R&D expenses for the full year 2019 are expected to be $55 – $60 million, reduced from $70 – $80 million. SG&A expenses for the full year 2019 are expected to be $185 – $190 million, reduced from $200 – $210 million. R&D expenses for the full year 2020 are expected to be $20 – $25 million and SG&A
expenses for the full year 2020 are expected to be $160 – $165 million.

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RAPT Ther­a­peu­tics re­turns to Wall Street to re­vive IPO bid

On May 24, FLX Bio, a small cancer and inflammation biotech with backing from GV, changed its name to RAPT Therapeutics and filed confidentially for an IPO. On July 5th, they filed to raise up to $86 million. On July 22, they announced the IPO with a $75 million goal.  And on August 1, they abruptly and without explanation called it all off.

Now, without explanation, they’re reviving the bid, filing again for a $75 million IPO, this time with a new bookrunner and a new drug candidate in the clinic. The terms will be the same: 5 million shares at $14-$16 per share. It would give them a diluted market value of $351 million.

EY vet set to re­place re­tir­ing Am­gen CFO Meline

Ahead of its third-quarter results next week, Amgen on Tuesday disclosed the planned retirement of David Meline, who has served as the company’s chief financial officer since 2014.

Meline will be replaced by Ernst & Young vet, Peter Griffith, as CFO come January 1, 2020 — but until then Griffith will serve as executive vice president, finance.

“Over the last 5 years at Amgen, Meline instituted many major changes that led to operational efficiencies and margin expansion while successfully returning cash to shareholders. Now that Amgen is on solid footing, it was a good time to step away,” Cowen’s Yaron Werber wrote in a note. “We do not anticipate any major changes to strategy or operations immediately due to this transition as Amgen is on solid footing.”

Eli Lil­ly’s USA, di­a­betes chief En­rique Con­ter­no is head­ing out af­ter 27 years, and he’s be­ing re­placed by a com­pa­ny in­sid­er

Close to 3 years after Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks added the title of president of the US operations to Enrique Conterno’s resume, which included his helmsmanship of the diabetes franchise, the Peruvian born exec is set to retire after a 27-year run at the pharma giant.

Lilly put out the news just as it was posting Q3 results, with a mix of upbeat and downbeat results in the latest set of numbers from Lilly.
Conterno — a grizzled, deeply experienced and sometimes gruff veteran of the pharma world — was a high-profile figure at Lilly, stepping up to expanded duties as the company was forced to deal with intense pricing pressure on the diabetes side of the business. He had replaced outgoing US president Alex Azar, who later popped up as head of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration.
As head of the diabetes unit, Conterno had to deal with an extraordinarily competitive field as payers demanded bigger discounts. Trulicity’s success helped generate new revenue for the company, but Q3’s miss on revenue had a lot to do with the need for discounting the drug ahead of Novo Nordisk’s rival therapy, Rybelsus, which was priced on the wholesale level at an almost identical rate.

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No­var­tis hands off $80M in cash to part­ner up with a top biotech play­er in the fi­bro­sis sec­tor

Never underestimate the power of a good showing at a scientific conference.
In a presentation late last year, the researchers at Pliant Therapeutics launched a series of discussions about the preclinical data they were pulling together around their work on their small-molecule integrin inhibitor aimed at transforming growth factor beta, or TGF-β, a key pathway involved in fibrosis.
And they got some serious attention for the work.
“We got interest from pharma partners and at the end Novartis basically made it,” says Pliant CEO Bernard Coulie.

Vas Narasimhan. Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Failed PhI­II fe­vip­iprant tri­als pour more cold wa­ter on No­var­tis' block­buster R&D en­gine — and briefly spread the chill to a high-pro­file biotech

Back in July, during an investor call where Novartis execs ran through an upbeat assessment of their Q2 performance, CEO Vas Narasimhan and development chief John Tsai were pressed to predict which of the two looming Phase III readouts — involving cardio drug Entresto and asthma therapy fevipiprant, respectively — had a higher likelihood of success. Tsai gave the PARAGON-HF study with Entresto minimally better odds, but Narasimhan emphasized that their strategy of giving fevipiprant to more severe patients gave them confidence.

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