The 10 most pop­u­lar sto­ries in End­points News — so far in 2017

John Car­roll

Since Ar­salan Arif and I ramped up the main edi­tion of End­points News 16 months ago, we’ve pub­lished more than a mil­lion words on bio­phar­ma R&D.

Tol­stoy, eat your heart out.

This year we’ve in­creased web traf­fic, track­ing close to an av­er­age of 20,000 read­ers per day — with more than 22,000 email sub­scribers — which is con­sid­er­ably high­er than where we start­ed in the mid­dle of 2016.

So what are bio­phar­ma peo­ple read­ing in End­points?

Every Black Fri­day we mark the hol­i­day with our top 10 list of our most pop­u­lar re­ports (here’s last year’s ver­sion). Read­ers vot­ed with their fin­gers, and here are their top 10 sto­ries.


1 Mer­ck was hit hard by a vi­cious cy­ber­at­tack yes­ter­day. Here is what we know.

Pub­lish­er Ar­salan Arif wrote the best-read re­port of the year at End­points News af­ter hear­ing about a glob­al cy­ber­at­tack which blast­ed Mer­ck, caus­ing chaos at the phar­ma gi­ant. Over time, we would hear about hun­dreds of mil­lions in dam­ages, which are still rack­ing up at the com­pa­ny. Mer­ck says it did what it could to pro­tect it­self, but this virus hit hard. Chances are, cy­ber­se­cu­ri­ty has tak­en on a whole new mean­ing at Mer­ck.


2 Top 20 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­atePhar­ma

If there’s one thing 15 years in the trench­es of biotech re­port­ing has taught me, it’s that in­dus­try read­ers like some in­sights on the big drugs in the late-stage pipeline. It tells us who’s do­ing the best work, which com­pa­nies have the best prospects and where the big bets are be­ing made. There’s a lot more to this than peak sales, but the drugs picked by Eval­u­atePhar­ma rep­re­sent a ver­i­ta­ble trea­sure trove of block­busters worth po­ten­tial­ly more than $30 bil­lion. Check it out.


3 The top 15 spenders in the glob­al drug R&D busi­ness: 2017

Those com­pa­nies that dom­i­nate the late-stage pipeline are al­so typ­i­cal­ly the ones that foot the li­ons’s share of the bill for drug de­vel­op­ment. Last year, the big bill due for the top 15 com­pa­nies’ re­search bud­gets re­sult­ed in a wimpy pay­out, with a big drop in new drug ap­provals, but that’s be­ing sand­wiched be­tween two sol­id years of suc­cess­es at the FDA. I’ve been fol­low­ing this R&D num­ber for a long while now. And while the fo­cus may change and peo­ple are hired and fired, the en­gine of drug de­vel­op­ment over­all re­mains in high gear. It’s al­so true that high gear is not good enough, and that longterm pro­duc­tiv­i­ty is­sue con­tin­ues to haunt the in­dus­try’s fu­ture.


4 British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon and high-pro­file part­ners roll the dice on an an­ti-ag­ing up­start

We are on the cusp of a tidal shift in biotech R&D, with more and more com­pa­nies look­ing to de­vel­op ther­a­pies that can add bet­ter life to your years, and grad­u­al­ly more years to your life. British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon wrote a book on the top­ic, and now he and some close col­leagues are div­ing in di­rect­ly to raise cash and start work. These trends take years to play out, so don’t look for any overnight rev­o­lu­tions in drug R&D. Still, the wheels are turn­ing, and read­ers are pay­ing close at­ten­tion.


5 In stag­ger­ing set­back, tox­ic re­ac­tion kills Cel­lec­tis’ first CAR-T pa­tient, forc­ing tri­al halt

CAR-T has a safe­ty is­sue, as any­one fa­mil­iar with the field knows all too well. Cel­lec­tis is out to make one of these new can­cer ther­a­pies — now craft­ed from pa­tient cells — so they can be made in bulk and tak­en down from the shelf as need­ed. But an ear­ly death helped raise the red flag for this new kind of CAR-T as well. The FDA lift­ed this hold re­cent­ly, al­low­ing Cel­lec­tis to go back in­to the clin­ic, but on­ly af­ter the French biotech came up with a host of new safe­ty mea­sures. Rev­o­lu­tions are nev­er easy. Or safe. This was a time­ly re­minder that those fac­tors re­al­ly nev­er change.


6 The scoop: Marathon’s R&D pro­gram for Duchenne MD drug like­ly came in at a bar­gain base­ment price

This is one of my fa­vorite sto­ries of the year. I’m glad it was one of yours, too. Marathon Phar­ma was try­ing to pull a fast one when it slipped through an ap­pli­ca­tion on an old cheap steroid as an or­phan ther­a­py for Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy. Quite a few par­ents pre­ferred de­flaza­cort over a re­al­ly cheap gener­ic al­ter­na­tive, pay­ing around $1,000 a year to get it from a Lon­don sup­pli­er. Ac­cord­ing to Marathon, it had to charge $84,000 a year for its new ther­a­py — point­ing to the big clin­i­cal pro­gram need­ed for the ap­proval. We blew that the­o­ry sky high with some pro­fes­sion­al es­ti­mates of what it re­al­ly cost, and how the com­pa­ny looked to make a killing. The sto­ry blew up, law­mak­ers got in­volved and Marathon de­cid­ed to sell it off and take the mon­ey and run. Now PTC is the proud own­er, and its new price runs along a slid­ing scale based on weight. It’s not re­al­ly cheap­er at all, but the con­tro­ver­sy has blown over — for now.


7 Ter­ri­ble op­tics: As­traZeneca shares take a hit fol­low­ing re­port that CEO So­ri­ot is mov­ing to Te­va

Months lat­er, this head­line still sur­pris­es me. And I wrote it. Pas­cal So­ri­ot had been fight­ing for a turn­around at As­traZeneca for the past 5 years. To re­port­ed­ly be in­ter­est­ed in tak­ing the Te­va job would be an­oth­er way of say­ing ‘so long, suck­ers’ to every­one he man­aged at As­traZeneca. So­ri­ot even­tu­al­ly made it clear that he wasn’t leav­ing As­traZeneca, and even­tu­al­ly Te­va an­nounced it had signed a new CEO. But So­ri­ot nev­er de­nied he dis­cussed the open­ing. And this sto­ry al­ways re­mains in the back of every­one’s heads as As­traZeneca makes a halt­ing jour­ney back from the val­ley of death it’s been in.


8 King can­cer: The top 10 ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas in bio­phar­ma R&D

There’s no doubt that 2017 is the year of can­cer R&D. New projects are peak­ing, break­throughs are gain­ing land­mark ap­provals and more mon­ey than ever has flowed in­to the field. As a re­sult, as we point­ed out in this break­down of R&D projects by ther­a­peu­tic field, there’s now can­cer R&D and every­thing else that is go­ing on. We’ve fol­lowed up with more da­ta points that un­der­score this over­whelm­ing trend. And you can ex­pect to hear a lot more about this as com­pa­nies com­pete over a fi­nite num­ber of pa­tients and mar­ket share. Some trends have con­se­quences, and this is one of them.


9 Al­ny­lam achieves break­through RNAi suc­cess as PhI­II patisir­an study hits all goals, shares soar

This re­al­ly was a re­mark­able year for ma­jor break­throughs. Al­ny­lam’s suc­cess with the Phase III for patisir­an sets up its first ever FDA ap­pli­ca­tion, af­ter 15 years of hard work. This com­pa­ny stayed true to the RNAi faith while big phar­ma com­pa­nies bailed and doubts grew that any­one could ever make a com­mer­cial suc­cess out of it. But the crew at Alnlyam made it hap­pen. That kind of suc­cess de­serves to be rec­og­nized, and the in­dus­try clear­ly didn’t over­look the im­pli­ca­tions.


10 In a stun­ning set­back, Roche says its top can­cer drug Tecen­triq failed a key PhI­II study

Iron­i­cal­ly, I’m writ­ing this up on the same day that Roche’s stock jumped 6%, large­ly be­cause its triple com­bo of Tecen­triq, Avastin and chemo proved ef­fec­tive in in­creas­ing pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival for first-line lung can­cer. Back in May, though, its fail­ure for a Phase III blad­der can­cer tri­al, af­ter an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval, un­der­scored just how frag­ile suc­cess can be in the PD-1/L1 check­point are­na. One com­pa­ny grabs the lead, the next day they blow up in the clin­ic, or a ri­val does bet­ter in its cho­sen are­na. Now sev­er­al years in­to the check­point rev­o­lu­tion, the sur­pris­es keep on com­ing with amaz­ing reg­u­lar­i­ty, dri­ving on more com­pe­ti­tion for what is rapid­ly be­com­ing a wild­ly over­crowd­ed mar­ket niche. This was just one chap­ter of a sto­ry that shows no signs of com­ing to a close — but change is com­ing.

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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Federal Trade Commission commissioner Rohit Chopra testifies on Capitol Hill (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

FTC clears Bris­tol-My­ers’ $74B deal to buy Cel­gene — but Dems sig­nal a po­ten­tial hard shift against Big Phar­ma M&A

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s record $74 billion takeover of Celgene is a done deal. And it will all be over — except for the lingering complaints from die-hard Celgene investors — on Wednesday.

Like much else that’s going on in Washington these days, the vote among the 5 FTC commissioners split along party lines, with the 3 Republicans voting to clear the way and the 2 Democrats steamed over what they see as a major M&A move that will lessen competition and innovation. And that split has big implications for the M&A side of the business if the Dems take the White House in 2020.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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BeiGene CEO John Oyler at an Endpoints event in Shanghai, October 2018 (Credit: Endpoints News/PharmCube)

UP­DAT­ED: In a first, FDA green-lights use of a Chi­nese built can­cer ther­a­py — and more are com­ing

Weeks after Amgen took a $2.7 billion stake in BeiGene, the Beijing-based biotech has secured its first-ever FDA approval for zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor, months ahead of schedule.

BeiGene’s drug, branded as Brukinsa, has secured accelerated approval for adult patients with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) — a typically aggressive, rare, form of blood cancer — who have received at least one prior therapy.

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What does $62B buy you these days? A lot, says Take­da ex­ecs as the phar­ma play­er promis­es a block­buster R&D fu­ture

First comes the $62 billion buyout. Then comes the asset auction and reorganization to pay down debt. Now comes the detailed pledge of a bigger, brighter future in drug development.

That’s where Takeda finds itself on R&D day today, about 11 months after closing on their Shire acquisition. R&D chief Andy Plump is joining CEO Christophe Weber and other top members of the team to outline a new set of priorities in the greatly expanded pipeline at Takeda, which has jumped into the top ranks of the world’s pharma giants in the wake of the Shire deal.

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GSK's asth­ma bi­o­log­ic Nu­cala scores in rare blood dis­or­der study

GlaxoSmithKline’s asthma drug Nucala, which received a resounding FDA rejection for use in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) last year, has shown promise in a rare blood disorder.

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Mer­ck buys a fledg­ling neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive biotech spawned by an old GSK dis­cov­ery al­liance. What’s up with that?

Avalon Ventures chief Jay Lichter has a well-known yen for drug development programs picked up in academia. And what he found in Haoxing Xu’s lab at the University of Michigan pricked his interest enough to launch one of his umbrella biotechs in San Diego.

Xu’s work laid the foundation for Avalon to launch Calporta, which has been working on finding small molecule agonists of TRPML1 (transient receptor potential cation channel, mucolipin subfamily, member 1) for lysosomal storage disorders. And that pathway, they believe, points to new approaches on major market neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s.

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