The FDA's in­sid­er re­view on ad­u­canum­ab was all about pol­i­tics, not sci­ence, and it threat­ens pa­tients and the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try alike

Bioreg­num Opin­ion Col­umn by John Car­roll

The FDA de­serves ku­dos for draw­ing a line in the sand over their re­view of Covid-19 vac­cines. They’ve made it clear — af­ter deep skep­ti­cism be­gan to ap­pear fol­low­ing the de­ba­cle over con­va­les­cent plas­ma — just what they will need to see be­fore hand­ing out an EUA, thus sav­ing the agency’s rep for en­forc­ing stan­dards es­sen­tial to main­tain­ing pub­lic trust in drugs.

That same in­tegri­ty, though, has gone miss­ing from the FDA’s stance on Bio­gen’s Alzheimer’s drug ad­u­canum­ab. De­spite a sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis that high­lights the con­flict­ing na­ture of the Bio­gen $BI­IB da­ta, a post hoc dump­ster dive op­er­a­tion to find sup­port­ive da­ta and a move to shine up small co­hort re­sults as back­up proof of ef­fi­ca­cy, the FDA di­vi­sion re­spon­si­ble for Alzheimer’s chose to en­dorse adu for use among mil­lions of pa­tients.

We’ve been here be­fore. The Sarep­ta ap­proval lead­ing to mar­ket­ing au­tho­riza­tion — with a la­bel that clear­ly states their first, very ex­pen­sive, Duchenne MD drug re­mains ex­per­i­men­tal — is a per­ma­nent black eye when it comes to in­dus­try stan­dards. What fol­lowed just made it all much, much worse — and ap­pears to be about ready to hap­pen again in an in­fi­nite­ly larg­er pa­tient pop­u­la­tion.

At the time, as I found out fair­ly re­cent­ly, the FDA’s Janet Wood­cock re­peat­ed­ly told col­leagues that an ap­proval for Sarep­ta was a once-off de­ci­sion. She signed off on bio­mark­er da­ta from a tiny study one time. The next time Sarep­ta would have to do some­thing like a walk test with more boys. She want­ed re­al da­ta.

On­ly that nev­er hap­pened. What did hap­pen: The FDA reg­u­la­tors in charge adopt­ed the bio­mark­er da­ta on dy­s­trophin pro­duc­tion as a low bar for an ap­proval, and once they got a naysay­er out of the way who hand­ed out a CRL for their sec­ond app, the new reg­u­la­tors in charge waved it through.

So we shouldn’t con­sid­er this some sort of once-off just to give Alzheimer’s pa­tients a drug they can use un­til some­thing bet­ter comes along.

This is a prece­dent that can be used again and again, low­er­ing the bar on Alzheimer’s da­ta that oth­ers can jump over as well.

What else did we learn from Sarep­ta?

One, when you catch a ‘Hail Mary’ pass, there’s no need to do some­thing like ac­tu­al­ly meet FDA time­lines for a full piv­otal tri­al to con­firm the weak signs of ef­fi­ca­cy you’re see­ing. The biotech drug their heels on that for­got­ten front for years, and the FDA did noth­ing about it.

We see this sort of thing reg­u­lar­ly. Once a drug wins any kind of quick OK, it doesn’t al­ways just dis­ap­pear once the re­quired Phase III fol­lowup — in­evitably re­quir­ing years — turns out to be a flop.

An un­met med­ical need like Alzheimer’s is a ter­ri­ble thing. But when FDA stan­dards go in the trash bin on the way in­to an ad­vi­so­ry pan­el meet­ing, it hurts every­one — pa­tients and in­dus­try alike. If you de­stroy pa­tients’ trust in reg­u­la­to­ry de­ci­sions, as the FDA ap­pears de­ter­mined to do here, you un­der­mine all mar­ket­ed ther­a­peu­tics.

We’ll find out what the FDA pan­el thinks of ad­u­canum­ab lat­er to­day. Most drug de­vel­op­ers al­ready know that the FDA is be­ing pushed by po­lit­i­cal rea­sons here. The sci­ence sim­ply doesn’t back it up.

Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos (via Getty Images)

With ad­u­canum­ab caught on a cliff, Bio­gen’s Michel Vounatsos bets bil­lions on an­oth­er high-risk neu­ro play

With its FDA pitch on the Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab hanging perilously close to disaster, Biogen is rolling the dice on a $3.1 billion deal that brings in commercial rights to one of the other spotlight neuro drugs in late-stage development — after it already failed its first Phase III.

The big biotech has turned to Sage Therapeutics for its latest deal, close to a year after the crushing failure of Sage-217, now dubbed zuranolone, in the MOUNTAIN study.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

Overnight for­tunes are be­ing made in biotech these days — and it's both en­cour­ag­ing and more than a lit­tle bit scary

Just to complete the last leg of a running story I’ve been tracking for a few weeks, Olema $OLMA has come through its IPO from the Thursday night pricing at $19 a share with a market cap just north of $2 billion.

That leaves newly-named CEO Sean Bohen holding a batch of 1,110,896 shares with a strike price of $4.82. As of Tuesday morning, the stock is now trading at $53.40, giving him a portfolio value of $53.4 million. Not bad for someone who was hired in September.

The flu virus (CDC)

Roche tacks on an­oth­er Xofluza in­di­ca­tion as flu sea­son meets pan­dem­ic

Xofluza was heralded as the first new flu drug in 20 years when it got the FDA OK back in 2018. But even so, Roche saw tough competition from cheaper Tamiflu generics that appeared to be nearly as — if not just as — effective.

Now, the pharma says the drug also can be used to prevent influenza after exposure, snagging a new approval and adding to Xofluza’s appeal as flu season meets the pandemic.