The num­ber of I/O can­cer drugs in the clin­ic con­tin­ues to swell at an ex­plo­sive pace -- of­fer­ing new hope, fresh con­cerns

The jug­ger­naut of im­muno-on­col­o­gy drug re­search around the world con­tin­ues to rapid­ly gain speed and mass, of­fer­ing pa­tients with vir­tu­al­ly every can­cer type the prospect of new com­bi­na­tions or monother­a­pies that may bend the course of their dis­ease, ac­cord­ing to a new study map­ping the glob­al land­scape of I/O. But it al­so rais­es fresh con­cerns about com­modi­ti­za­tion and pa­tient re­cruit­ment as the num­ber of PD-1/L1s on the mar­ket con­tin­ues to mul­ti­ply, with hun­dreds more com­ing from be­hind in the pipeline.

Vanes­sa Hub­bard-Lucey

A team at the Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute has been study­ing the field for the past 2 years, track­ing tri­al ac­tiv­i­ty around the globe as I/O con­tin­ues to at­tract block­buster-sized in­vest­ments in pur­suit of new stan­dards of can­cer med­i­cine. And the num­bers at the end of 2018 have swelled sig­nif­i­cant­ly in most cat­e­gories.

Source: Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Some of the high­lights from their re­port — which was pub­lished in Na­ture Re­views Drug Dis­cov­ery — in­clude:

— World­wide the num­ber of I/O drugs in 6 key class­es has hit 3,394 — up 67% in one year. Those drugs in­volved 417 tar­gets like CD19, at the top of the list, fol­lowed by PD-1, PD-L1 and HER2. A year ago they were track­ing 2,031 drugs in­volv­ing 273 tar­gets.

— The group count­ed 2,250 clin­i­cal tri­als un­der­way for PD-1/L1 agents, an in­crease of 748 from a year ago. And there are 1,176 com­bi­na­tion stud­ies un­der­way, with a to­tal of 240 dif­fer­ent tar­gets.

— With a hand­ful of cell ther­a­pies ap­proved, CRI tracked 448 in pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Nine are in Phase III and 227 are in Phase II. The spike in cell ther­a­py work has pushed it in­to the lead among all 6 cat­e­gories tracked, well ahead of can­cer vac­cines and leav­ing on­colyt­ic virus­es be­hind — though that field is still grow­ing as well.

The US eas­i­ly re­mains the leader in the ge­og­ra­phy of I/O re­search, but Chi­na has been com­ing on strong as the num­ber 2 coun­try en­gaged in new re­search in­volv­ing I/O. And a num­ber of home grown PD-1/L1 drugs are near­ing ap­proval in Chi­na, with im­pli­ca­tions for the rest of the world.

Source: Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Par­tic­u­lar­ly ex­cit­ing, says Vanes­sa Hub­bard-Lucey, di­rec­tor of the CRI Clin­i­cal Ac­cel­er­a­tor, is that “al­most all can­cer types are be­ing stud­ied with PD-1/L1 ther­a­pies in clin­i­cal tri­als, in­clud­ing many rare can­cers.”

But while all the num­bers con­tin­ue to steam ahead, there has been a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in one key cat­e­go­ry: pa­tient re­cruit­ment has slowed 70% in 4 years, they say. And that un­der­scores a dra­mat­ic need to ex­pand the num­ber of pa­tients who can be re­cruit­ed for cur­rent and up­com­ing drug tri­als.

One of the rea­sons why I/O is so pop­u­lar is due to the mega-block­buster check­point suc­cess­es at Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But while the lead­ers con­tin­ue to do well, every­one else look­ing to score gains of their own in a field like PD-1/L1 will be fac­ing a myr­i­ad of ri­vals be­ing ad­vanced for every con­ceiv­able tar­get. And a crush of com­peti­tors could well end up com­modi­tiz­ing the field, which is one rea­son why you’re see­ing so many com­bo stud­ies un­der­way. 

The lead­ers want to main­tain their lead, and the bio­phar­mas com­ing from be­hind want to find a way to break in with some­thing new.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Genen­tech plots $53M dis­cov­ery quest aimed at spark­ing a 'Holy moly' piv­ot in neu­ro R&D

Genentech has committed $53 million to back a 10-year quest aimed at going back to the drawing board to use new technology and fresh scientific insights to generate a pipeline of drugs for neurological diseases.

Roche’s big South San Francisco hub will mix it up with the scientists drawn together for the Weill Neurohub — formed in 2019 as a joint research partnership involving UCSF, Berkeley and the University of Washington — in an exploration of the field to develop new therapies for some of the toughest diseases in drug R&D: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and autism.

Am­gen, As­traZeneca speed to­ward fil­ing next-gen an­ti­body for asth­ma af­ter un­cork­ing full late-stage da­ta

On the hunt for a novel competitor to Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent in severe asthma, Amgen and AstraZeneca posted “exciting” results from their next-gen antibody late last year. Now, the partners are showing their hands, and the results look good enough for approval.

Amgen and AstraZeneca’s tezepelumab plus standard of care cut the rate of severe asthma attacks by 56% at the one-year mark compared with SOC alone, according to full data from the Phase III NAVIGATOR study presented Friday at the virtual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology meeting. And those significant results were consistent regardless of patients’ baseline eosinophil counts.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.