The PC­SK9 of NASH? Re­gen­eron and Al­ny­lam join forces to tack­le a promis­ing tar­get for se­vere liv­er dis­eases

The Re­gen­eron Ge­net­ics Cen­ter $REGN rou­tine­ly sifts through a moun­tain of se­quenc­ing da­ta. And every now and then, the re­searchers there will pan out a glit­ter­ing find­ing that looks like it could rank right up there with PC­SK9.

Here’s one.

John Maraganore

This evening, in a study pub­lished in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, they are point­ing to one such dis­cov­ery that they be­lieve has some big im­pli­ca­tions for se­vere liv­er dis­eases, in­clud­ing the Holy Grail of NASH. And with­out a log­i­cal an­ti­body strat­e­gy to put in­to play — giv­en an in­tra­cel­lu­lar tar­get in the spot­light — they’ve en­list­ed an ex­pe­ri­enced crew at Al­ny­lam to bring their RNAi gene si­lenc­ing plat­form in­to the game to find the most ef­fi­cient way to pro­vide the key to coun­ter­ing a raft of ail­ments.

“We ob­vi­ous­ly saw the da­ta and we were blown away,” says Al­ny­lam $AL­NY CEO John Maraganore, who’s now in wait-and-see mode as their lead drug patisir­an rolls up to an Au­gust PDU­FA date. “This tar­get  — HSD17B13 — from a hu­man ge­net­ics per­spec­tive it re­al­ly is the  PC­SK9 of NASH.”

Aris Baras

Re­gen­eron prides it­self on mov­ing ag­gres­sive­ly when they find some­thing promis­ing for clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. And in Al­ny­lam, they feel they are work­ing with close kin in that re­spect.

“These guys at Al­ny­lam have a sim­i­lar ap­proach and track record,” says Aris Baras, head of the RGC. And he feels this tar­get de­serves speed and care, which in­spired a 50/50 deal on re­search costs and any com­mer­cial po­ten­tial that comes out of the pre­clin­i­cal align­ment.

How fast can Al­ny­lam move here? “We’re not giv­ing guid­ance,” says Maraganore, but he says you shouldn’t be sur­prised if there’s a pro­gram in the clin­ic next year. (Yes, that is fast.)

The deal, he adds, calls for shared eco­nom­ics in de­vel­op­ment, with Al­ny­lam do­ing the crit­i­cal ear­ly de­vel­op­ment and Re­gen­eron pick­ing up the late-stage work. That will be their first RNAi study of their own, says Maraganore, but there’s no re­al mys­tery in how that works. And they’ll stay close­ly in­volved through­out.

The study of hu­man ge­net­ics in these cen­ters is be­gin­ning to have a re­al im­pact on R&D ef­fi­cien­cy, says Baras. And this project in par­tic­u­lar, he be­lieves, high­lights the promise of the field in quick­ly ze­ro­ing in on a vi­able drug pro­gram.

By set­ting up a large pile of ge­net­ic da­ta on thou­sands of pa­tients with liv­er dis­ease and com­par­ing it with se­quenc­ing da­ta on a group of tens of thou­sands of healthy peo­ple, Baras tells me, the re­searchers at Re­gen­eron’s ge­net­ics arm nar­rowed down pos­si­ble ge­net­ic trig­gers for dis­ease to a loss-of-func­tion ge­net­ic vari­a­tion in HSD17B13.

Ful­ly shut down by the vari­a­tion, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that eclips­ing the gene re­duced en­zy­mat­ic ac­tiv­i­ty:

— Cut­ting the risk of al­co­holic cir­rho­sis by 73%.

— Low­er­ing the risk of non­al­co­holic cir­rho­sis by 49%.

— And cut­ting the risk of al­co­holic liv­er dis­ease by 53%, and non­al­co­holic liv­er dis­ease by 30%, with an as­so­ci­at­ed re­duc­tion in risk of NASH.

Re­gen­eron is al­so go­ing af­ter some small mol­e­cule pro­grams in the process.

“We think this is big bi­ol­o­gy and there are dif­fer­ent shots on goal with dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties,” says Baras.

We’ll stay fo­cused here at End­points on this one to see whether it lives up to the pre­clin­i­cal promise. Tra­di­tion sug­gests that any pro­gram that goes in­to the clin­ic will have at best around a 1 in 10 shot at an ap­proval. Ge­net­ics aims to change those odds for the bet­ter.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Daniel O'Day, Gilead CEO (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A new study points to $6.5B in pub­lic sup­port build­ing the sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tion of Gilead­'s remde­sivir. Should that be re­flect­ed in the price?

By drug R&D standards, Gilead’s move to repurpose remdesivir for Covid-19 and grab an emergency use authorization was a remarkably easy, low-cost layup that required modest efficacy and a clean safety profile from just a small group of patients.

The drug OK also arrived after Gilead had paid much of the freight on getting it positioned to move fast.

In a study by Fred Ledley, director of the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, researchers concluded that the NIH had invested only $46.5 million in the research devoted to the drug ahead of the pandemic, a small sum compared to the more than $1 billion Gilead expected to spend getting it out this year, all on top of what it had already cost in R&D expenses.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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

FDA bars the door — for now — against Mer­ck’s star can­cer drug af­ter Roche beat them to the punch

Merck has been handed a rare setback at the FDA.

After filing for the accelerated approval of a combination of their star PD-1 drug Keytruda with Eisai’s Lenvima as a first-line treatment for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma, the FDA nixed the move, handing out a CRL because Roche beat them to the punch on the same indication by a matter of weeks.

According to Merck:

Ahead of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act action dates of Merck’s and Eisai’s applications, another combination therapy was approved based on a randomized, controlled trial that demonstrated overall survival. Consequently, the CRL stated that Merck’s and Eisai’s applications do not provide evidence that Keytruda in combination with Lenvima represents a meaningful advantage over available therapies for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic HCC with no prior systemic therapy for advanced disease. Since the applications for KEYNOTE-524/Study 116 no longer meet the criteria for accelerated approval, both companies plan to work with the FDA to take appropriate next steps, which include conducting a well-controlled clinical trial that demonstrates substantial evidence of effectiveness and the clinical benefit of the combination.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na sticks to Ju­ly for its Phase III as ru­mors swirl; Fol­low­ing US lead, EU buys up Covid-19 treat­ments

The Phase III might be delayed from its original early July goal, but Moderna says it will still kick off the pivotal study for what could ultimately be the first Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the month.

A day after Reuters reported that squabbling between the Cambridge biotech and government regulators had held up the trial by about two weeks, Moderna released a statement saying that they had completed enrollment of their 650-person Phase II trial and were on track to begin Phase III by the end of the month. The protocol for that study, which is meant to prove whether or not the vaccine can prevent people from becoming sick, has been finalized, they said.

Stephen Hahn, AP

Trump and Navar­ro press again for hy­drox­y­chloro­quine. Can the FDA stay in­de­pen­dent?

Tuesday morning, economist and Trump advisor Peter Navarro walked onto the White House driveway and promptly brought a political cloud back onto the FDA.

Speaking to a White House pool reporter, Navarro said that four Detroit doctors were, based on a single disputed study, filing for the FDA to again issue an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial pill that President Trump hyped for months as a Covid-19 treatment over the objections of his own scientists. Then, while avoiding directly calling for the FDA to OK the drug, blasted the agency. He said its decision to pull an earlier authorization “was based on bad science” and “had a tremendously negative effect” on doctors and patients.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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

Noubar Afeyan, Flagship CEO and Tessera chairman (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Flag­ship ex­ecs take a les­son from na­ture to mas­ter ‘gene writ­ing,’ launch­ing a star-stud­ded biotech with big am­bi­tions to cure dis­ease

Flagship Pioneering has opened up its deep pockets to fund a biotech upstart out to revolutionize the whole gene therapy/gene editing field — before gene editing has even made it to the market. And they’ve surrounded themselves with some marquee scientists and execs who have crowded around to help shepherd the technology ahead.

The lead player here is Flagship general partner Geoff von Maltzahn, an MIT-trained synthetic biologist who set out in 2018 to do CRISPR — a widely used gene editing tool — and other rival technologies one or two better. Von Maltzahn has been working with Sana co-founder Jake Rubens, another synthetic biology player out of MIT who he describes as his “superstar,” who’s taken the CSO role.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Covid-19 roundup: Squab­bles with gov­ern­ment de­lay Mod­er­na’s PhI­II — re­ports; No­vavax se­cures largest Warp Speed deal yet: $1.6B

A much-anticipated Phase III trial for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is being held up as the company delayed submitting trial protocols and sparred with government scientists on how to run the study and even what the benchmark for success should be, Reuters reported.

Moderna, the first US company to put their vaccine into human testing, was supposed to enter a 30,000-person study this month in partnership with the NIH to determine whether it can prevent infection. STAT reported last week that the trial was facing delays over the protocol, but that a July start was still possible. Neither the NIH nor Moderna ever disclosed a specific date the trial should start, but Reuters reported that the agency had hoped to begin on July 10.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.