There are 2,004 can­cer im­munother­a­pies crowd­ing in­to the pipeline. Now what?

Here’s a sim­ple set of facts with some com­plex im­pli­ca­tions.

There were 469 new PD-1/L1 can­cer check­point stud­ies launched this year, which re­quire 52,000 pa­tients to ful­ly en­roll all of them.

On the one hand, re­searchers for the non­prof­it Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute say, that sen­tence un­der­scores the boom in im­munother­a­py that’s been trans­form­ing can­cer treat­ment around the world.

But there’s more.

The ex­plo­sion of pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal-stage pro­grams that has erupt­ed in im­munother­a­pies is rais­ing se­ri­ous ques­tions about the in­trin­sic val­ue of each hu­man study be­ing mount­ed for more than 2,000 I/O agents now in de­vel­op­ment. Is there a more ef­fi­cient way to man­age stud­ies, to get the max­i­mum im­pact from every new tri­al? Can you jus­ti­fy all these tri­als, par­tic­u­lar­ly small, sin­gle-site ef­forts?

Be­fore rais­ing the is­sue, the CRI — which spe­cial­izes in im­munother­a­pies — want­ed to present a clear pic­ture of the scene to every­one in the field.

By as­sign­ing two tu­mor im­mu­nol­o­gists to comb through a va­ri­ety of glob­al tri­al data­bas­es over a year’s time, Aiman Sha­l­abi — CRI’s chief med­ical of­fi­cer and di­rec­tor of the An­na-Maria Kellen Clin­i­cal Ac­cel­er­a­tor — be­lieves that they have, for the first time, es­tab­lished a bird’s eye view of the en­tire im­munother­a­py land­scape span­ning the plan­et, from Shang­hai to Boston. Sha­l­abi jour­neyed to Gene­va to share the re­sults this week­end with the Eu­ro­pean So­ci­ety of Med­ical On­col­o­gy IO meet­ing in Gene­va.

It is stag­ger­ing in scope.

“It’s nev­er been seen be­fore in the drug de­vel­op­ment space or the can­cer space,” says Sha­l­abi, and it’s re­shap­ing can­cer R&D in ways that de­mand some new ap­proach­es to de­vel­op­ment. “It’s time to stop putting new sci­ence on top of the old in­fra­struc­ture and do things dif­fer­ent­ly.”

Do­ing that is go­ing to re­ly on more col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts in the in­dus­try and acad­e­mia, and he is spear­head­ing a move to do more of that at the CRI af­ter rais­ing the sub­ject in can­cer R&D cir­cles.

Among the high­lights of the CRI re­port:

— There are 2,004 im­munother­a­py agents in de­vel­op­ment.

— 940 of these I/O ther­a­pies are in clin­i­cal-stage de­vel­op­ment, with 1,064 in the pre­clin­i­cal stage.

— There are 164 PD-1/L1 agents in de­vel­op­ment, with 50 in the clin­ic and 5 on the mar­ket. They have in­spired 1,502 tri­als with 1,105 com­bos.

— 344 are can­cer vac­cines in hu­man stud­ies, and 224 are clin­i­cal-stage cell ther­a­pies.

— There are 69 on­colyt­ic virus­es in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, all in the sec­ond wave be­hind Am­gen’s T-Vec; 95 are pre­clin­i­cal.

— There are 99 T cell tar­get­ed im­munomod­u­la­tors in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, 199 in pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

— There are 165 dif­fer­ent tar­gets be­ing com­bined in check­point stud­ies, with 251 in­clud­ing an an­ti-CT­LA-4 and 170 in­volv­ing chemother­a­pies.

— 0f 1,105 PD-1/L1 drug stud­ies CRI ex­am­ined, 60% are small­er, non-in­dus­try sup­port­ed tri­als.

That last point in par­tic­u­lar at­tract­ed Sha­l­abi’s at­ten­tion. These small­er stud­ies of­ten in­volve aca­d­e­m­ic re­searchers in sin­gle-site tri­als, re­ly­ing on mod­est sup­port from the man­u­fac­tur­er. At a time that each new study in the re­cent wave in­volves dwin­dling num­bers of pa­tients, Sha­l­abi sees two un­der­ly­ing trends: The abil­i­ty to track a ben­e­fit with small­er pa­tient groups, and these sin­gle-site af­fairs that are like­ly to de­liv­er da­ta that will be hard­er to in­ter­pret.

Says Sha­l­abi: “It’s go­ing to be a big chal­lenge to re­cruit and then in­ter­pret them.”

“More and more of these stud­ies are just be­ing de­signed lo­cal­ly; there’s an ap­pear­ance of over­crowd­ing,” he says. “I won­der if these small stud­ies are go­ing to make a con­tri­bu­tion.”

Sha­l­abi be­lieves the da­ta un­der­score the need for more col­lab­o­ra­tions, a greater em­pha­sis on mul­ti-site stud­ies with a more care­ful use of um­brel­la tri­al plat­forms to find faster and more ef­fi­cient means of putting I/O agents through hu­man stud­ies.

There’s one oth­er thing that Sha­l­abi doesn’t doubt.

“What we’ve found is just an un­be­liev­able amount of in­no­va­tion out there,” he says. And it is hav­ing a re­al im­pact on the stan­dard of care in can­cer.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Bio­gen hit by ALS set­back with PhI­II fail­ure for tofersen — but fol­lows a fa­mil­iar strat­e­gy high­light­ing the pos­i­tive

Patients and analysts waiting to hear Sunday how Biogen’s SOD1-ALS drug tofersen fared in Phase III didn’t have to wait long for the top-line result they were all waiting for. The drug failed the primary endpoint on significantly improving the functional and neurologic decline of patients over 28 weeks as well as the extension period for continued observation.

In fact, there was very little difference in response.

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UP­DAT­ED: Boehringer nabs FDA's first in­ter­change­abil­i­ty des­ig­na­tion for its Hu­mi­ra com­peti­tor — but will it mat­ter?

The FDA late Friday awarded Boehringer Ingelheim the first interchangeability designation for its Humira biosimilar Cyltezo, meaning that when it launches in July 2023, pharmacists will be able to automatically substitute the Boehringer’s version for AbbVie’s mega-blockbuster without a doctor’s input.

The designation will likely give Boehringer, which first won approval for Cyltezo in 2017, the leg up on a crowded field of Humira competitors.

Reshma Kewalramani, Vertex CEO (YouTube)

Ver­tex gets much-need­ed win with ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary’ first pa­tient re­sults on po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure

Vertex said Monday that the first patient dosed with its cell therapy for type 1 diabetes saw their need for insulin injections vanish almost entirely, a key early step in the decades-long effort to develop a curative treatment for the chronic disease.

The patient, who had suffered five potentially life-threatening hypoglycemic — or low blood sugar — episodes in the year before the therapy, was injected with synthetic insulin-producing cells. After 90 days, the patient’s new cells produced insulin steadily and ramped up their insulin production after a meal like normal cells do, as measured by a standard biomarker for insulin production.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Two drug­mak­ers hit with PDU­FA date de­lays from FDA amid back­log of in­spec­tions

As the FDA is weighed down with more and more pandemic responsibilities, the agency is beginning to miss PDUFA dates with more frequency too. Two different companies on Monday said they received notices that the FDA has not completed their drug reviews on time.

The review of an NDA for Avadel Pharmaceuticals’ candidate treatment for narcolepsy is not coming this month, the company said, and the review of UCB’s BLA for bimekizumab, used to treat moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, will miss its target date as well.

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Terrie Curran, Phathom CEO (Credit: Arcutis)

Phath­om's old Take­da drug bests Pre­vacid in a PhI­II GI tri­al. Next stop? The FDA

There’s no time for rest in biopharma — at least not at Phathom Pharmaceuticals. Just over a month after submitting two NDAs for its lead acid-fighter vonoprazan, the biotech is already lining up a third, and collecting an extra $50 million to push things along.

Vonoprazan met its primary non-inferiority endpoints in a Phase III study comparing it to standard-of-care Prevacid in a type of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) called erosive esophagitis (EE). It also proved superior to the popular heartburn drug by multiple measures, including healing rate and maintenance of healing.

Thomas Lingelbach, Valneva CEO

Small biotech says its Covid-19 vac­cine spurs more an­ti­bod­ies than As­traZeneca’s. Will sup­ply deals come now?

In a first, a small runner-up vaccine developer says its own Covid-19 jab has induced “superior neutralizing antibody titer levels” over AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 when pitted head-to-head in a Phase III trial.

That and non-inferiority in seroconversion rate were the co-primary endpoints of the trial, which recruited 4,012 adult volunteers across the UK.

But on the exploratory endpoint of Covid-19 case counts, Valneva notes that both treatment groups saw a similar number of infections.