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.

Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors. 

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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