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.

Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

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Pfizer won’t be adding a new rare disease drug to the franchise club — for now, anyway.

The pharma giant put out word that their FDA application for the growth hormone therapy somatrogon got the regulatory heave-ho, though they didn’t even hint at a reason for the CRL. Following standard operating procedure, Pfizer said in a terse missive that they would be working with regulators on a followup.

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A new can­cer im­munother­a­py brings cau­tious hope for a field long await­ing the next big break­through

Bob Seibert sat silent across from his daughter at their favorite Spanish restaurant near his home in Charleston County, SC, their paella growing cold as he read through all the places in his body doctors found tumors.

He had texted his wife, a pediatric intensive care nurse, when he got the alert that his online chart was ready. Although he saw immediately it was bad, many of the terms — peritoneal, right iliac — were inscrutable. But she was five hours downstate, at a loud group dinner the night before another daughter’s cheer competition.

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Graphic: Alexander Lefterov for Endpoints News

Small biotechs with big drug am­bi­tions threat­en to up­end the tra­di­tion­al drug launch play­book

Of the countless decisions Vlad Coric had to make as Biohaven’s CEO over the past seven years, there was one that felt particularly nerve-wracking: Instead of selling to a Big Pharma, the company decided it would commercialize its migraine drug itself.

“I remember some investors yelling and pounding on the table like, you can’t do this. What are you thinking? You’re going to get crushed by AbbVie,” he recalled.

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The update to Pfizer’s blockbuster Prevnar 13 vaccine was approved in June, and as its name suggests is a vaccine for 20 serotypes — the original 13 plus seven more that cause pneumococcal disease. Pfizer used to spend heavily on TV ads to promote Prevnar 13 in 2018 and 2019 but cut back its TV budgets in the past two fall and winter seasonal spending cycles. Prevnar had been Pfizer’s top-selling drug, notching sales of just under $6 billion in 2020, and was the world’s top-selling vaccine before the Covid-19 vaccines came to market last year.

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Roy Baynes, Merck

FDA bats back Mer­ck’s ‘pipeline in a prod­uct,’ de­mands more ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Despite some heavy blowback from analysts, Merck execs maintained an upbeat attitude about the market potential of its chronic cough drug gefapixant. But the confidence may be fading somewhat today as Merck puts out news that the FDA is handing back its application with a CRL.

Dubbed by Merck’s development chief Roy Baynes as a “pipeline in a product” with a variety of potential uses, Merck had fielded positive late-stage data demonstrating the drug’s ability to combat chronic cough. The drug dramatically reduced chronic cough in Phase III, but so did placebo, leaving Merck’s research team with a marginal success on the p-value side of the equation.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

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In a surprise move, San Diego-based eFFECTOR said it’s halting the development of tomivosertib in non-small cell lung cancer patients who have already progressed on Keytruda monotherapy after running into enrollment challenges in a Phase IIb trial.

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Not cheap­er by the dozen: Bris­tol My­ers be­comes the 12th phar­ma com­pa­ny to re­strict 340B sales

Bristol Myers Squibb recently joined 11 of its peer pharma companies in limiting how many contract pharmacies can access certain drugs discounted by a federal program known as 340B.

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Joaquin Duato, J&J CEO (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

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Joaquin Duato stepped away from the sideline and directly into the spotlight on Tuesday, delivering his first quarterly review for J&J as its newly-tapped CEO after an 11-year run in senior posts. And he had some mixed financial news to deliver today while laying claim to a string of blockbuster drugs in the making and outlining an appetite for small and medium-sized M&A deals.

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