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.

Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Hal Barron. GSK

GSK's Hal Bar­ron her­alds their sec­ond pos­i­tive piv­otal for cru­cial an­ti-BC­MA ther­a­py, point­ing to a push for quick OKs in a crowd­ed field

Hal Barron has his second positive round of Phase III data in hand for his anti-BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin (GSK2857916). And GSK’s research chief says the data paves the way for their drive in search of an FDA approval for treating multiple myeloma.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this drug for GSK, a cornerstone of Barron’s campaign to make a dramatic impact on the oncology market and provide some long-lost excitement for the pharma giant’s pipeline. They’re putting this BCMA program at the front of that charge — looking to lead a host of rivals all aimed at the same target.

We don’t know what the data are yet, but DREAMM-2 falls on the heels of a promising set of data delivered 5 months ago for DREAMM-1. There investigators noted that complete responses among treatment-resistant patients rose to 15% in the extra year’s worth of data to look over, with a median progression-free survival rate of 12 months, up from 7.9 months reported earlier. The median duration of response was 14.3 months.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Why would Am­gen want to buy Alex­ion? An­a­lysts call hot­ly ru­mored takeover un­like­ly, but seize the mo­ment

A rumor that Amgen is closing in on buyout deal for Alexion has sparked a guessing game on just what kind of M&A strategy Amgen is pursuing and how much Alexion is worth.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed first lent credence to the report out of the Spanish news outlet Intereconomía, which said Amgen is bidding as much as $200 per share. While the source may be questionable, “the concept of this happening doesn’t sound too crazy to me,” he wrote.