Third time un­lucky: Lipocine's lat­est quest to mar­ket their oral testos­terone drug snubbed again by FDA

Lipocine’s lat­est at­tempt at se­cur­ing ap­proval for its oral testos­terone drug has fiz­zled yet again.

The Utah-based drug de­vel­op­er on Mon­day said the FDA has spurned its mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, in­di­cat­ing that some ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta on the drug, Tlando, was not up to scratch to treat male hy­pog­o­nadism, a con­di­tion char­ac­ter­ized by low pro­duc­tion of the hor­mone testos­terone, which is re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing mus­cle bulk, bone growth, and sex­u­al func­tion.

Shares of the Salt Lake City com­pa­ny $LPCN cratered more than 69% to 84 cents in morn­ing trad­ing.

Testos­terone treat­ments such as skin patch­es, short-act­ing in­jec­tions, and top­i­cal gels are cur­rent­ly on the mar­ket. The space is well cov­ered by in­sur­ers and is grow­ing, gen­er­at­ing some 7.2 mil­lion pre­scrip­tions last year, ac­cord­ing to Cowen an­a­lysts. But their pop­u­lar­i­ty in the ag­ing male de­mo­graph­ic has be­come a prob­lem for some biotechs in the field, with reg­u­la­tors re­ject­ing a num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions in re­cent years.

In­tra­mus­cu­lar in­jec­tions are of­ten the first-line testos­terone re­place­ment ther­a­py (TRT) modal­i­ty due to the fact that they have long been gener­ic, be­fore grad­u­at­ing to the brand­ed top­i­cal prod­ucts (or even the gener­ic top­i­cals, which car­ry on­ly mod­est dis­counts to brand­ed An­dro­Gel), the Cowen an­a­lysts wrote in April. “The top­i­cal prod­ucts such as Ab­b­Vie’s An­dro­Gel and Lil­ly’s Ax­iron ap­pear to be read­i­ly ac­cessed, de­spite their brand­ed/brand­ed gener­ic pric­ing.”

Tlando is de­signed to avert the is­sues that plague the ex­ist­ing top­i­cal and in­jectable prod­ucts. Lipocine’s big ri­val, Clarus Ther­a­peu­tics, in March, won FDA ap­proval for its oral prod­uct, Jaten­zo. Lipocine and Clarus have been locked in lit­i­ga­tion re­lat­ed to in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty as­so­ci­at­ed with their re­spec­tive ther­a­pies.

Months ago, Lipocine said a tri­al is set to be­gin in Au­gust 2020 as part of its patent in­fringe­ment law­suit against Clarus’s Jaten­zo, re­lat­ing to six of Lipocine’s U.S. patents.  In the mean­time, Lipocine plans to seek a per­ma­nent in­junc­tion for Clarus’s al­leged in­fringe­ment.

Lipocine has been scarred time and time again in its bat­tle to bring Tlando to mar­ket. The com­pa­ny re­ceived its first re­jec­tion from the FDA in 2016, about a year af­ter the agency tight­ened its scruti­ny of TRT prod­ucts in gen­er­al. The reg­u­la­tor in March 2015 asked man­u­fac­tur­ers to tweak their la­bels to re­flect that TRT prod­ucts are on­ly ap­proved for men with cer­tain med­ical con­di­tions, and not for ag­ing-re­lat­ed low testos­terone; and that da­ta sug­gest TRT use leads to an in­creased risk of heart at­tacks and strokes.

In 2016, the agency in­di­cat­ed it was not com­fort­able with the Tlando dos­ing al­go­rithm. “The pro­posed titra­tion scheme for clin­i­cal prac­tice was sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from the titra­tion scheme used in the Phase 3 tri­al lead­ing to dis­cor­dance in titra­tion de­ci­sions be­tween the Phase 3 tri­al and re­al-world clin­i­cal prac­tice,” Lipocine cit­ed the FDA say­ing in a state­ment.

Lipocine re­sub­mit­ted a mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion in 2017. In an FDA staff re­view that fol­lowed in 2018, the agency said it had rec­om­mend­ed that the com­pa­ny con­duct a new Phase III tri­al that tests the dose titra­tion scheme pro­posed for mar­ket­ing. In­stead, Lipocine chose to con­duct two new sin­gle-arm late-stage tri­als, each test­ing a dif­fer­ent dose of Tlando (150 mg thrice-dai­ly and 225 mg twice-dai­ly) with­out titra­tion. The 150 mg tri­al failed, but the 225 mg dose made the cut.

FDA pan­elists al­so ex­pressed oth­er con­cerns, in­clud­ing that the orig­i­nal late-stage tri­al up­on which Lipocine had based its ap­pli­ca­tion on did not meet one or none of the three sec­ondary end­points that as­sess for un­ac­cept­ably high max­i­mal ex­po­sures to testos­terone; the drug’s im­pact on the pa­tient’s blood pres­sure and heart rate; and whether Tlando was def­i­nite­ly restor­ing testos­terone and its ma­jor metabo­lites in­to nor­mal range.

Days lat­er, an in­de­pen­dent pan­el of ad­vi­sors to the FDA al­so sug­gest­ed their dis­com­fort with the drug. Over­all, thir­teen pan­elists vot­ed against the ben­e­fit/risk pro­file of Tlando, while six vot­ed in fa­vor. Un­sur­pris­ing­ly, the FDA hand­ed Lipocine an­oth­er re­jec­tion.

So Lipocine con­duct­ed an­oth­er study, a small 24-pa­tient tri­al to de­fin­i­tive­ly show that the drug was de­fin­i­tive­ly restor­ing testos­terone lev­els, us­ing tri­al pro­to­col the FDA was look­ing for. But on Mon­day, the FDA’s CRL flagged a prob­lem the com­pa­ny had failed to deal with from the start: that the orig­i­nal ef­fi­ca­cy tri­al failed to show the drug clear­ing three sec­ondary end­points for max­i­mal testos­terone con­cen­tra­tions.

The com­pa­ny plans to meet with the agency to fig­ure out its next steps.

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

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Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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