Bernat Olle, Vedanta Biosciences CEO

Vedan­ta brings home a win for lead mi­cro­bio­me pro­gram, pass­ing a PhII test and clinch­ing BAR­DA in­vest­ment

Vedan­ta Bio­sciences wrapped up a Se­ries D about two months ago to ad­vance its mi­cro­bio­me re­search, but it’s not con­tent to rest on its lau­rels.

The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech claimed a win in a Phase II study treat­ing Clostrid­ioides dif­fi­cile in­fec­tion, say­ing its lead pro­gram achieved a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in re­cur­rences af­ter eight weeks com­pared with place­bo. It’s a re­sult that os­ten­si­bly im­pressed the US gov­ern­ment as the study re­sults trig­gered a $23.8 mil­lion op­tion from BAR­DA.

“We were al­ready get­ting BAR­DA sup­port, but the ad­di­tion­al sup­port we’re get­ting now, the $23.8 mil­lion is more­so go­ing to­ward the Phase III study,” CEO Bernat Olle told End­points News in an in­ter­view.

Vedan­ta still has to sit down with the FDA to agree on a study de­sign, Olle added, but not­ed it will like­ly in­volve the same pa­tient pop­u­la­tion.

Olle and his team had been work­ing on the can­di­date known as VE303, an oral drug com­pris­ing eight dif­fer­ent bac­te­ria strains de­signed to pro­vide re­sis­tance to C. dif­fi­cile. The Phase II study en­rolled 79 pa­tients and ran­dom­ized them be­tween a low dose, high dose and place­bo group.

The high dose achieved the pri­ma­ry end­point. In the ac­tive arm, pa­tients saw a 13.8% C. dif­fi­cile re­cur­rence rate com­pared to 45.5% in the place­bo group, with re­searchers us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of mea­sure­ment tools to de­tect in­fec­tion. The re­sult proved a greater than 80% re­duc­tion in the odds of a re­cur­rence, good for a p-val­ue of p=0.0077.

Olle high­light­ed that the dif­fer­ent tools used in the pri­ma­ry are the norm for these kinds of stud­ies. Rather than on­ly use tox­in test­ing, Olle said Vedan­ta al­so looked at PCR test­ing in its end­point analy­sis. And when pa­tient sam­ples were un­avail­able for test­ing, Vedan­ta re­lied on a clin­i­cian’s di­ag­no­sis.

Re­searchers de­sired a broad­er de­f­i­n­i­tion of what con­sti­tutes a re­cur­rence be­cause tox­in test­ing is in­her­ent­ly in­ac­cu­rate, Olle said. The tests can miss be­tween 20% to 50% of pos­i­tive cas­es if pa­tient sam­ples are not im­me­di­ate­ly frozen in trans­fer.

“The sam­ple starts de­grad­ing right away,” Olle said. “Those are pa­tients that have C. dif­fi­cile, but … by the time you get the re­sult you on­ly cap­ture a por­tion of them.”

To ham­mer this point home, Vedan­ta al­so mea­sured the pro­por­tion of pa­tients re­main­ing re­cur­rence-free af­ter eight weeks us­ing on­ly the tox­in test­ing. An analy­sis look­ing at the dif­fer­ence be­tween the 86.2% of those in the high-dose co­hort who did not see a re­cur­rence, and the 54.5% of place­bo pa­tients, did not prove sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant.

The re­sult is the “broad­est and most com­pre­hen­sive” de­f­i­n­i­tion of C. dif­fi­cile in­fec­tion re­cur­rence, Olle said.

Vedan­ta is con­tin­u­ing to build out a man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty to pre­pare for Phase III and po­ten­tial com­mer­cial­iza­tion, re­main­ing on track to com­plete it by the end of 2021. Should the Phase III study val­i­date what re­searchers saw with Tues­day’s re­sults, Olle says it will hope­ful­ly be enough for an FDA ap­proval.

At that point, Vedan­ta could be pro­duc­ing about 1 mil­lion dos­es per year. With sup­port from BAR­DA, Olle ex­pects some gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment to build the na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty stock­pile in case of an out­break.

Af­ter many in­vestors fled the mi­cro­bio­me space fol­low­ing a Seres Ther­a­peu­tics flop in 2016, cash has slow­ly start­ed com­ing back to the field. In May 2020, Re­bi­otix pre­sent­ed pos­i­tive da­ta from a place­bo-con­trolled study for its own C. dif­fi­cile trans­plant ther­a­py, and in Ju­ly, af­ter Seres found promis­ing re­sults with a new tack, Nestlé dropped $525 mil­lion to fund de­vel­op­ment for their lead mi­cro­bio­me treat­ment.

Pfiz­er al­so got in on the ac­tion, hav­ing in­vest­ed $25 mil­lion in Vedan­ta back in Jan­u­ary to help ad­vance its slate of IBD pro­grams. With the biotech now past a Se­ries D and hav­ing a pos­i­tive Phase II re­sult, ques­tions about an IPO will abound. Olle left the door open but didn’t give away many hints to his plans.

“At the stage that we are at, we’re open to all kinds of fi­nanc­ing,” Olle said.

Cor­rec­tion: This ar­ti­cle has been up­dat­ed to cor­rect in­for­ma­tion about the na­ture of test­ing for C. dif­fi­cile. A com­bi­na­tion ap­proach us­ing tox­in test­ing, PCR test­ing and clin­i­cian di­ag­no­sis is the norm. 

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

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Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

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Usama Malik

Ex-Im­munomedics CFO charged with in­sid­er trad­ing, faces up to 20 years in prison af­ter al­leged­ly tip­ping off girl­friend and rel­a­tives of a PhI­II suc­cess

The former CFO of Immunomedics, who helped steer the company to its $21 billion buyout by Gilead last year, has been charged with insider trading, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Usama Malik tipped off his then-girlfriend and four others that a Phase III study for Trodelvy would be stopped early four days before Immunomedics publicly announced the result in April 2020, DoJ alleged in its complaint. The individuals then purchased Immunomedics shares, selling them after the news broke and Immunomedics’ stock price doubled.

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Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

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Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Re­searchers move clos­er to de­ci­pher­ing blood clots from As­traZeneca, J&J's Covid-19 vac­cines

Researchers may be nearing an answer for the mysterious and life-threatening blood clots that appeared on very rare occasions in people who received the J&J or AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

The new work builds on an early hypothesis researchers in Norway put forward last spring, when the cases first cropped up. They proposed the events were similar to blood clots that can occur in a small subset of patients who receive heparin, one of the most commonly used blood thinners.

Ed Kaye, Stoke Therapeutics CEO

Stoke touts ear­ly signs of ef­fi­ca­cy for Dravet syn­drome drug

Two and a half years after driving his antisense oligonucleotide platform to Wall Street, Stoke Therapeutics CEO Ed Kaye is painting a fuller picture of the company’s first clinical data. And though the trial wasn’t powered to detect statistical significance, Kaye says the readout shows early signs of efficacy in kids with a rare, drug-resistant form of epilepsy

STK-001 was well-tolerated in single and multiple doses in 22 Dravet syndrome patients between the ages of 2 and 18 years old, Stoke announced on Friday. What’s more, 12 of the 17 evaluable patients at the time (70.6%) saw reductions from baseline in convulsive seizure frequency, according to the company.