Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics adds proof its gene ther­a­py for Parkin­son's can work, shares soar

Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics $VY­GR says it’s turned an im­por­tant cor­ner in its de­vel­op­ment of a gene ther­a­py that can play a ma­jor role in res­cu­ing Parkin­son’s pa­tients from the in­evitable de­cline as­so­ci­at­ed with their re­sponse to lev­odopa.

The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech has fleshed out its ear­ly-stage proof-of-con­cept da­ta on VY-AADC01, of­fer­ing new da­ta that demon­strate a height­ened ef­fi­ca­cy for two high­er dos­es of the gene ther­a­py. Ex­ec­u­tives at Voy­ager tell me that they’re heart­ened to see a dose-de­pen­dent re­sponse in a key bio­mark­er on their ther­a­py’s im­pact, with im­prove­ments in hourly “on” times, a drop in “off” times and bet­ter qual­i­ty of liv­ing scores from the 15 pa­tients di­vid­ed in­to three ther­a­peu­tic co­horts.

A low dose of the gene ther­a­py paled in com­par­i­son to the two oth­er co­horts in the study, which did not in­clude a place­bo group.

Voy­ager joined a crowd of biotechs in the win­ners cir­cle on Wall Street this morn­ing, with its shares – up about 10% yes­ter­day – adding an 36% spike Wednes­day.

Voy­ager CEO Steven Paul

“Co­hort 2 con­tin­ues to look great,” Voy­ager CEO Steve Paul tells me. “We need to wait to get Co­hort 3 to 12 months to choose the dose for the piv­otal tri­al.”

But it’s com­ing. And with it, Voy­ager is map­ping plans to ex­e­cute a tri­al that can be used to seek an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval.

There are all sorts of caveats that ap­ply to this da­ta, aside from the lack of a place­bo arm. The num­bers of pa­tients in­volved in this lat­est up­date, which fol­lows the first round of pos­i­tive re­sults from the ear­ly tri­al, re­mains small. A piv­otal will be much more de­mand­ing. And Voy­ager re­searchers — who ear­li­er record­ed a blood clot case in the study — still has to prove that the process can be done com­plete­ly safe­ly.

But now there’s more sol­id da­ta to un­der­score that Voy­ager’s ap­proach has promise, a rare event in Parkin­son’s, one of the tough­est dis­eases in biotech. And they say that a move to in­sert the gene ther­a­py through the back of the head ap­pears safe and eas­i­er to com­plete.

The gene ther­a­py is de­signed to com­plete a sim­ple task. Parkin­son’s pa­tients typ­i­cal­ly re­spond well to lev­odopa to pro­vide the dopamine pa­tients need fol­low­ing the death of neu­rons in the brain. But their re­sponse de­clines, re­quir­ing ever high­er dos­es of lev­odopa with ever di­min­ish­ing re­turns. Voy­ager’s gene ther­a­py in­tro­duces an en­zyme that con­verts lev­odopa to dopamine, and this study un­der­scores that pa­tients were able to get a bet­ter ef­fect with low­er dos­ing — a ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment.

“What we’re do­ing is putting the gene for that en­zyme in neu­rons that are still alive and healthy, ar­ti­fi­cial­ly al­low­ing the brain re­gion to con­tin­ue mak­ing dopamine,” says Paul, a long­time Eli Lil­ly vet be­fore he jumped in­to biotech.

Those dead neu­rons, adds Paul, aren’t com­ing back to life. Voy­ager looks at this as a restora­tive strat­e­gy, which in pri­mates has proved ef­fec­tive 15 years out.

The plan now is to launch a po­ten­tial­ly piv­otal tri­al with 40-42 pa­tients in the first half of next year, point­ing to a pos­si­ble BLA if reg­u­la­tors sign off.

Paul says Voy­ager is right on track dur­ing a key tran­si­tion point for his com­pa­ny, one of a wave of gene ther­a­py biotechs that gained the spot­light in re­cent years. As Di­men­sion’s prob­lems with he­mo­phil­ia B proved, along with its re­cent sale to Re­gen­rx, not all these com­pa­nies will make it through. But Voy­ager is still very much in the game.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Bris­tol-My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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New safe­ty da­ta ex­pose po­ten­tial weak­ness as Pfiz­er's abroc­i­tinib takes on Dupix­ent in eczema

Last September, when Pfizer celebrated positive data from a second Phase III study of abrocitinib, many watchers applauded the efficacy but were still waiting to see whether the JAK1 inhibitor is “safe enough to be a formidable competitor to Dupixent,” the clear leader in the atopic dermatitis field. The full slate of safety data are now out and, according to one analyst, the answer is: probably not.