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.

Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; and more

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Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

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Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

Ying Huang, Legend CEO

J&J, Leg­end say Carvyk­ti beat stan­dard ther­a­py in ear­li­er-line blood can­cer

J&J and Legend Biotech’s next step in turning their CAR-T therapy Carvykti into a potential megablockbuster has succeeded, the companies said Friday.

Carvykti achieved the primary endpoint — progression-free survival — in an open-label Phase III study testing the treatment in second- to fourth-line multiple myeloma patients. The CARTITUDE-4 trial, for which there aren’t any hard data yet, represents the biggest development for Carvykti’s ability to compete with Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abecma since its approval last February.

No­var­tis' ap­proved sick­le cell dis­ease drug fails to beat place­bo in PhI­II

Novartis’ sickle cell drug, approved in 2019 and branded as Adakveo, has failed an ongoing Phase III, according to preliminary results.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled early data from the ongoing STAND Phase III study on Friday, saying that crizanlizumab showed no statistically significant difference between the drug at two different dose levels compared to placebo in annualized rates of vaso-occlusive crises that lead to a healthcare visit over the first year since being randomized into the trial.

Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

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FDA ap­proves an­oth­er in­di­ca­tion for Keytru­da, this time in the ad­ju­vant NSCLC set­ting

Merck’s blockbuster cancer treatment Keytruda has been handed another indication by the FDA.

The US regulator announced on Thursday that it has approved Keytruda to serve as an adjuvant treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which is its fifth indication in NSCLC and 34th indication overall.

According to a Merck release, the approval is based on data from a Phase III trial, dubbed Keynote-091, which measured disease-free survival in patients who received chemotherapy following surgery. The data from Merck displayed that Keytruda cut down on the risk of disease recurrence or death by 27% versus placebo.

Steve Harr, Sana Biotechnology CEO

Four years in, Sana gets first FDA go-ahead to bring can­cer treat­ment in­to the clin­ic

Sana Biotechnology is finally headed to the clinic.

Thursday afternoon, the biotech announced the FDA had cleared its application to start a clinical trial for its allogeneic, or “off-the-shelf,” CAR-T cell therapy targeting the antigen CD19 for patients with B-cell lymphomas and leukemias. Sana said its therapy, dubbed SC291, was designed to evade the immune system, which could help cell therapy produce a more durable response in patients, a concern that has followed such off-the-shelf therapies that use donor cells as opposed to a patient’s own cells.

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Dutch biotech starts liq­ui­da­tion af­ter end­ing PhI­II in GVHD

A 13-year-old Dutch biotech is going through a liquidation process after an unexpected end to its Phase III trial testing whether its combination of two monoclonal antibodies was superior to Incyte’s Jakafi.

Xenikos had hoped to prove its investigational therapy, named T-Guard, was better than Jakafi at garnering a complete response in patients experiencing life-threatening complications in which new cells from a hematopoietic stem cell transplant begin to fight the body. Jakafi was approved for the indication, steroid-refractory acute graft-versus-host disease, in May 2019.

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