Warts for the win: Aclar­is' lead drug clears piv­otal study

Aclaris Ther­a­peu­tics has found a way to get rid of the warts and all.

The com­pa­ny — which ear­li­er this month de­cid­ed to fo­cus on its ar­se­nal of ki­nase in­hibitors — on Mon­day un­veiled pos­i­tive da­ta from a piv­otal study test­ing its lead ex­per­i­men­tal drug for use in com­mon warts.

The drug, A-101, was test­ed in a 502-pa­tient study called THWART-2 — pa­tients en­rolled had one to six warts be­fore qual­i­fy­ing for the tri­al. Pa­tients ei­ther self-ad­min­is­tered A-101 top­i­cal so­lu­tion or a ve­hi­cle twice a week over a two-month pe­ri­od. A high­er pro­por­tion of pa­tients on the drug (a po­tent hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide top­i­cal so­lu­tion) saw their warts dis­ap­pear at day 60, ver­sus the ve­hi­cle (p<0.0001) — meet­ing the main goal of the study.  Each sec­ondary end­point al­so emerged in fa­vor of A-101, the com­pa­ny said.

Shares of the Wayne, Penn­syl­va­nia-based com­pa­ny $ACRS soared about 65.5% to $1.82 in pre­mar­ket trad­ing on Fri­day.

An­oth­er late-stage tri­al in com­mon warts is on­go­ing, and da­ta are ex­pect­ed in the fourth quar­ter.

“Giv­en no FDA ap­proved treat­ments for com­mon warts, which im­pacts 22M Amer­i­cans each year, it seems that there would be a rel­a­tive­ly ‘low bar’ for A-101 45% to re­ceive ap­proval, as­sum­ing the con­fir­ma­to­ry Ph3 THWART-1 da­ta al­so reads out pos­i­tive­ly,” Jef­feries an­a­lysts wrote in a note.

“With on­ly topline in­for­ma­tion, it is dif­fi­cult to com­pare to the pri­or A-101 Ph2 datasets as well as VR­CA’s re­cent­ly re­port­ed Ph2 da­ta for VP-102 in treat­ing com­mon warts.”

Ver­ri­ca Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $VR­CA ear­li­er this year dis­closed pos­i­tive da­ta from an open-la­bel mid-stage study test­ing its drug, VP-102, in pa­tients with up to six warts. Da­ta skewed in fa­vor of VP-102 on the pri­ma­ry end­point of com­plete clear­ance of all treat­able warts at day 84, as well as the sec­ondary goal of the per­cent­age re­duc­tion of warts. The top­i­cal ther­a­py com­pris­es a so­lu­tion of 0.7% can­tharidin — a blis­ter-in­duc­ing agent se­cret­ed by cer­tain bee­tles — which was his­tor­i­cal­ly used as an aphro­disi­ac. Top­i­cal can­tharidin has been used on warts and mol­lus­cum since the 1950s, al­though the chem­i­cal lost FDA ap­proval in 1962 af­ter man­u­fac­tur­ers failed to fur­nish ad­e­quate ev­i­dence sup­port­ing its ef­fi­ca­cy.

Weeks ago, Aclaris con­clud­ed a strate­gic re­view of its busi­ness — re­solv­ing to fo­cus its re­sources on its im­muno-in­flam­ma­to­ry pipeline (en­com­pass­ing ATI-450, ATI-1777 and oth­er pre­clin­i­cal drug can­di­dates). It is now look­ing for part­ners on its com­mer­cial busi­ness: Rosacea treat­ment Rhophade and se­b­or­rhe­ic ker­atoses ther­a­py Es­ka­ta. In ad­di­tion, the com­pa­ny is al­so seek­ing part­ners for a tri­fec­ta of ther­a­pies in de­vel­op­ment — ex­per­i­men­tal warts drug A-101, as well as the in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al alope­cia treat­ments ATI-501 (oral) and ATI-502 (top­i­cal).

As a re­sult, the com­pa­ny an­nounced 86 lay­offs. The re­struc­tur­ing is ex­pect­ed to keep the lights on un­til the third quar­ter of 2021.

“While we hold the mgt team in high re­gard as thought lead­ers in der­ma­tol­ogy, the com­pa­ny has ex­e­cut­ed poor­ly over the past year (e.g., botched Es­ka­ta launch, mixed clin­i­cal da­ta for the JAK alope­cia pro­grams)…” Jef­feries an­a­lysts said in a note dat­ed Sep­tem­ber 6.

In June, the com­pa­ny suf­fered a set­back af­ter a mid-stage study test­ing ATI-502 failed to im­prove scalp hair cov­er­age, which crushed its stock. Aclaris paid Rigel Phar­ma $8 mil­lion up­front in 2017 for glob­al li­cens­es to both ATI-501 and ATI-502.

The dis­clo­sure came days af­ter the FDA rep­ri­mand­ed the com­pa­ny for mak­ing “false or mis­lead­ing claims” in a pro­mo­tion­al video for Es­ka­ta.

“That said, we see val­ue in the cur­rent cap­i­tal­iza­tion. Look­ing ahead, with a sub $40M mar­ket val­ue (trad­ing at ~0.45x net cash), ACRS shares could re­bound if mgt can ex­e­cute on its re­vamped strat­e­gy,” the an­a­lysts added.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Gossamer Bio CEO Faheem Hasnain at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Gos­samer’s Fa­heem Has­nain de­fends a round of pos­i­tive PAH da­ta as a clear win. But can these PhII re­sults stand up to scruti­ny?

Gossamer Bio $GOSS posted a statistically significant improvement for its primary endpoint in the key Phase II TORREY trial for lead drug seralutinib on Tuesday morning. But CEO Faheem Hasnain has some explaining to do on the important secondary of the crucial six-minute walk distance test — which will be the primary endpoint in Phase III — as the data on both endpoints fell short of expectations, missing one analyst’s bar on even modest success.

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Kristen Hege, Bristol Myers Squibb SVP, early clinical development, oncology/hematology and cell therapy (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: Bris­tol My­er­s' Kris­ten Hege on cell ther­a­py, can­cer pa­tients and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

Kristen Hege leads Bristol Myers Squibb’s early oncology discovery program carrying on from the same work at Celgene, which was acquired by BMS in 2019. She’s known for her early work in CAR-T, having pioneered the first CAR-T cell trial for solid tumors more than 25 years ago.

However, the eminent physician-scientist is more than just a drug developer mastermind. She’s also a practicing physician, mother to two young women, an avid backpacker and intersecting all those interests — a champion of young women and people of color in STEM and life sciences.

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US sup­ports ex­ten­sion for Covid-19 IP waiv­er de­ci­sion

After much debate, the US government is now calling for a deadline extension to discuss a controversial potential IP waiver for Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.

Over the last five months, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said it has consulted with members of Congress, public health advocates, organized labor groups, academics, think tanks, companies and trade associations on the WTO’s recent TRIPS agreement, which established a 5-year waiver of certain patent requirements on Covid-19 vaccines.

Sum­i­to­vant sub­sidiaries En­zy­vant and Al­ta­vant merge in­to com­bined com­pa­ny

Two Sumitovant Biopharma entities are merging under one name, effective immediately.

Enzyvant Therapeutics and Altavant Sciences announced they have merged to form a singular entity focused on developing therapies for patients with rare diseases. The combined company will keep the name Enzyvant and along with clinical development will eventually include in-house manufacturing.

Bill Symonds, the current CEO of both Altavant and Enzyvant, is now CEO of the merged company.

Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion lays ground­work to un­wind Il­lu­mi­na's $7B+ Grail merg­er

The European Commission has recommended steps that — though not yet final — would require Illumina to “swiftly” unwind its controversial $7.1 billion Grail buyout.

The Commission delivered a “statement of objections” on Monday, detailing the process Illumina would need to take in divesting Grail, its blood testing spinout launched in 2016. Illumina re-acquired Grail back in August, despite criticism from both the FTC and EU.

Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Phar­mas lay off Twit­ter ads for an­oth­er week; WPP un­cov­ers LGBTQ+ mar­ket­ing find­ings

When Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk tweeted this weekend, “Just a note to thank advertisers for returning to Twitter,” he likely wasn’t talking about big pharma companies. The vast majority of the top spending pharma advertisers had not returned last week, according to updated tracking data Pathmatic for Endpoints News.

Only three pharma advertisers spent any money at all, which is about the same as the past several weeks. AstraZeneca rejoined the active advertiser list, although at $700 spent hardly worth a personal Musk expression of gratitude. GSK remained active with $3,500 spent ad much lower than its previous spending, according to the Pathmatics data. Only Bayer spent any significant amount in advertising, with $244,000 spent last week, but that’s a considerable drop from almost $500,000 spent on OTC, prescription and corporate Twitter ads in each of the previous two weeks.

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Bob Duggan, Summit Therapeutics co-CEO

Bounc­ing from ma­jor set­back, Sum­mit hands out $500M cash for can­cer drug — thanks to a loan from bil­lion­aire CEO

After hitting a dead end with Summit Therapeutics’ lead program, Bob Duggan has found the drug that he believes will usher into a compelling second act. So compelling, in fact, that it involves $500 million cash — and he’s taking money out of his own pocket to fund the deal.

Striking a partnership with Akeso Therapeutics out of China, Summit is bringing in a bispecific antibody that blocks both PD-1 and VEGF called ivonescimab. Akeso, which has a PD-1/CTLA-4 bispecific approved in China, has already taken ivonescimab into multiple clinical trials, including a Phase III in lung cancer.

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