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.

UP­DAT­ED: A small, ob­scure biotech just won big with their IPO. In this mar­ket. Are you kid­ding me?

How could a small, largely unknown biotech that emerged from stealth mode just months ago with early-stage cancer programs jump onto Wall Street in the middle of a Category 6 financial hurricane and sail through with a $165 million IPO?

And what does that mean for the rest of the industry waiting to see just how much damage global lockdowns will wreak on clinical development?

The biotech is a company called Zentalis. The crew there nabbed an $85 million crossover round late last year — notably waiting 5 years before waving the numbers around to attract attention, according to my read of a FierceBiotech story. Perceptive joined in, but the syndicate was not in general the kind of marquee affair that gets tongues wagging.

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Bob Nelsen at the Milken Institute Global Conference on April 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH chief Bob Nelsen has $1.5B to prove 2 sim­ple points: ‘We’re in the most in­no­v­a­tive time ever’ and in­vestors are stay­ing

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Two new funds, ARCH Venture Fund X and ARCH Venture Fund X Overage, gathered a combined $1.46 billion. And that’s a record. ARCH Venture Fund IX and ARCH Venture Fund IX Overage closed in 2016 with a combined $1.1 billion. ARCH Venture Fund VIII and ARCH Venture Fund VIII Overage closed in 2014 with a combined $560 million.

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After providing an emergency approval to use malaria drugs against coronavirus with little actual evidence of their efficacy or safety in that setting, the FDA has already proven that it has set aside the gold standard when it comes to the pandemic. And now regulators have spelled out a new approach to speeding development that promises immediate responses in no uncertain terms — promising a program offering the ultimate high-speed pathway to Covid-19 drug approvals.

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Back in the BP era — Before Pandemic — the FDA ripped Novartis for its decision to keep the agency in the dark about manipulated data used in its application for Zolgensma while its marketing application for the gene therapy was under review.

Civil and criminal sanctions were being discussed, the agency noted in a rare broadside at one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Notable lawmakers cheered the angry regulators on, urging the FDA to make an example of Novartis, which fielded Zolgensma at $2.1 million — the current record for a one-off therapy.

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Following in the footsteps of a lineup of big players like Eli Lilly — which has suspended patient recruitment for drug studies — Amgen and GSK have opted to take a more tailored approach. Amgen is intent on circling the wagons around key studies that are already fully enrolled, and GSK has the red light on new studies while the pandemic plays out.

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Amarin had been fighting to keep key patents under lock and key — and away from generic rivals — for another 10 years, but District Court Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas ruled against the biotech. She ruled that:
(A)ll the Asserted Claims are invalid as obvious under 35 U.S.C.§ 103. Thus, the Court finds in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s remaining infringementclaim, and in their favor on their counterclaims asserting the invalidity of the AssertedClaims under 35 U.S.C. § 103.

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In­vest­ing in the time of coro­n­avirus: the good, the bad and the hope­ful, as biotech VC firms close funds worth $3B

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Drug dis­cov­ery in the age of coro­n­avirus

Developing new drugs is incredibly hard. That’s why, despite superhuman efforts from the industry, we’re still looking at 12-18 months minimum before we can realistically hope for a vaccine for Covid-19, and probably months before there’s a proven viable drug treatment.

But our increasing ability to begin to industrialize the drug discovery and development process through an engineering approach means that we have more hope for speeding up this process than ever before — and not just to defeat coronavirus, but to benefit the development of all new medicines in the future.