Wel­come Imfinzi: As­traZeneca crash­es the check­point par­ty late with a green light for dur­val­um­ab

And then there were 5.

The FDA hand­ed out its lat­est ap­proval for a PD-L1 check­point in­hibitor on Mon­day af­ter­noon, giv­ing a green light to As­traZeneca to start sell­ing dur­val­um­ab as Imfinzi as a sec­ond-line ther­a­py for metasta­t­ic urothe­lial car­ci­no­ma.

Pas­cal So­ri­ot

The reg­u­la­to­ry OK comes in the wake of ap­provals for Mer­ck, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, Roche/Genen­tech and Pfiz­er/Mer­ck KGaA. The bi­ol­o­gy of these new check­point drugs is well un­der­stood now, and the FDA is­sued its ap­proval af­ter a rel­a­tive­ly small, sin­gle-arm study.

Reg­u­la­tors waved this one through af­ter giv­ing dur­val­um­ab a break­through drug des­ig­na­tion and pri­or­i­ty re­view, even though its the third ap­proval for a check­point ther­a­py in blad­der can­cer.

Dur­val­um­ab’s longterm suc­cess is cru­cial to the fu­ture of As­traZeneca and CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot. Billed as a block­buster-to-be, fol­low­ing a com­mer­cial trail al­ready clear­ly laid out, the big show­down for As­traZeneca comes lat­er in the year, when it rolls out late-stage da­ta on a com­bi­na­tion of its check­point com­bo in its MYS­TIC study, which match­es dur­val­um­ab with treme­li­mum­ab, a CT­LA-4 sim­i­lar to Yer­voy, for lung can­cer.

The ju­ry is still out, though, on how well a CT­LA-4 drug — with all its at­ten­dant tox­i­c­i­ty — will do in this field. That’s one rea­son why Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb re­cent­ly inked a deal with Cy­tomX on a next-gen CT­LA-4 that might prove far bet­ter for pa­tients.

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez at Leerink not­ed some mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions on this first ap­proval. The up­side lies fur­ther down the road.

Al­though this in­di­ca­tion rep­re­sents a rel­a­tive­ly small op­por­tu­ni­ty for AZN (we fore­cast Imfinzi cap­tur­ing 10% of our es­ti­mat­ed ~$2.3B WW blad­der can­cer mar­ket), the ap­proval will al­low the agent to be­come more fa­mil­iar with on­col­o­gists and should help fa­cil­i­tate fu­ture sBLAs for drug. The ma­jor in­di­ca­tion for Imfinzi re­mains first-line (1L) non-small cell lung can­cer (NSCLC) and we await top-line da­ta from the Phase 3 MYS­TIC tri­al in com­bi­na­tion with treme­li­mum­ab (an­ti-CT­LA-4) ex­pect­ed in mid-2017.

As­traZeneca, mean­while, raised a red flag last week when it de­layed its third-line read­out in the ARC­TIC study of the duo, spurring some sus­pi­cions that it was on track to a trou­bling fail­ure that would have raised se­ri­ous doubts about its fu­ture in the field.

The oth­er ques­tion that many of us have is how many of these PD-1/PD-L1 check­points can be ap­proved be­fore they start slic­ing and dic­ing this mar­ket in­to ever small­er bites. A range of sec­ond-wave check­points are in de­vel­op­ment now, with every­one that’s fi­nanced well enough and in­ter­est­ed in it go­ing af­ter one of their own.

That group in­cludes In­cyte, which has been part­ner­ing with the main­stream check­points in nonex­clu­sive arrange­ments. And the main play­ers, like Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers, are al­ready well along with their own com­bi­na­tion tri­als. Hun­dreds of them.

The ap­proval, though, marks a big win for As­traZeneca, which has made sig­nif­i­cant progress on the on­col­o­gy front in the last few years. They had to have this one to re­main a cred­i­ble ri­val. And they got it.

The FDA has been on a drug ap­proval spree over the last few days. This is the fifth OK for a new chem­i­cal en­ti­ty in the last three work­ing days, bring­ing the year-to-date to­tal to 19. Last year, which saw a big dip in ap­provals, the FDA ap­proved a to­tal of 22 new drugs.

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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Dave Barrett, Brian Chee, Amir Nashat, Amy Schulman. Polaris

Bob Langer's first port of call — Po­laris Part­ners — maps $400M for ninth fund

Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.

Right back at you, Pfiz­er: BeiGene and a Pfiz­er spin­out launch a new­co to de­vel­op a MEK/BRAF in­hibitor that could ri­val $11.4B com­bo

A day af­ter Pfiz­er bought Ar­ray and its ap­proved can­cer com­bo, BeiGene and Pfiz­er spin­out Spring­Works have part­nered in launch­ing a new biotech that has an eye on the very same mar­ket the phar­ma gi­ant just paid bil­lions for. And they’re plan­ning on us­ing an ex-Pfiz­er drug to do it.

In a nut­shell, Chi­na’s BeiGene is toss­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal BRAF in­hibitor — BGB-3245, which cov­ers both V600 and non-V600 BRAF mu­ta­tions — for a big stake in a new, joint­ly con­trolled biotech called Map­Kure with Bain-backed Spring­Works.

Sanofi aligns it­self with Google to stream­line drug de­vel­op­ment

Tech­nol­o­gy is bleed­ing in­to health­care, and big phar­ma is rid­ing the wave. Sanofi $SNY ap­point­ed its first chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer this Feb­ru­ary, fol­low­ing the foot­steps of its peers. By May, the French drug­mak­er and some of its big phar­ma com­pa­tri­ots joined forces with Google par­ent Al­pha­bet’s Ver­i­ly unit to aug­ment clin­i­cal tri­al re­search. On Tues­day, the Parisian com­pa­ny tied up with Google to ac­cess its cloud com­put­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech to spur the de­vel­op­ment of new ther­a­pies.

Af­ter watch­ing its share price soar on a Bloomberg re­port and heat­ed ru­mors, Bio­haven stock takes a bil­lion-dol­lar bath

Back in April, Biohaven Pharmaceutical became one hot biotech stock $BHVN based on a report in Bloomberg that some “potential bidders” had been kicking the tires at the biotech, which has a lead drug for migraines. Then the rumor mill really started to smoke when execs canceled a presentation at an investor conference a little more than a week ago.

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