Win­ners and losers at #EHA18: Shares most­ly slide as da­ta from a range of promi­nent biotechs fail to wow in­vestors

News is pour­ing out of Stock­holm, Swe­den Fri­day morn­ing as the an­nu­al meet­ing for the Eu­ro­pean Hema­tol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion gets ful­ly un­der­way. The con­fer­ence, which at­tracts some­thing like 10,000 hema­tol­o­gists, is on its sec­ond day — and many of this year’s news­mak­ers are work­ing in the com­pet­i­tive field of blood can­cers.

Blue­bird ar­rived with their lat­est in­cre­men­tal up­date on Lenti­Glo­bin, with da­ta from sev­er­al stud­ies, but it couldn’t hold on to ear­ly gains to­day as the crowd of on­look­ers played tough with the biotech shares on the line to­day. You can see the full sto­ry on blue­bird here; the sum­ma­ry of the rest lies be­low:

Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics — ↓ 19%

Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics $GBT came in­to the EHA meet­ing look­ing to de-risk its up­com­ing Phase III study re­sults, but stum­bled bad­ly in com­par­i­son with blue­bird bio. Its shares skid­ded 19% low­er as in­vestors com­pared the biotech’s less fa­vor­able clin­i­cal im­pact of 900 mg dose of vox­elo­tor on sick­le cell dis­ease.

Ted Love

The key points: 43% of pa­tients (9 of 21) achieved a he­mo­glo­bin re­sponse >1 g/dL at 24 weeks with a me­di­an he­mo­glo­bin change from base­line of 0.7 g/dL. Re­duced dai­ly symp­toms at 24 weeks as as­sessed by to­tal symp­tom scores (TSS), which im­proved in 13 of 21 pa­tients. 

Their Phase III HOPE Study is eval­u­at­ing vox­elo­tor at 900 mg and 1500 mg per day. And re­searchers “con­tin­ue to ex­pect to an­nounce top-line clin­i­cal da­ta from Part A of the HOPE study by the end of this quar­ter,” says CEO Ted Love. 

That’s right around the cor­ner.

→ Epizyme — ↓ 5%

De­spite be­ing slapped with a clin­i­cal hold ear­li­er this year on its lead ther­a­py tazeme­to­stat, Epizyme $EPZM is trot­ting out up­dat­ed da­ta on the drug that might give in­vestors hope. The da­ta are from a Phase II study test­ing tazeme­to­stat against fol­lic­u­lar lym­phoma with wild-type or mu­tant EZH2 genes. In­vestors were hop­ing to see the drug show con­tin­ued re­sponse rates, and Roth an­a­lyst Jotin Marango said to look for re­sponse rates above 70%.

And the Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny came through — at least par­tial­ly. The EZH2 mu­tant group had a 71% over­all re­sponse rate, with 11% achiev­ing a com­plete re­sponse and 61% hav­ing a par­tial re­sponse. None of the pa­tients’ dis­ease pro­gressed and their me­di­an du­ra­tion of re­sponse was 32 weeks. But it’s im­por­tant to note that the clin­i­cal tri­al hold pre­vent­ed Epizyme from re­cruit­ing pa­tients to the mu­tant group, and that set of pa­tients start­ed treat­ment lat­er than the wild-type group.

The wild-type group had a low­er ORR of 33%, with 6% and 28% hav­ing com­plete and par­tial re­spons­es re­spec­tive­ly. The me­di­an du­ra­tion of re­sponse was 76 weeks.

Af­fimed — ↓ 14%

Af­fimed $AFMD had one of the worst morn­ings for EHA, with its shares tum­bling more than 15% on its re­lease of ear­ly-stage da­ta on AFM13, its lead NK cell en­gager can­di­date.

Re­searchers are pur­su­ing stud­ies us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of Af­fimed’s drug with Keytru­da in Hodgkin lym­phoma af­ter the fail­ure of Bren­tux­imab Ve­dotin. And they fo­cused in on the top dose re­sponse, where they had an ORR of 89%, hit­ting the mark with 16 of 18 pa­tients.

Stephen Ansell, prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the study, not­ed: 

“Im­por­tant­ly, these da­ta have shown that AFM13 can be safe­ly ad­min­is­tered in com­bi­na­tion with Keytru­da and has the po­ten­tial to im­prove pa­tient out­comes.”

It wasn’t enough to win over the skep­tics, though.

Karyopharm — 2%

Karyopharm $KP­TI shares edged up just 3.6% this morn­ing, but af­ter the big spike from six weeks ago on mid-stage da­ta for se­linex­or, not los­ing ground could be con­sid­ered a step for­ward. 

In pa­tients whose mul­ti­ple myelo­ma was pro­tea­some in­hibitor (PI) naïve, there was a me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival time of 17.8 months for the com­bo arm, which added dex and Vel­cade. The ORR was 84%. In PI re­frac­to­ry pa­tients, those num­bers dropped to 6.1 months and 43%.

Sharon Shacham

Karyopharm CSO Sharon Shacham not­ed: 

“Based on the pos­i­tive STOMP re­sults re­port­ed to date, we have ini­ti­at­ed a new all-oral STOMP arm to in­ves­ti­gate se­linex­or plus Revlim­id and dex in the front-line set­ting.  Giv­en the ob­served syn­er­gis­tic ac­tiv­i­ty of se­linex­or with stan­dard ap­proved myelo­ma ther­a­pies, we be­lieve oral se­linex­or has the po­ten­tial to be a fu­ture back­bone ther­a­py in myelo­ma, and we look for­ward to elu­ci­dat­ing its ac­tiv­i­ty as part of a front-line treat­ment reg­i­men.”

BeiGene — ↑ 0.2%

BeiGene $BGNE says it will be ready to file for an ap­proval of zanubru­ti­nib in Chi­na lat­er this year as they of­fer up an ear­ly snap­shot of da­ta for Walden­ström macroglob­u­line­mia. Re­searchers say that 43% of the evalu­able pa­tients achieved a very good par­tial re­sponse. And they added da­ta from the 86-pa­tient sin­gle-arm piv­otal Phase II study of zanubru­ti­nib in Chi­nese pa­tients with re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry man­tle cell lym­phoma, with an over­all re­sponse rate (ORR) of 84 per­cent — and a 59% com­plete re­sponse rate. A US ap­pli­ca­tion is ex­pect­ed next year. Its stock was in the green this morn­ing, but just bare­ly.

→ Blue­print Med­i­cines — ↓ 5%

Six months af­ter pre­sent­ing some promis­ing Phase I da­ta at ASH, Blue­print Med­i­cines $BPMC rolled out up­dat­ed re­sults from its on­go­ing study of avapri­tinib. The drug, for­mer­ly coined as BLU-285, is be­ing test­ed as a treat­ment for sys­temic mas­to­cys­to­sis. Back in De­cem­ber, the com­pa­ny pre­sent­ed an over­all re­sponse rate of 72%, which rock­et­ed the com­pa­ny’s shares up 26% at the time.

In the up­dat­ed look pre­sent­ed to­day at EHA, Blue­print an­nounced an ORR of 83%. That be­ing said, 21% of pa­tients ap­pear to have dropped out of the tri­al through­out its 22-month course. The com­pa­ny plans to launch an open-la­bel, sin­gle-arm Phase II tri­al in the in­di­ca­tion in mid-2018.

→ Ar­Qule — ↓ 3%

Bri­an Schwartz

Back to back late-stage fail­ures had ham­mered Ar­Qule’s stock prices $AR­QL last year, and the very pre­lim­i­nary hu­man da­ta on its BTK in­hibitor com­ing out to­day are not help­ing.

The Phase I dose es­ca­la­tion study of ARQ 531 was con­duct­ed among a group of 11 pa­tients rep­re­sent­ing re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry chron­ic lym­pho­cyt­ic leukemia (CLL), small lym­pho­cyt­ic leukemia (SLL), Walden­strom’s macro­glo­bine­mia and B-cell Non-Hodgkin lym­phoma. Ar­Qule re­ports “an­ti-tu­mor ac­tiv­i­ty at all dose lev­els” — 5mg, 10mg, and 15mg — and plans to con­tin­ue push­ing the dose lim­it since no rel­e­vant tox­i­c­i­ties or drug-re­lat­ed se­vere ad­verse events were ob­served. On­ly four of the 11, how­ev­er, are still on the treat­ment, with oth­ers drop­ping out ei­ther be­cause of pro­gres­sion, physi­cian’s de­ci­sion or un­avail­able da­ta.

The ob­served tu­mor re­duc­tion rates came in at 35% for 5mg, 33% for 10mg, and 29% for 15mg dos­es, call­ing the dose-re­sponse re­la­tion­ship in­to ques­tion. The 29% re­duc­tion was ob­served in a 69 years old pa­tient with CLL/SLL with BTK C481S mu­ta­tion — who had re­ceived five pri­or sys­temic reg­i­mens — af­ter eight weeks.

Mean­while Bri­an Schwartz, CMO and head of R&D, main­tains that the re­sults show the drug’s po­ten­tial to be­come an op­tion for pa­tients with B-cell ma­lig­nan­cies, es­pe­cial­ly those with C481S-me­di­at­ed re­sis­tance to ir­re­versible BTK in­hibitors. The bio­mark­er ap­proach is a hall­mark of Ar­Qule de­vel­op­ment pro­grams, though it has not worked well so far, with dis­as­trous Phase III flops in 2012, 2013 and 2017. 

Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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UP­DAT­ED: No­vavax her­alds the lat­est pos­i­tive snap­shot of ear­ly-stage Covid-19 vac­cine — so why did its stock briefly crater?

High-flying Novavax $NVAX became the latest of the Covid-19 vaccine players to stake out a positive set of biomarker data from its early-stage look at its vaccine in humans.

Their adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine was “well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody responses numerically superior to that seen in human convalescent sera,” the company noted. According to the biotech:

All subjects developed anti-spike IgG antibodies after a single dose of vaccine, many of them also developing wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses, and after Dose 2, 100% of participants developed wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses. Both anti-spike IgG and viral neutralization responses compared favorably to responses from patients with clinically significant COVID‑19 disease. Importantly, the IgG antibody response was highly correlated with neutralization titers, demonstrating that a significant proportion of antibodies were functional.

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Sean Nolan and RA Session II

Less than 3 months af­ter launch, the AveX­is crew’s Taysha rais­es $95M Se­ries B. Is an IPO next?

The old AveXis team is moving quickly in Dallas.

Three months ago, they launched Taysha with $30 million in Series A funding and a pipeline of gene therapies out of UT Southwestern. Now, they’ve announced an oversubscribed $95 million Series B. And the biotech is declining all interview requests on the news, the kind of broad silence that can indicate an IPO is in the pipeline.

Biotechs, including those relatively fresh off launch, have been going public at a frenzy since the pandemic began. Investors have showed a willingness to put upwards of $200 million to companies that have yet to bring a drug into the clinic. Still, if Taysha were to go public in the near future, it would be perhaps the shortest path from launch to IPO in recent biotech memory.

J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a prospec­tive moth­er­lode of Covid-19 vac­cine rev­enue — will a back­lash fol­low?

Moderna shows no sign of slowing down, or turning charitable when it comes to pricing supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine.

One of the leaders in the Phase III race to get a Covid-19 vaccine across the finish line in record time, Moderna says it’s on track to complete enrollment in one of the most avidly watched studies in the world next month. And the biotech has already banked some $400 million in deposits for vaccine supply as it works through negotiations with countries around the world — as CEO Stéphane Bancel sets out to hire a commercial team.

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Covid-19 roundup: J&J and BAR­DA agree to $1 bil­lion for 100 mil­lion dos­es; Plas­ma re­duces mor­tal­i­ty by 50% — re­ports

J&J has become the latest vaccine developer to agree to supply BARDA with doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, signing an agreement that will give the government 100 million doses in exchange for $1 billion in funding.

The agreement, similar to those signed by Novavax, Sanofi and AstraZeneca-Oxford, provides funding not only for individual doses but to help J&J ramp up manufacturing. Pfizer, by contrast, received $1.95 billion for the doses alone. Still, if one looked at each agreement as purchase amounts, J&J’s deal would be $10 per dose, slotting in between Novavax’s $16 per dose and AstraZeneca’s $4 per dose.

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RA, No­var­tis back Gen­tiBio's seed round, plans to launch de­vel­op­ment of En­gTreg ther­a­pies

Boston, MA-based startup GentiBio landed a $20 million seed fund from three investors to dive into engineered regulatory T cell (EngTreg) development.

Marquee investors OrbiMed, Novartis Venture Fund and RA Capital Management have backed GentiBio’s mission to develop EngTregs for the treatment of autoimmune, alloimmune, autoinflammatory, and allergic diseases. Unlike other companies studying treatments using a patient’s own Tregs, GentiBio plans to make use of CD4+ immune cells, found in the blood.

Paul Laikind, ViaCyte CEO

Stem cell play­er Vi­a­Cyte ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gore to de­vel­op sub­cu­ta­neous di­a­betes treat­ment

Longtime stem cell player ViaCyte has teamed up with a materials science company in an effort to solve immunosuppression challenges and advance its type 1 diabetes treatments.

Expanding on an existing collaboration, ViaCyte and W.L. Gore have agreed to combine the biotech’s PEC-Encap candidate with a Gore-produced membrane in what they hope will eliminate the need for immunosuppressive drugs. Such treatments have created foreign body responses in the past, and stamping these reactions out is the main goal, ViaCyte CEO Paul Laikind said.

My­ovant lands a fresh $200M loan as FDA mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion looms; Amarin goes it alone in Eu­rope

Myovant is getting ready to roll out its commercial operations to back relugolix, now under FDA review for prostate cancer.

The startup has added a fresh $200 million in support from Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, which controls a majority of the stock $MYOV. Sumitomo is handing the cash over as a loan, bringing its total to $600 million. Myovant — which is gearing up for a showdown with AbbVie — has also filed an NDA to sell relugolix for uterine fibroids and recently posted positive late-stage data for endometriosis.