With sparse R&D prospects, In­cyte bets $900M on Mor­phoSys' CAR-T ri­val taf­a­sita­m­ab

Hav­ing suf­fered a string of pipeline set­backs in re­cent years, In­cyte is rein­vig­o­rat­ing its R&D prospects with a pact to de­vel­op and mar­ket Mor­phoSys’ an­ti-CD19 an­ti­body taf­a­sita­m­ab, a drug be­ing primed as an al­lur­ing al­ter­na­tive to the ex­ist­ing CAR-T ther­a­pies Kym­ri­ah and Yescar­ta in pa­tients with a com­mon, treat­ment-re­sis­tant form of non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma.

Un­der the deal, Mor­phoSys and In­cyte will co-com­mer­cial­ize taf­a­sita­m­ab in the Unit­ed States, while In­cyte has ex­clu­sive com­mer­cial­iza­tion rights out­side the re­gion. For these rights, In­cyte is giv­ing Mor­phoSys an up­front pay­ment of $750 mil­lion as well as mak­ing an eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment worth $150 mil­lion in the com­pa­ny. The Ger­man drug­mak­er is al­so el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive mile­stone pay­ments of up to $1.1 bil­lion, in ad­di­tion to roy­al­ties.

Mor­phoSys ex­pects the FDA to make its de­ci­sion on taf­a­sita­m­ab, or MOR208, for use in pa­tients with re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma (DL­B­CL) by mid-2020.

The ap­pli­ca­tion to mar­ket the drug was based on da­ta that showed taf­a­sita­m­ab, in com­bi­na­tion with lenalido­mide, in­duced me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival of 12.1 months, with a me­di­an du­ra­tion of re­sponse at 21.7 months. The over­all re­sponse rate among 80 pa­tients was 60%, with a for­mi­da­ble 43% com­plete re­sponse rate.

It will com­pete with No­var­tis’ Kym­ri­ah — which se­cured ap­proval for DL­B­CL in 2018 based on an over­all re­sponse rate of 50%, and a com­plete re­sponse rate of 32% in 68 evalu­able pa­tients — al­though its adop­tion has been plagued by man­u­fac­tur­ing prob­lems, mak­ing way for Gilead’s Yescar­ta to deep­er pen­e­trate the CAR-T mar­ket. Taf­a­sita­m­ab — which has been be­stowed with the FDA’s break­through ther­a­py sta­tus — is a gar­den va­ri­ety an­ti­body un­like the two CAR-T ther­a­pies, which re­quire an elab­o­rate per­son­al­ized man­u­fac­tur­ing process (cells are iso­lat­ed from the pa­tient, ma­nip­u­lat­ed in the lab by adding chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tors to di­rect T cells to snuff out can­cer cells and then re-in­fused in­to the pa­tient).

The two part­ners are al­so plan­ning to co-de­vel­op taf­a­sita­m­ab in oth­er DL­B­CL in­di­ca­tions, as well as fol­lic­u­lar lym­phoma (FL), mar­gin­al zone lym­phoma (MZL) and chron­ic lym­pho­cyt­ic leukemia (CLL).

In 2019, Mor­phoSys saw some top man­age­ment changes and some re­or­ga­ni­za­tion as the com­pa­ny pre­pared for taf­a­sita­m­ab’s loom­ing ap­proval. When the com­pa­ny’s 17-year vet­er­an Markus En­zel­berg­er de­part­ed from his post as chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, the com­pa­ny’s re­search arm was merged in­to the de­vel­op­ment di­vi­sion un­der chief Malte Pe­ters. CEO Si­mon Mo­roney al­so un­veiled plans he would step aside — he was re­placed by Jean-Paul Kress, the for­mer CEO of Boston’s Syn­tim­mune, which was swal­lowed by Alex­ion.

The Mor­phoSys deal is key for In­cyte — ear­li­er this month the drug­mak­er’s ex­per­i­men­tal itac­i­tinib failed a piv­otal study, dubbed GRAV­I­TAS-301, in first-line acute graft vs host dis­ease.

“While itac­i­tinib did not rep­re­sent a ma­jor fun­da­men­tal dri­ver of val­ue in our mod­el, ~ $5/share, we be­lieve the fail­ure of GRAV­I­TAS-301, which fol­lows three pri­or high pro­file pipeline dis­ap­point­ments in four years (Jakafi in sol­id tu­mors, epaca­do­stat, and Olu­mi­ant), may lead some in­vestors to ques­tion the com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty to con­sis­tent­ly gen­er­ate val­ue from R&D in­vest­ment,” SVB Leerink An­drew Berens wrote in a note in ear­ly Jan­u­ary.

In­cyte for years has leaned on its flag­ship JAK in­hibitor Jakafi, which se­cured about $1.2 bil­lion in sales in the first three quar­ters of 2019.

“We be­lieve this is a sol­id deal, as the tafa pro­file ap­pears to be the best-in-class CD19/CD20 for the treat­ment of R/R dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma (DL­B­CL), giv­en the to­tal­i­ty da­ta of ef­fi­ca­cy, safe­ty, and treat­ment con­ve­nience. While the deal could so­lid­i­fy IN­CY’s pipeline and fur­ther di­ver­si­fy rev­enue, we be­lieve the deal may dis­ap­point some in­vestors who are look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tive deal to strate­gi­cal­ly ex­tend the Jakafi in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty run­way be­yond 2027,” Berens wrote in a note on Mon­day.

“Giv­en the SVB Leerink’s es­ti­mate of taf­a­sita­m­ab’s world­wide peak sales of ~$1bn, we al­so think deal might not be suf­fi­cient to po­ten­tial­ly re­place Jakafi rev­enue for the long term. Al­so, due to the fi­nan­cial terms, it is un­clear to us when the com­pa­ny would be ca­pa­ble of do­ing a more trans­for­ma­tive deal.”

So­cial im­age: In­cyte, AP Im­ages

Jean-Paul Clozel, Idorsia CEO (Patrick Straub/Keystone via AP Images)

Idor­si­a's brain bleed drug flunks PhI­II tri­al, a decade af­ter pre­vi­ous flop

Idorsia’s long journey with clazosentan came to an abrupt “unexpected result” Monday morning with a Phase III flop.

The Swiss biopharma said the drug did not meet the main goal of the late-stage REACT study, conducted in the US, Canada and Europe since early 2019.

The 409-patient trial tested the intravenous drug’s ability to prevent complications due to delayed cerebral ischemia following aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (aSAH), in which blood vessels in the brain narrow and blood accumulates around the brain’s surface, which then dials up the pressure on the brain.

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Kenji Yasukawa, Astellas CEO (Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Astel­las taps chief strat­e­gy of­fi­cer as next CEO to 'go on the ag­gres­sive'

Five years into its big R&D revamp, Astellas says it’s time for a changing of the guard.

Kenji Yasukawa, who took over as president and CEO in 2018, will step down to become chairman of the board in April, making room for Naoki Okamura to take over. Okamura joined the company in 1986 and has served in a variety of finance, business and strategy roles, including most recently as chief strategy officer.

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Clin­i­cal tri­al di­ver­si­ty da­ta show mis­match be­tween en­roll­ment and dis­ease preva­lence, GSK says

A lack of diversity in clinical trials has persisted despite decades of initiatives to try to turn the tide.

In a recent review of 17 years of clinical trials, drugmaker GSK found that there were some mismatches between the demographics of its US-based trials and how prevalent diseases were in those populations.

The results, the company says, will help GSK and others design studies that better represent epidemiological rates within races and ethnicities.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Goldfinch Bio CEO Tony Johnson (L) and Karuna Therapeutics CEO Bill Meury

Karuna li­cens­es Goldfinch as­sets to com­pete with Boehringer In­gel­heim in neu­ro­science

Karuna Therapeutics is looking to compete with Boehringer Ingelheim on depression and anxiety with a new license to Goldfinch Bio’s assets, starting with $15 million to the shuttered biotech.

Karuna steps into an arena already being tested by Boehringer in multiple Phase II studies — the two are targeting transient receptor potential canonical 4 and 5, or TRPC4/5, which is thought to have a role in neuroscience indications. Goldfinch’s asset went through a Phase II in kidney diseases, but Karuna’s sights are set on mood and anxiety disorders for now.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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