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

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Noubar Afeyan (Sebastien Micke/Paris Match/Contour by Getty Images)

As Mod­er­na rose, Flag­ship cashed in for $1.4B — with a lot more wealth still re­main­ing

For nearly a decade, Flagship poured record-setting levels of cash into Moderna, even as they faced setbacks on early programs and skeptics wondered whether the company’s science could ever match its hype.

Now that the science has delivered, Flagship is cashing in.

Over the last 13 months, since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, Flagship has sold off Moderna shares worth $1.4 billion. The sales, first reported by Forbes, came as the Cambridge biotech’s shares soared from just under $20 per share on Jan. 3, 2020, to $169.50 when markets opened Thursday.

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