Zaf­gen's sec­ond try at Prad­er-Willi syn­drome trig­gers an­oth­er safe­ty alarm in pre­clin­i­cal tox study

Zaf­gen’s $ZFGN lat­est shot at cre­at­ing the first ther­a­py to treat pa­tients with rare cas­es of obe­si­ty brought on by Prad­er-Willi syn­drome has hit a safe­ty alarm be­fore the drug even man­aged to make it in­to the clin­ic.

The suc­ces­sor to be­lo­ranib — which blew up with spec­tac­u­lar ef­fect sev­er­al years ago fol­low­ing a clin­i­cal hold by the FDA — ZGN-1258 was sup­posed to be the biotech’s come­back drug in the field. In­stead, the biotech re­port­ed af­ter the mar­ket closed on Mon­day that it is sus­pend­ing plans for an IND af­ter re­searchers tracked mus­cle de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in a ro­dent mod­el of the dis­ease.

Zaf­gen’s stock shriv­eled at the men­tion of a new safe­ty alert. The shares plum­met­ed 35% af­ter the bell.

From their state­ment to­day:

Non­clin­i­cal da­ta showed de­gen­er­a­tion and oth­er anom­alies in rat mus­cle tis­sue to dif­fer­ent de­grees in both ve­hi­cle and dose arms of the stud­ies. The ef­fects were ab­sent from oth­er an­i­mal species in long term mod­els, and im­por­tant­ly, this find­ing has not been ob­served in any of the Com­pa­ny’s oth­er MetAP2 in­hibitors or clin­i­cal tri­als and ap­pears to be spe­cif­ic to ZGN-1258. Zaf­gen will pro­vide an up­date on plans for ZGN-1258 at a lat­er time, if war­rant­ed, fol­low­ing fur­ther eval­u­a­tion.

The move to shelve the IND came af­ter Zaf­gen re­port­ed in an SEC fil­ing late last year that every­thing had been lined up to ini­ti­ate clin­i­cal tri­als ex­cept for 1 last pre­clin­i­cal tri­al, which had to be re­done by a new CRO af­ter the first CRO had con­duct­ed it “im­prop­er­ly.”

Any fresh hint of a safe­ty warn­ing is tox­ic to Zaf­gen, which had to re­or­ga­nize and ul­ti­mate­ly re­place the se­nior ex­ecs who went on to oth­er en­deav­ors af­ter the first big crash. The biotech re­cent­ly re­port­ed what it called en­cour­ag­ing ear­ly da­ta about their lead drug, ZGN-1061 for obe­si­ty re­lat­ed to di­a­betes. Re­searchers re­port­ed pos­i­tive im­prove­ments in weight loss and blood sug­ar lev­els for di­a­bet­ics.

The lead drug, though, has al­so been un­der a cloud since the FDA dropped a clin­i­cal hold on the pro­gram last No­vem­ber, cit­ing CV safe­ty con­cerns. Leerink’s Joseph Schwartz has re­mained fo­cused on a key bio­mark­er for CV risk, even as the com­pa­ny pur­sued a risky ex-US tri­al.

Di­a­betes is a field with a huge pa­tient pop­u­la­tion, and even a hint of a safe­ty is­sue could prove lethal for any drug in de­vel­op­ment for this group.

And obe­si­ty drugs in gen­er­al are al­ways un­der a mi­cro­scope at the FDA, even af­ter the lat­est gen­er­a­tion hit the mar­ket, though they proved dra­mat­i­cal­ly un­suc­cess­ful as a com­mer­cial prod­uct.

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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John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

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.

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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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.

UP­DAT­ED: Roche fields first ap­proval for Ro­z­lytrek in the run-up to a show­down with Bay­er, Pfiz­er

While it’s wait­ing to hear back from FDA reg­u­la­tors, Roche is be­gin­ning the vic­to­ry lap for en­trec­tinib in Japan.

Roche is giv­ing Bay­er a run for their mon­ey with this tu­mor-ag­nos­tic drug, which tar­gets NTRK gene fu­sions. Now dubbed Ro­z­lytrek, it’s sanc­tioned to treat adult and pe­di­atric pa­tients in Japan with neu­rotroph­ic ty­ro­sine re­cep­tor ki­nase fu­sion-pos­i­tive, ad­vanced re­cur­rent sol­id tu­mors.

Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”