Zan­tac pulled off shelves due to can­cer scare; The end of the road for Mo­tif Bio

GSK is re­call­ing its heart­burn med­i­cine Zan­tac, sold gener­i­cal­ly as ran­i­ti­dine, from all mar­kets af­ter the FDA found it con­tains “‘un­ac­cept­able’ lev­els of prob­a­ble can­cer-caus­ing im­pu­ri­ty.” The drug is one of sev­er­al blood pres­sure and heart fail­ure med­ica­tions that have been pulled off the sheves since last year due to con­cerns about car­cino­genic ma­te­r­i­al in­tro­duced in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. Four Zan­tac pre­scrip­tion-on­ly med­i­cines are in­volved: a syrup, an in­jec­tion and tablets of 150 and 300 mil­ligram (mg) dosages. But the over-the-counter ver­sions, which are pro­duced by a dif­fer­ent com­pa­ny, would not be af­fect­ed, ac­cord­ing to the UK’s Med­i­cines and Health­care prod­ucts Reg­u­la­tion Agency.

→ 2019 has not been kind to Mo­tif Bio, who was plan­ning to launch and roll­out its drug iclaprim, but was halt­ed by a Feb­ru­ary com­plete re­sponse let­ter from the FDA that sent its stock crash­ing in­to pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry. The com­pa­ny is now wav­ing the white flag af­ter hear­ing back from a meet­ing with the FDA. The short an­swer: they will need years and loads of cash — that they don’t have — in or­der to com­plete a tri­al. CEO Gra­ham Lums­den had this to say: “We now have con­fir­ma­tion of what will be re­quired to progress iclaprim to­wards a po­ten­tial ap­proval. The Com­pa­ny is work­ing hard to find a part­ner or oth­er en­ti­ty to com­plete the HABP/VABP Phase III tri­al, com­mer­cialise iclaprim and en­sure the best out­come for share­hold­ers in Mo­tif Bio.”

→ While Themis, backed by its part­ner Mer­ck, was gear­ing up for a Phase III tri­al of its chikun­gun­ya vac­cine last month, Emer­gent BioSo­lu­tions leapfrogged ahead with the an­nounce­ment that its chikun­gun­ya virus (CHIKV) virus-like par­ti­cle (VLP) vac­cine can­di­date has been grant­ed EMA PRIME des­ig­na­tion. The vac­cine is in­tend­ed to pre­vent the dis­ease caused by the chikun­gun­ya virus in­fec­tion, an ill­ness that spreads through mos­qui­to bites.  No vac­cine or treat­ment is cur­rent­ly avail­able.

→ Cit­ing “ad­verse mar­ket con­di­tions,” ADC Ther­a­peu­tics took an un­ex­pect­ed U-turn at the NYSE last week, but that hasn’t stopped the com­pa­ny from ink­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion with can­cer-fo­cused Avac­ta Group. Un­der the agree­ment, Avac­ta will pro­vide Af­firmer drug con­ju­gates to be used against three undis­closed can­cer tar­gets. It will al­so pro­vide these to ADC to aim its pro­pri­etary cy­to­tox­ic war­heads (PBDs) at the site of the tu­mor.

→ With larg­er phar­ma com­pa­nies turn­ing to more lu­cra­tive prospects, small­er com­pa­nies like MGB Bio­phar­ma have tak­en up most of the work in com­bat­ting the ever­grow­ing threat of an­tibi­ot­ic re­sis­tance. MGB re­vealed a Phase IIa clin­i­cal tri­al up­date of its bac­te­ri­ci­dal an­tibi­ot­ic, MGB-BP-3, for the treat­ment of clostrid­i­um dif­fi­cile-as­so­ci­at­ed dis­ease (CDAD) — an in­fec­tion of the large in­tes­tine that is the most fre­quent cause of di­ar­rhea in hos­pi­tals and care homes.

The com­pa­ny says that “the first co­hort of pa­tients has now com­plet­ed treat­ment with the low­est dose and re­sults in­di­cate high ef­fi­ca­cy and good tol­er­a­bil­i­ty of MGB-BP-3.” They’ve be­gun re­cruit­ment for the next co­hort, with topline re­sults from both Cana­da and the US an­tic­i­pat­ed in ear­ly 2020.

On­coSec, a late-stage in­tra­tu­moral im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny, an­nounced an in­vest­ment and op­tion deal with Grand Decade, a sub­sidiary of Chi­na Grand Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal (CGP). CGP and its af­fil­i­ate Sir­tex will in­vest $30 mil­lion in On­coSec. In ex­change, CGP and Sir­tex will re­ceive a con­trol­ling share in On­coSec. The deal gives GCP an ex­clu­sive li­cense to On­coSec’s cur­rent and fu­ture prod­ucts and sets a min­i­mum for price-per-share should CGP seek to ac­quire the rest of the com­pa­ny with­in the next year.

UP­DAT­ED: In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — but da­ta min­ing in­cites con­tro­ver­sy and ques­tions

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company and its partners at Eisai say that a new analysis of a larger dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over with the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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Vas Narasimhan. Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Failed PhI­II fe­vip­iprant tri­als pour more cold wa­ter on No­var­tis' block­buster R&D en­gine — and briefly spread the chill to a high-pro­file biotech

Back in July, during an investor call where Novartis execs ran through an upbeat assessment of their Q2 performance, CEO Vas Narasimhan and development chief John Tsai were pressed to predict which of the two looming Phase III readouts — involving cardio drug Entresto and asthma therapy fevipiprant, respectively — had a higher likelihood of success. Tsai gave the PARAGON-HF study with Entresto minimally better odds, but Narasimhan emphasized that their strategy of giving fevipiprant to more severe patients gave them confidence.

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UP­DAT­ED: The FDA sets a reg­u­la­to­ry speed record, pro­vid­ing a snap OK for Ver­tex's break­through triplet for cys­tic fi­bro­sis

The FDA has approved Vertex’s new triplet for cystic fibrosis at a record-setting speed.

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IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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David Liu, Liu Group

David Liu un­veils newest ad­vance­ment in CRISPR tech: Prime edit­ing

The researcher behind base-editing is out with what some scientists are hailing as the biggest advancement in CRISPR technology since that 2016 breakthrough: “prime editing.” The new molecular gadget is capable of erasing any base pair and stenciling in another and cutting or adding long segments of DNA without breaking both strands of the helix.

David Liu, base editing pioneer and founder of Beam Therapeutics, published the findings in Nature alongside Andrew Anzalone. They estimated that the breakthrough “in principle” puts 89% of human diseases in purview — although experts cautioned that human therapies were a long way off.

Bhaskar Chaudhuri. Frazier Healthcare Partners

Fra­zier Health­care Part­ner­s' der­ma­tol­ogy up­start at­tracts a mar­quee syn­di­cate, $94M+ for 'in-be­tween' top­i­cal drug

For the past three years Frazier Healthcare Partners’ Bhaskar Chaudhuri has been carefully and quietly grooming Arcutis Therapeutics, a new dermatology play he co-founded to deliver topical formulations of well-known drugs. Now that the biotech is poised to enter Phase III, he’s being joined by a marquee syndicate for its $94.5 million Series C.

HBM Healthcare Investments, Vivo Capital, BlackRock, Omega Funds, Pivotal BioVentures, and Goldman Sachs jumped on board, joining Bain Capital Life Sciences, OrbiMed and RA Capital Management in backing Arcutis’ lead topical cream for plaque psoriasis.

A new com­pa­ny en­ters the Tec­fidera fight, of­fer­ing to kill two birds

The remedy for the most common side effect for one of the most common multiple sclerosis drugs is simple: aspirin.

Taking aspirin with Biogen’s Tecfidera will reduce the flush, a sometimes painful form of red skin irritation, many patients experiences. The problem is that the aspirin has to be taken at least 30 minutes before Tecfidera, turning a simple twice-a-day, one-dose oral drug into a staggered two-drug regimen.

UP­DAT­ED: Bris­tol-My­ers makes Op­di­vo pitch for front­line lung can­cer with open la­bel PhI­II study

Despite a head start, when Bristol-Myers Squibb and its pioneering checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo suffered a key lung cancer setback in 2016, they found themselves relegated to the backseat as Merck’s Keytruda seized the wheel on the road to immunotherapy stardom. Bristol-Myers has since suffered blow after blow in its quest to take a big slice of the lucrative market, peppered with some small successes. On Tuesday, the New Jersey drugmaker touted positive data from a Phase III open-label study in a bid to carve itself a piece of the frontline lung cancer market.