Friday Five - The pharma week in review (18 July 2019)

Gilead backs Galapagos to bolster its pipeline

Daniel O'Day's revolution at Gilead Sciences is well under way, with more executive departures and arrivals announced this week.

More significantly, O'Day appears to be banking on a strategy from the playbook of his former employer Roche to revitalise the company's pipeline. Rather than acquiring partner Galapagos outright, Gilead has instead entered into an exclusive licensing collaboration with the Belgian biotech.

Analysis - ViewPoints: Gilead/Galapagos - high price, high expectations

O'Day told investors to expect more activity. Galapagos, meanwhile, has earned a shot at realigning expectations for the European biotech sector.

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Roche on a roll

O'Day's former employer also announced a spate of deals this week, the most intriguing of which could be a collaborative agreement with Convelo Therapeutics. The two companies will work together to discover and develop small-molecule candidates designed to regenerate the protective myelin coating around nerve cells as a means for treating multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.

Analysis - ViewPoints: Stealthy re-myelination sensation catches Genentech’s imagination 

Roche also confirmed deals this week with Skyhawk Therapeutics to develop small-molecule drugs that modulate RNA splicing, and with Sosei Heptares to develop drugs that modulate GPCR targets.

See - ViewPoints: Skyhawk scores a quick fire hat-trick as Big Pharma catches the RNA splicing bug 

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GlaxoSmithKline's PARP gamble looking good

GlaxoSmithKline has bet big on a hunch that a class of cancer drugs known as PARP inhibitors could have broader utility than first thought; late last year it spent $5 billion to acquire Tesaro in order to test this theory.

This week it announced positive top-line results from the PRIMA study, which is evaluating the PARP inhibitor Zejula as a first-line maintenance therapy in ovarian cancer patients who respond to chemotherapy.

With their drug Lynparza, AstraZeneca and Merck & Co. have already shown that PARP inhibitor use at this disease stage is practice-changing, at least in the 15% of ovarian cancer patients who test positive for a BRCA mutation.

PRIMA, on the other hand, has enrolled patients who don't have germline BRCA mutations and GlaxoSmithKline's press release suggests that Zejula slows disease progression in a broader population. Full results will be presented later this year.

Analysis - ViewPoints: GlaxoSmithKline's push back into oncology gets a lift in the right direction 

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Disappointingly familiar news in Alzheimer's disease

Amgen and Novartis announced yet another setback in the search for a disease modifying therapy for Alzheimer's disease late last week by confirming that development of the BACE inhibitor umibecestat, also known as CNP520, has been discontinued in two Phase II/III studies.

This may be considered a particular blow as umibecestat is the third BACE inhibitor programme to demonstrate worsening cognition versus placebo, and the second in a preventative setting where optimism for disease modifying effect has been highest. The failure will add ammunition to the idea that the outcome is in fact a class effect, and not an off-target or symptomatic one.

Biogen and partner Eisai are scheduled to provide the next set of data for a BACE inhibitor.

Analysis - ViewPoints: Maybe this time they'll be lucky- Biogen braces after latest BACE assault 

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Q2 earnings season begins

Second-quarter earnings season is under way, with Johnson & Johnson reporting on Tuesday and Novartis on Thursday. Biogen (Tuesday), GlaxoSmithKline (Wednesday), AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche (Thursday) and AbbVie (Friday) all report their second-quarter results next week.

Johnson & Johnson's second-quarter results showcased new drugs "easily supplanting" older franchises, wrote analysts at BMO Capital Markets. Growth may slow in the second half of the year, though uptake of newer launches such as Spravato (depression), Balversa (bladder cancer) and Erleada (prostate cancer) should contribute more meaningfully over time and potentially drive an acceleration of pharma growth in 2020.

The multiple myeloma therapy Darzalex is currently Johnson & Johnson's most meaningful sales growth driver.

See Product snap-shot (Q219): Johnson & Johnson/Genmab’s Darzalex

Novartis is in a similar position; Cosentyx (psoriasis) and Entresto (heart failure) continue to deliver impressive revenue growth with the very recent launches of Zolgensma (spinal muscular atrophy), Mayzent (multiple sclerosis) and Piqray (breast cancer) waiting in the wings. Management was giving little away about early adoption of the gene therapy Zolgensma in the US market, confirming only that initial revenues would be disclosed in the third quarter.

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