Friday Five – The pharma week in review (11 June 2020)

AstraGilead

Would Gilead Sciences consider merging with AstraZeneca? – The former was reportedly asked by the later to consider this proposition last month and declined the invitation. AstraZeneca is said to have subsequently dropped its tentative interest in the merger, but its motivations for approaching Gilead in the first place are, at the very least, intriguing. ViewPoints: AstraZeneca + Gilead = ???

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Keytruda's loss could be Bavencio's gain in bladder cancer

Potentially practice-changing data recently presented at the ASCO annual meeting for Merck KGaA and Pfizer's PD-L1 inhibitor Bavencio as a first-line maintenance treatment for advanced bladder cancer appear to have taken on greater significance in the past few days. On Tuesday, Merck & Co. said that a combination of its PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda and chemotherapy failed to meet overall survival (OS) and progression-free survival endpoints in the KEYNOTE-361 study.

This could allow Merck KGaA and Pfizer to carve out larger sales once Bavencio is approved in the maintenance setting; importantly, it demonstrated a compelling OS benefit across all patients regardless of PD-L1 expression status.

Keytruda is the most frequently prescribed second-line immunotherapy, though the rationale for using PD-(L)1 inhibitors in this setting may become less clear in patients who have already received Bavencio after chemotherapy. Merck & Co. is therefore left waiting on the read out of further data for the combination of Keytruda with Seattle Genetics' Padcev in first-line patients, with early results impressive.  

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Genmab snags AbbVie in bi-specific antibody deal

AbbVie has agreed to pay Genmab $750 million upfront as part of a collaboration to jointly develop and commercialise three of the latter's next-generation bi-specific antibodies, including the CD3xCD20 antibody epcoritamab, which will enter Phase III testing for large B-cell diffuse lymphoma later this year. Genmab is eligible to receive up to $3.15 billion in further development, regulatory and sales milestones for all programmes.

Speaking to FirstWord Genmab CEO Jan van de Winkle said AbbVie was his partner of choice and had been originally approached by the Danish biotech 12 months ago.

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Roche pushes into cell therapy

Elsewhere, the collaboration between Roche and the Chinese biotech Innovent Biologics announced this week is also noteworthy; it would appear to signal further emerging interest from Roche toward cancer cell therapies, which has been building in recent months. Echoing the Genmab/AbbVie deal, Roche and Innovent will also collaborate on the development of bi-specific antibodies.

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COVID-19 round up 

Johnson & Johnson will begin clinical studies of its COVID-19 vaccine earlier than expected (in the second half of July instead of September), which will coincide with the start of a Phase III clinical trial for Moderna’s mRNA vaccine candidate; AstraZeneca will move two neutralising antibodies licensed from Vanderbilt University into clinical studies by August to evaluate their use for prevention and treatment of COVID-19; Eli Lilly has begun dosing patients in a Phase I study evaluating a second neutralising antibody product for the treatment of COVID-19; on Thursday Regeneron confirmed it has started evaluating a dual antibody cocktail in patients.

We surveyed 1165 physicians in 10 global markets to evaluate how they are currently engaging with pharmaceutical company employees (sales reps and medical science liaison (MSL) team members). Top-line results can be found here, with detailed analysis look at country-level and physician specialty data available for FirstWord Pharma PLUS subscribers here and here.

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