Friday Five - The pharma week in review (7 August 2020)

Denali’s banks big Bio(gen)bucks

All eyes remain transfixed on Biogen’s aducanumab therapy for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) but the company made an aggressive play this week to expand its internal pipeline of Parkinson’s disease (PD) via a partnership with Denali Therapeutics.

According to the terms, Denali will receive $560 million plus a $465-million equity investment, and is eligible for more than $1.1 billion in potential milestones. In exchange, Biogen gets rights to Denali’s lead LRRK2 inhibitor (DNL151), which is slated to begin late-stage testing in 2021, as well as opt-in rights to a pair of preclinical programmes.

See ViewPoints: Denali scores a Biogen payday

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Traditional progress

Several weeks after initial human data for more nimble but less validated technologies, Novavax offered an initial look at Phase I results for its NVX-CoV2373 that suggest the more traditional protein-based COVID-19 candidate achieved neutralising antibody levels well above that observed in convalescent serum.

Novavax, which unveiled a $1.6-billion contract with Operation Warp Speed last month, has plans to begin a Phase II trial with interim looks that would trigger the start of pivotal testing, thus putting the company several months behind the likes of Moderna Therapeutics, BioNTech/Pfizer and AstraZeneca (with the University of Oxford).

See: ViewPoints: Novavax brings diversification to COVID-19 vaccine race

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Earnings extravaganza

The deluge of quarterly prints continued apace this week as several more industry bellwethers reported earnings. These included a handful of encouraging announcements from the likes of AbbVie, Merck & Co. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, as well as a less upbeat disclosure from Gilead Sciences.

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Voyager’s even lonelier voyage

Voyager Therapeutics was stung by news that AbbVie is returning a pair of vectorised mAbs targeting tau and alpha-synuclein that are in preclinical development neurological conditions like AD and PD. The US drugmaker did not offer an explanation for the move though analysts theorised that its recent big-money acquisition of Allergan may have touched off a pipeline reprioritisation campaign.

This is the third major partnership that Voyager has seen a partner pull out from, with the first coming when Sanofi dissolved a gene therapy alliance just over a year ago, returning a handful of candidates. To the biotech’s credit it has already shown a capacity to bounce back from disappointment, as it managed to attract Neurocrine Biosciences as a partner for one of the programmes that Sanofi took a pass on. (See ViewPoints: Neurocrine looking to get ahead of the curve with Voyager deal.)

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Doctors’ orders

FirstWord spoke with key opinion leaders (KOLs) about some of the more high profile clinical readouts, including a handful of studies involving AbbVie’s JAK inhibitor Rinvoq (upadacitinib) to treat moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis and Phase III ARCHWAY results for Roche’s ranibizumab for port delivery system (PDS) to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Also see: Physician Views: Ophthalmologists find Roche's PDS compelling at first glance

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