Friday Five – The Pharma Week in Review (21 May 2021)

We break down five of the week's most important new stories.

For further analysis, listen to the latest episode of The FirstTake podcast here.

ASCO abstracts drop

  • ASCO takes place on June 4-8 and abstracts were released on Wednesday. Late breaking abstracts will be released on the eve of the conference.
  • Results from IMpower-010 – for Roche's Tecentriq – suggest that PD-(L)1 inhibitors will have a role to play in the treatment of early-stage non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
  • Data from RELATIVITY-047 – for the combination of Bristol Myers Squibb's Opdivo and relatlimab in advanced melanoma – appear to validate LAG-3 as a new checkpoint inhibitor target.
  • New results for Hansoh Pharma and EQRx's aumolertinib bring potential competition for AstraZeneca's Tagrisso into sharper focus, particularly in the important Chinese NSCLC market.

BMS targets Agenus for TIGIT leg-up

  • The future approval of relatlimab in melanoma (see above) would reinforce Bristol Myers Squibb's status as a pioneer in checkpoint inhibitor development and the only company with immunotherapies directed against three separate targets.
  • Like its competitors in the field, Bristol Myers Squibb is also focused on TIGIT as another checkpoint target and this week announced it will pay $200 million upfront to acquire an exclusive global licence to Agenus' anti-TIGIT bispecific antibody programme AGEN1777 and a second undisclosed target.
  • More analysis of the deal here, which Agenus described as a competitive process involving multiple Big Pharma bidders.

KOL weighs in on rapidly evolving CKD field

  • A leading expert in the field told FirstWord this week that recent expansion of US approval for AstraZeneca's Farxiga to include the treatment of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in patients regardless of whether they have diabetes or not is likely to see the drug used "very frequently in a large proportion of patients."
  • The KOL is also optimistic that Bayer's finerenone will have an important role to play in the treatment of CKD in diabetes patients on the back of recent Phase III data, but most likely after the SGLT-2 inhibitors.
  • More here.

Iovance misses on execution, now missing an executive

  • Iovance Biotherapeutics may have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, as sustained pressure from the FDA on what would be its first BLA submission appears to have forced a management shake-up.
  • After the market closed on Tuesday, the company confirmed that it is anticipating a further delay to the submission of its lead tumour-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) programme, owing to outstanding questions raised by the FDA about its potency assays.
  • The stock dropped in response to the disappointing news, but hurtled further downward the next day, when an SEC filing disclosed that CEO Maria Fardis will resign "to pursue other opportunities." More here.

Assessing tezepelumab

  • Assuming that Amgen and AstraZeneca's tezepelumab is approved as a new treatment option for severe asthma patients next year, feedback from pulmonologists indicates that a large proportion of use will occur in those with lower blood eosinophil counts.
  • This is unsurprising as tezepelumab is the only biologic therapy to have been shown to significantly reduce exacerbation rates in these patients. However, feedback suggests that this advantage – and perhaps the requirement not to test patients for associated biomarkers – will also see some patients already treated with biologic therapies switched over to tezepelumab.
  • Data from our latest Physician Views poll assessing the potential future role of tezepelumab will be published imminently. See also - ViewPoints: Survey shows Dupixent is go-to asthma biologic in US market

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