Friday Five – The Pharma Week in Review (20 August 2021)

Pfizer taps war chest

Few if any companies can match Pfizer’s massive and fast-growing bankroll, which was big even before the success of its BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine, and the US drugmaker put a small but sizable chunk of it towards buying Trillium Pharmaceuticals this week in an effort to build out a blood cancer franchise.

Trillium’s lead compounds are in mid-stage testing for a variety of liquid tumours and the $2.3-billion purchase price could turn out to be either a shrewd move, based on the $4.9 billion that Gilead Sciences paid for a slightly more advanced candidate, or very expensive if TTI-621 and TTI-622 are usurped by fast-following programmes targeting the same CD47/SIRP alpha interaction.

See – ViewPoints: Pfizer buying Trillium – shrewd or splurge?

FibroGen fights back

It has been a tough couple months for FibroGen after an FDA AdCom soundly rejected roxadustat for anaemia in chronic kidney disease (CKD) in July, which raised serious questions about the future of a related partnership with AstraZeneca and the programme more generally, but the company bounced back with two encouraging updates over the past week.

First came news that roxadustat was ushered onto the market in Europe where partner Astellas will sell it as Evenzo, which was followed by FibroGen’s announcement on August 25 that the therapy hit the primary endpoint in an open-label Phase II trial for chemotherapy-induced anemia (CIA). The approval and even possible new indication would not make up for falling short in the US on CKD but it will help salve the wound.

See – ViewPoints: FibroGen trying to leave a light on for roxadustat

Limited JAKs look limited

Theravance thought it could harness the proven power of JAK inhibitors by restricting their pharmacological activity to specific organs but a second readout – first in the lungs and now in the gut – has returned disappointing results, which will raise doubts about if it's plausible to get enough juice if you limit the squeeze.

See – ViewPoints: Back to drawing board again for Theravance’s organ-specific JAKs

Ray of sunshine for JAKs

It was not all doom and gloom in the JAK universe this week, however, as AbbVie revealed that Rinvoq (upadacitinib) was approved in the EU for moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis. This made the drug the first of the class to pass muster with European regulators in this indication.

Even so, all eyes remain fixed on the US where the FDA is in the midst of crunching the numbers on a post-marketing study of Pfizer’s Xeljanz (tofacitinib) that could very well have wide-ranging ramifications for other JAK inhibitors, many of which – Rinvoq among them – are in a holding pattern awaiting a decision on Xeljanz.

COVID-19 vaccines in EU

Seeking to get a better handle on the dynamic situation with COVID-19, FirstWord solicited feedback from 200 physicians in Europe to get a better sense of what their updated expectations are for the use and durability of vaccines, especially in light of the recent dominance of the Delta strain.

See – Physician Views Results: Attitudes to future COVID-19 vaccine use in Europe

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