Intarcia Therapeutics raises novel $225 million to develop exenatide pump

Intarcia Therapeutics has closed a $225 million financing in exchange for 1.5% of future global net sales of ITCA 650, a novel once or twice yearly exenatide pump. Investors have the option to convert their royalty interests into common stock in future.

Intarcia has raised over $1 billion since its founding. That includes a $225 million round today, a $50 million round in 2007, a $210 million round in 2012, a $200 million round in 2014, and $171 million upfront from Servier in 2014. Servier has rights to ITCA 650 outside of the U.S. and Japan.

ITCA 650 is a matchstick sized mini-pump which can be placed under the skin to release exenatide. Exenatide is a GLP-1 analog for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. A once-weekly injection has been approved under the trade name Bydureon.

ITCA 650

ITCA 650 consists of a cylindrical titanium alloy reservoir. Once placed under the skin, water diffuses through a semi-permeable membrane into a salt osmotic engine at one end, which forces the drug to be steadily released at the other end. One of the main technical challenges was how to maintain the stability of exenatide at human body temperatures over long periods of time.

Intarcia is currently testing ITCA 650 in a Phase III program called FREEDOM. The company has completed two of the four Phase III trials in the FREEDOM program. Both the FREEDOM-1 and FREEDOM-1 HBL studies met their primary and secondary endpoints.

In the FREEDOM-1 trial, a mean reduction of 1.4% to 1.7% in HbA1c was observed across the majority of patients. The second trial, FREEDOM-1 HBL, showed a reduction of 3.4% in HbA1c in patients with very high baseline HbA1c levels (10-12%).


Catalyst Pharmaceutical shares plummet on competitor’s positive results

Catalyst Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: CPRX) shares tumbled as much as 42% after Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a competitor, disclosed positive results of 3,4-diaminopyridine (3,4-DAP, amifampridine) in patients with Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS) at the AAN2015 Annual Meeting.

LEMS is a rare autoimmune disease with a prevalence of 3000 patients in the U.S. and Canada. In LEMS patients, autoantibodies are formed against calcium channels, resulting in muscle weakness. Approximately 50% of LEMS patients have small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and will not survive for long.

3,4-DAP is recommended to improve LEMS symptoms. The compound blocks potassium channel efflux in nerve terminals so that calcium channels can be open for a longer time. In 2010 BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: BMRN) launched Firdapse (3,4-DAP phosphate) in the EU. Firdapse is the first and only approved drug for this indication.

In October 2012, BioMarin out-licensed North American rights of Firdapse to Catalyst. In August 2013, Firdapse received Breakthrough Therapy Designation from the FDA. In September 2014, Catalyst announced positive Phase III results. Catalyst expects an NDA submission to the FDA by 2015Q3. If approved, Firdapse may cost $60,000-80,000 per year, which would yield sales of $200 million.

For the past 20 years, Jacobus Pharmaceuticals, a family-owned pharmaceutical company has provided LEMS patients with 3,4-DAP for free in the U.S. under an FDA-approved compassionate use program. Compassionate use, also called expanded access, provides a pathway for patients to use investigational drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA.

The company was founded by David Jacobus in 1977. About 20 years ago, Jacobus began to manufacture 3,4-DAP at the request of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Jacobus sends 3,4-DAP to patients or their doctors every three months. The only thing Jacobus asks in return is that patients should mail back the ice packs used to protect 3,4-DAP.

Why supply 3,4-Dap for free? “Because supplying the drug for free is the right thing to do,” said Laura Jacobus. She also charged Catalyst with greed and indifference to LEMS patients. “They don’t want to help LEMS patients; they just want to make money.” Jacobus are conducting its own clinical trial to win FDA approval.

However, no one is perfect. The Jacobus compassionate use program can only reach 100-200 patients, which means most patients do not have access to treatment. Even more serious is the cGMP defects of Jacobus in the past. The FDA issued 483 inspection reports for the Jacobus facility in 2011 and again in 2012 (read them here and here).

Catalyst’s Firdapse contains the phosphate salt of 3,4-DAP. The phosphate salt form is more stable than the free base form of the 3,4-DAP that is available from Jacobus. Catalyst CEO Patrick McEnany stressed that their 3,4-DAP is produced under all requirements of cGMP. If there were an approved drug by the FDA, most patients would have easy access to this drug.

Catalyst and Jacobus are racing to get 3,4-Dap approved by the FDA. The winner will get seven years of orphan drug exclusivity in the U.S. and the loser would be frozen out.

MannKind inhaled insulin prescriptions show slight decline

About two months ago, Goldman Sachs analyst Jay Olson downgraded MannKind from Neutral to Sell with a revised price target of $3 from $6. I thought that four weeks wasn’t enough time to forecast sales. Patients usually need to wait three months or more to get an appointment with a doctor who can prescribe Afrezza.

Here is a look at Afrezza prescriptions through Week 13. Total prescriptions (TRx) for the week ending April 17 was 180 and new prescriptions (NRx) was 134, according to RBC Capital, citing data from IMS. NRx has declined since Week 11.


Afrezza has experienced a poor launch. MannKind shares are currently trading down about 40% from February. RBC Capital reduced Afrezza sales forecasts for 2015 to $5 million from $46 million. Afrezza is not the only inhaled insulin. Pfizer launched Exubera in 2006 and discontinued soon due to poor sales. If given time, can Afrezza be a big drug? That is the question.


XBiotech is a biotech bubble

XBiotech (NASDAQ: XBIT) had a pretty good IPO, but I believe it is just a biotech bubble. The company is developing a cure-all for cancers, cachexia, vascular disease, type 2 diabetes, plaque psoriasis, and acne. Don’t expect any drug to be a cure-all.

XBiotech was founded by John Simard in 2005. Simard previously founded CTL ImmunoTherapies and AlleCure, which later merged to form MannKind (NASDAQ: MNKD). In total, XBiotech has raised $134 million since its founding.

The company believes its “True Human” mAbs have the potential to be safer and more effective than the currently marketed fully human mAbs. “True Human” means these mAbs are derived from a natural antibody identified from the blood of an individual.

MABp1 (Xilonix), XBiotech’s lead product candidate, is a anti-ILα mAb. IL1α is an inflammatory cytokine produced by leukocytes and other cells. Inflammation can indeed contribute to the development and progression of a variety of different diseases, but it doesn’t means blocking ILα can cure all these diseases. Antibodies against IL1α are expressed in about 10% of the healthy population. Schering-Plough abandoned their anti-IL1α program in 1994[1].

MABp1 has been administered to 170 patients in seven different clinical trials. In the 52-patient Phase I/II trial of MABp1 in metastatic cancer (18 tumour types), only one patient had a partial response[2]. XBiotech touts that patients receiving MABp1 live longer on average than historical controls, but I think the trial was too small to support the comparison.

XBiotech has completed a Phase II trial to test MABp1 in 7 patients with type 2 diabetes. After the 60 days period of treatment, HbAlc was reduced by 0.14±0.21%. The change was not statistically significant (p=0.15). Almost all approved diabetes drugs have produced significantly higher reductions in HbA1c levels.

In the Phase II study of MABp1 in 8 patients with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis[3], only one patient achieved a PASI score of 75 at week 8. According to the Humira (adalimumab) label, 71% of patients achieved a PASI 75 response at week 16.

XBiotech is testing MABp1 in colorectal cancer in two Phase III trials. The European trial will enroll at least 276 patients and is expected to be completed by mid-2015. The U.S. trial was designed for 656 patients. XBiotech amended the inclusion criteria and the control arm in 2014. The enrollment has resumed with a projected completion in 2016. Prior to the protocol amendment, 40 patients had entered the study. The findings were not statistically significant due to the relatively small number of patients.

In my opinion, it is reckless to initiate such a large Phase III trial without solid proof of concept. Adam Feuerstein at TheStreet had a negative comment as well:

XBiotech’s S-1 is filled with classic biotech red flags, including lack of quality venture capital backers, D-list underwriters and dubious clinical data generated from small subsets of patients presented in ways which overestimate treatment effect.

[1] Front Immunol. 2015, 6, 55.
[2] Lancet Oncol. 2014, 15(6), 656-666.
[3] JAMA Dermatol. 2015, doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.5391.

AACR Annual Meeting 2015 Highlights

Pembrolizumab is better than ipilimumab as first-line therapy for patients with advanced melanoma. ORR was 33% for pembrolizumab and 12% for ipilimumab. The 6-month OS rates were 85-88% for pembrolizumab arms and 75% for ipilimumab.

Pembrolizumab showed an ORR of 24% and a disease control rate of 76% in 25 patients with pleural mesothelioma. 80% 0f patients had received standard chemotherapy (platinum plus pemetrexed). There is no approved second-line treatment.

The relationship between ORR and PDL1 expression was verified in patients with NSCLC. PFS and OS were longer in patients with membranous PDL1 expression in ≥50% of tumor cells (PS≥50%).

According to the preliminary Phase I results of CART-meso, CAR-T therapy appears safe and feasible in advanced solid tumors. Anti-tumor efficacy was observed in 2 out of 5 patients.

Immunocore’s TCR therapy, IMCgp100, showed an ORR of 25% (4/16) in patients with advanced melanoma. One partial response was observed in an ipilimumab refractory patient. Two of the partial responses have lasted more than 12 months.

Atara Biotherapeutics presents Phase II clinical data of EBV-CTLs in patients with EBV-associated lymphoproliferative disorder (EBV-LPD). EBV-LPD is one of the most concerning complications of blood stem cell transplantation. In the two trails, 50-59% of patients had a complete response. Most importantly, 81% of patients had failed prior rituximab.

Combining anti-CD40 mAb CP-870893 with anti-CTLA4 mAb tremelimumab improves response rates and overall survival in patients with metastatic melanoma. ORR was 27.3%, with mOS of 26.1 months.

Combining mTORC1/2 inhibitor AZD2014 with paclitaxel showed better outcome in ovarian and lung cancer. Of 7 patients with heavily pre-treated ovarian cancer, 3 had partial responses. Of 5 squamous NSCLC pre-treated with docetaxel, 2 had partial responses.

Chk1 inhibitor GDC-0425 may enhance gemcitabine efficacy in solid tumors with p53 mutation. The trial enrolled 40 patients with a variety of solid tumors. Three patients including one patient with p53 mutated triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) had partial responses. The partial response in TNBC has lasted more than 10 months.

In July 2014, Roche acquired Seragon Pharmaceuticals and its selective estrogen receptor degraders for $1.725 billion. Now, Roche provides Phase I results of GDC-0810 (ARN-810) in ER+/HER- metastatic breast cancer at AACR2015. In the trial, 13 of 31 (42%) patients achieved stable disease > 6 months.

Adding a PI3K inhibitor to letrozole may restore the sensitivity of ER+ breast cancer to antiestrogen therapy. In the Phase Ib trial of BYL719, 26 patients with ER+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer refractory to previous endocrine therapy were accrued. 18 patients had prior aromatase inhibitor therapy. In the trial, 19% of patients experienced a partial response, and 43% of patients had stable disease.

Combining mTORC1/2 inhibitor AZD2014 with fulvestrant showed clinical benefit for patients with ER+ metastatic breast cancer. In the 49 patients with measureable disease, 9 confirmed and 3 unconfirmed partial responses were observed. Of the 66 patients, 31 had clinical benefit.

Merrimack Pharmaceuticals updates Phase I results of HER2-targeted liposomal doxorubicin in HER2 positive metastatic breast cancer. In patients treated with ≥30 mg/m2 MM-302 alone or in combination with trastuzumab, the response rate was 12% and median PFS was 7.6 months. Merrimack believes MM-302 plus trastuzumab is more effective than standard chemotherapy plus trastuzumab.

Olaparib have anti-tumor activity in a sub-population of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer patients. In the TOPARP trial, patients who had failed prior docetaxel and abiraterone were treated with olaparib. Overall, 16 of 49 patients experienced a response. Mutations in DNA repair genes were detected in 15 of 49 patients. Among these 15 patients with mutations, 13 responded to olaparib.

Genentech’s anti-PDL1 mAb MPDL3280A showed clinical activity in patients with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. Among 21 PDL1 positive (IHC2 or 3) patients, ORR was 24%, and the 24-week PFS rate was 33%.

Adding nivolumab to ipilimumab improved clinical response compared to ipilimumab alone in patients with advanced melanoma. In BRAF wild-type patients, ORR was 60% in the combination group vs. 11% in the ipilimumab group. A higher rate of adverse events was observed in the combination group compared to ipilimumab alone, leading to more frequent discontinuation. However, patients who discontinued the combination due to toxicity had a 67% response rate.

Adaptimmune presents preliminary results of TCR therapy targeting NY-ESO-1 in patients with synovial sarcoma. Of 8 patients whose follow-up is sufficient to assess response, 4 experienced objective responses (1CR, 3PR).

ImmuneXcite develops antibody-drug conjugates to activate immune cells against cancer

Both antibody-drug conjugates and cancer immunotherapies are hot approaches for the treatment of cancer. What if a new therapy combines these two technologies? ImmuneXcite is developing antibody-glucan conjugates, known as mAbXcite, to activate immune cells against cancer.

The mAbXcite technology came from Dr. Rubin-Bejerano, ImmuneXcite’s CSO, when she was studying how neutrophils recognize fungi. Neutrophils are the most common type of white blood cell in humans. They are the first-line killers of bacteria and fungi.

Rubin-Bejerano purified a unique polymer of glucose, known as β-1,6-glucan, from fungal cell walls[1]. Bate-1,6-glucan could be recognized by neutrophils, triggering a immune attack on fungi. The discovery of β-1,6-glucan means Rubin-Bejerano found a way to recruit and activate neutrophils.

Systemic activation of neutrophils could be dangerous. Rubin-Bejerano discussed her results with Prof. Daniel Kohane at Harvard University. Kohane suggested her attaching β-1,6-glucan to antibodies, the resulting molecule could recruit neutrophils in a targeted way. The idea represents a new approach in the field of cancer immunotherapy.


The appealing idea received financial support from angel investors. The new company raised $2.42 million as seed fund in January 2012. In January 2014, ImmuneXcite secured $3.58 million in second-round financing. Dr. Alan Smith, former Genzyme CSO, joined the company’s scientific advisory board.

ImmuneXcite reports new preclinical data at the AACR2015. mAbXcite-cetuximab demonstrates significantly greater efficacy than the original antibody. Mice that show complete regression do not develop new tumors when cancer cells were reintroduced, suggesting a lasting immune response.

[1] Cell Host Microbe. 2007, 2(1), 55-67.

Rethink Celladon Corporation: high-risk, high-reward

I first wrote about Celladon Corporation (NASDAQ: CLDN) on March 19, 2015. I highlighted the amazing data of CUPID 1 trial and the low bar for the primary endpoint of CUPID 2. The Breakthrough Therapy designation further confirmed the blockbuster potential of Celladon’s gene therapy MYDICAR.

I recently noted several red flags in the CUPID 1 trial.

Placebo (n=14) Low Dose (n=8) Mid Dose (n=8) High Dose (n=9)
Age, mean 61.0 60.3 63.9 56.6
Sex, Female 1 1 0 3
NT-proBNP 4072 1353 3310 2141
Risk reduction 60% (p=0.11) 54% (p=0.12) 88% (p=0.03)

1. The patients in the high dose group were 4 years younger than the patients in the placebo group[1]. Moreover, the high dose group enrolled more female subjects. It is known that heart failure risk increases with age and men have higher hospitalization rates for heart failure[2].

2. The patients in the high dose group were significantly healthier than the patients in the placebo group. Higher NT-proBNP levels in the placebo group indicated worse outcomes. The levels of NT-proBNP are elevated in patients with left ventricular dysfunction[3].

3. Left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) did not increase appreciably in any group. If MYDICAR had restored contractility of the heart muscle, we should have observed that LVEF improved significantly in the high dose group.

4. In the low dose and mid dose group, risk reduction was not statistically significant. Patients with the mid dose of Mydicar performed worse than the low dose. The absence of a dose-dependent response raises concerns about the trial.

5. In the CUPID 1 follow-up, persistent presence of the SERCA2a transgene in cardiac tissue was detected in three of four high dose patients[4]. However, whether the amount of SERCA2a genes is sufficient to produce higher levels of SERCA2a protein and futher result in risk reduction are unclear.

I still believe in Celladon and its breakthrough gene therapy because the the primary endpoint bar is really low and the SERCA2a gene had been taken up by the heart muscle cells indeed, but we should know about the risks and rationally evaluate the risk/reward.

[1] Circulation. 2011, 124(3), 304-313.
[2] J Card Fail. 2013, 19(8), 542-549.
[3] Congest Heart Fail. 2004, 10(1 Suppl 1), 23-27.
[4] Circ Res. 2014, 114(1), 101-108.