Friday Five - This week's key news stories

Pfizer backs the CAR-T specialists

Pfizer had been desperate to lead the race in allogeneic - or 'off-the-shelf' - CAR-T therapies back in 2013, but announced this week it was handing over assets then acquired from Cellectis to a new start-up.

Allogene will be headed up by former leadership from Kite Pharma, which was acquired by Gilead Sciences last year, and provides a platform for former Kite CEO Arie Belldegrun and chief medical officer David Chang to further disrupt the CAR-T space.

Pfizer has not given up its CAR-T aspirations completely; it holds a 25-percent stake in Allogene.

See - ViewPoints: Is Big Pharma cut out for CAR-T?

Strategic setbacks have consequence at Celgene

Like Gilead and Pfizer, Celgene has put CAR-T firmly in its strategic crosshairs, having acquired Juno Therapeutics in January for $9 billion.

Onus now is on ensuring that deal proves more successful than a number of others that have blown up in recent months; which appears to have cost chief operating officer Scott Smith his job this week.

See - ViewPoints: Celgene COO pays the price for BD misfires

Alkermes fails to convince the FDA

The FDA may have shown itself to be more flexible in recent times, but Alkermes cannot count itself among the beneficiaries. The agency said this week it will not consider approving the company's experimental drug ALKS 5461 for treatment-resistant depression, based on the clinical data at hand.

Company management had been hopeful that positive data from one of three Phase III studies and strong results from an earlier Phase II trial would prove sufficient, given the challenges that exist in overcoming placebo effect in depression patients.

Not all were surprised; one key opinion leader FirstWord previously discussed ALKS 5461 with had accurately predicted positive data from an additional late-stage trial would be necessary - ViewPoints: FDA says one out of three won’t cut it for Alkermes’ ALKS 5461.

Pfizer in focus

It was a busy week for Pfizer. It addition to realigning its CAR-T strategy (see above), the company is said to be discussing the sale of its consumer healthcare unit to Procter & Gamble.

Furthermore, Pfizer announced highly promising pivotal-stage data for its drug tafamidis in patients with transthyretin cardiomyopathy. With no therapies currently approved for this rare disease indication, analysts were quick to note that tafamidis - a somewhat overlooked asset in the Pfizer-late stage pipeline - holds blockbuster potential.

See - ViewPoints: And then there were three- Pfizer comes from behind with surprise amyloidosis win

Pfizer also confirmed that its experimental non-small-cell lung cancer treatment dacomitinib has been accepted for review in the US and EU; securing priority review status in the former. However, impressive data presented for AstraZeneca's Tagrisso last year will likely limit adoption of dacomitinib; as a first-line therapy in EGFR patients at least.

Pharma's peanut allergy showdown

The race to develop an effective treatment for peanut allergy has come into sharp focus in recent weeks, thanks to new Phase III data for two products developed by Aimmune Therapies and DBV Technologies.

FirstWord spoke to a leading expert this week who predicted Aimmune’s AR101 will likely come out on top, despite recent concerns raised over its safety profile.

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