Friday Five – This week’s key news stories

ASCO a go-go

The annual ASCO meeting kicks off in Chicago on Friday; a highlight on day one is likely to be updated results for bluebird bio and Celgene's multiple myeloma CAR-T therapy bb2121.

Celgene could do with some positive news and CAR-T now has more pipeline momentum than other modalities within the immunotherapy space, says Jill O'Donnell-Tormey, CEO of the Cancer Research Institute (CRI). Versus the approximate 290 CAR-T products identified by the CRI in September, there are now 404 in development, O'Donnell-Tormey told FirstWord.

See also Physician Views: PD-(L)1s remain the big pull at ASCO, but CAR-T is coming

Whether or not CAR-T can be applied to the treatment of solid tumours is the key unanswered question, though O'Donnell-Tormey confidently predicts this modality will be showcased at many future ASCOs to come.

In the meantime, focus this weekend will be sharpened on PD-1 inhibitors (particularly in non-small-cell lung cancer) and whether this mechanism can be used in combinations to either increase efficacy or the number of patients who respond to therapy.

However, recent setbacks in the field may prompt some reappraisal of development strategies - see ViewPoints: Eli Lilly outlines its oncology aspirations

China in the spotlight

Notable focus among Chinese companies provides added intrigue in the CAR-T space, with one of these therapies - Legend Biotech's LCAR-B38M - now being studied in the US, through a licensing agreement struck with Johnson & Johnson in late 2017.

China's growing presence on the global pharma stage has loomed large in recent weeks, with more than $700 million having flowed into private China-based (or Chinese facing) biotech companies in the month of May alone - see ViewPoints: Too much too soon for China biotech growth?

One of the biggest hauls was brought in by Brii Biosciences, whose main strategy is to bring innovative medicines developed outside the country to Chinese patients. A gap in Big Pharma's capabilities is there to be exploited, it would seem, though AstraZeneca would likely disagree; the UK company recently announced quarterly Chinese sales of more than $1 billion for the first time as it continues to significantly outperform its Big Pharma peers in the Chinese market.

Fasenra flops in COPD/Dupixent more of the same in asthma?

Future growth in biologics for the treatment of respiratory conditions may need to be tempered. AstraZeneca confirmed this week that its antibody product Fasenra failed to meet its primary endpoint in the second of two COPD trials, thereby eliminating an opportunity to expand its label beyond asthma where it is already approved; alongside similar biologics marketed by GlaxoSmithKline (Nucala) and Teva (Cinqair).

And aspirations Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi may have by shaking up the asthma market with potential approval of Dupixent may also need to be viewed with caution; an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week suggested Dupixent is more similar than differentiated in comparison to these already marketed therapies.

Just as well then that Dupixent looks likely to enjoy continued adoption in its first approved indication of moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis - see Physician Views Poll Results: Key growth-driver watch - Sanofi, Regeneron's Dupixent should go from strength to strength

Options increase for haemophilia A patients

There remains considerable debate as to whether Roche's Hemlibra will become the new standard of care in haemophilia A, despite an impressive accumulation of clinical data; some safety concerns persist and prescribers in this space are recognised as highly conservative.

However, speaking to FirstWord, one expert confidently predicted new data will speed adoption in non-inhibitor patients; we are also snap-polling haematologists this weekend to take the pulse on their thoughts towards Roche's latest Hemlibra data.

Novo doubles down on oral GLP-1 data

GLP-1 agonists, such as Novo Nordisk's Victoza brand, are frequently cited as the preferred drug type to treat type 2 diabetes. The Danish company is hoping to circumvent the one notable barrier to adoption with this class - the need for injectable administration - by developing an oral version of its most advanced GLP-1 semaglutide; positive results from a second Phase III trial were released this week, and though slightly weaker than previous data, indicate that Novo Nordisk's development programme is heading in the right direction - see ViewPoints: Novo Nordisk's semaglutide update rattles nerves, but holds on fundamentals

To read more Friday Five articles, click here.

Reference Articles