Biopharmconsortium Blog

Expert commentary from Haberman Associates biotechnology and pharmaceutical consulting.

Monthly Archives: December 2012

FDA Approves Aegerion’s lomitapide (Juxtapid) for Homozygous Familial Hypercholesterolemia

 

Happy New Year from Haberman Associates!

Happy New Year from Haberman Associates!

In our November 20, 2012 article on this blog, entitled “Novel hypercholesterolemia drugs move toward FDA decisions”, we discussed two drugs–Aegerion Pharmaceuticals’ lomitapide, and Isis/Sanofi/Genzyme’s mipomersen. In October 2012, the FDA’s Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee recommended that both drugs be approved for treatment of homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HoFH).

In that article, we discussed issues involved in the development and commercialization of lomitapide–a small-molecule drug, and mipomersen–an antisense oligonucleotide, for treatment of HoFH, a rare genetic disease which is mechanistically related to more common types of hypercholesterolemia. We also stated that were were awaiting FDA action–expected in the next several weeks after publication of our article–on the approval of the two drugs.

On Christmas Eve–December 24, 2012–a day on which few people in the United States and in many other countries were thinking about work–Aegerion (Cambridge, MA) announced that the FDA had approved lomitapide for treatment of HoFH. Lomitapide has been given the brand name Juxtapid.

The FDA based its approval of lomitapide on the results of a pivotal Phase 3 study, which evaluated the safety and effectiveness of the drug in 29 adult patients with HoFH. As we discussed in our November 20, 2012 article, the results of this study were published in the online version of The Lancet on November 2, 2012.

As we also discussed in our earlier article, lomitapide has serious adverse effects, including hepatic fat accumulation and elevated liver aminotransferase levels. According to the December 24, 2012 Aegerion press release, the most common adverse reactions seen in the Phase 3 study were gastrointestinal, including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia and abdominal pain. Ten of the 29 patients in the study had at least one elevation in liver enzymes greater than or equal to three times the upper limit of normal. Liver enzyme elevations were managed through dose reduction or temporary discontinuation of dose. Hepatic fat accumulation was also observed in the Phase 3 trial.

As we also discussed in our earlier article, a finding of elevated liver aminotransferase levels is enough to stop development of most drugs. As of October 2012, the FDA and its Advisory Panel believed that a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) would support appropriate use of these drugs in patients with homozygous FH, because of their life threatening disease, and because they have limited therapeutic options.

According to the December 24, 2012 Aegerion press release, the label for lomitapide contains a Boxed Warning citing the risk of hepatic toxicity. A Boxed Warning is the strongest warning that the FDA requires.

Lomitapide is avaiable only through the Juxtapid Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) Program. Aegerion will certify all health care providers who prescribe Juxtapid and the pharmacies that will dispense the medicine.

The goals of the REMS are:

  • To educate prescribers about the risk of hepatotoxicity associated with the use of lomitapide, and the need to monitor patients during treatment with the drug.
  • To restrict access to therapy with lomitapide to patients with a clinical or laboratory diagnosis consistent with HoFH.

The safety and efficacy of lomitapide have not been established in patients with hypercholesterolemia who do not have HoFH. The effects of the drug on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality has not been determined. The safety and effectiveness of lomitapide have not been established in pediatric patients.

In addition to establishing the REMS, Aegerion has made a commitment to the FDA to conduct a post-approval, observational cohort study.  The company has also developed a comprehensive support services program for patients and their healthcare providers.

As we discussed in our November 20, 2012 article, Aegerion will be marketing lomitapide on its own, without a larger partner, and has been ramping up its marketing and sales organization in anticipation of approval. The company has set up a website for the product, www.juxtapid.com.

We await the FDA’s decision on the approval of mipomersen, to see how this chapter in the hypercholesterolemia drug development story will unfold.

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As the producers of this blog, and as consultants to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, Haberman Associates would like to hear from you. If you are in a biotech or pharmaceutical company, and would like a 15-20-minute, no-obligation telephone discussion of issues raised by this or other blog articles, or an initial one-to-one consultation on an issue that is key to your company’s success, please contact us by phone or e-mail. We also welcome your comments on this or any other article on this blog.

Haberman Associates in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) article on Agios Pharmaceuticals

 

Agios Germanos, Greece. Source: http://bit.ly/YRDIBJ

Agios Germanos, Greece. Source: http://bit.ly/YRDIBJ

I was quoted in an article in the November 19, 2012 issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) by senior editor Lisa M Jarvis. The article is entitled “Agios Takes A Long View In Cell Metabolism.”

The article focuses on Agios Pharmaceuticals’ (Cambridge, MA) strategy for building a company that can endure as an independent firm over a long period of time, and that can also demonstrate sustained performance.

This contrasts with the recent trend toward “virtual biotech companies”–lean companies with only a very few employees that outsource most of their functions, and that are designed for early acquisition by a Big Pharma or large biotech company. The virtual company strategy is designed to deal with the inability of most young biotech companies to go public in the current financial environment. Without the ability to go public, young companies cannot provide early-stage venture capital investors with a profitable exit within a few years after launching the company. Virtual companies typically have a few assets, such as molecules that are ready for preclinical studies or early clinical trials. The goal is to obtain enough evidence that their compounds can become drugs to interest a Big Pharma.

In contrast, there are a few young  “platform companies” that are built on a broad technology platform, which aim to address important areas of biology and potentially to develop numerous products with the potential to address important areas of unmet medical need. One of these is Agios.

“Built to Last” in the current biotech ecosystem

In the C&EN article, I was quoted as saying that only a few platform companies have been launched in recent years. In the Boston area, in addition to Agios, such companies include Forma Therapeutics and Aileron Therapeutics. I was further quoted as saying “These companies are built to last.”

That brings up the old business paradigm from the 1990s and early 2000s–“Built to Last” versus “Built to Flip”. Those involved in building virtual biotech companies–especially venture capitalists and angel investors–do not like the use of “Built to Flip” to characterize their companies. And there are some fine virtual biotechs–some, such as Energesis and Zafgen–which we have covered in our blog.

(Plexxikon, the developer of targeted melanoma drug vemurafenib, also operated as a virtual company. However, it had a technology platform, and had the potential to become an independent biotech with marketed products. Thus Plexxikon did not fit the usual “virtual biotech model”. Nevertheless, it was acquired by Daiichi Sankyo in 2011.)

However, some industry commentators believe that “Built to Flip” is an appropriate designation for virtual biotech companies, and that the virtual model is likely to be detrimental to drug discovery and to the biotech/pharma industry as a whole.

Meanwhile, the 2012 BIO International Convention in Boston had a session entitled “Moving the Goal Posts: How to Build a Free-Standing Biotech from Scratch in Today’s Environment.” This session focused on how to build the “next Vertex or even the next Genentech” (i.e., a “Built to Last” biotech company) in today’s environment. John Evans, the Vice President of Business Development & Operations of Agios was a speaker at that session. The session was moderated by Bruce Booth of Atlas Ventures. Thus, despite the preference for lean virtual biotech companies in the current funding environment, there is an interest in the entrepreneurial and venture capital communities for how free-standing biotechs might emerge under current conditions.

How to build a young platform biotech company

The Biopharmconsortium Blog has included three articles about Agios:

These articles, as well as the November 19 2012 C&EN article, outline how Agios has been building a free-standing biotech in today’s unfavorable environment. Agios’ strategy is based on three elements:

  • A stellar group of scientific founders–Drs. Craig B. Thompson, Tak W. Mak, and Lewis C. Cantley.
  • A strong proprietary technology platform based on cancer metabolism
  • A financing strategy that includes both venture capital and partnerships with established companies. In the case of Agios, their partner is Celgene. The Agios/Celgene partnership provides Agios with $150 million, and allows Agios to maintain control over the direction of its early stage research.

As stated in the C&EN article, the financial security gained via Agios’ funding by its venture investors and by Celgene enables Agios to work on multiple potential targets, with the goal of dominating the field of cancer metabolism. Agios focuses on two types of targets: metabolic enzyme species that are found only in cancer cells, and enzyme species on which a cancer cell has become dependent. Agios researchers intend to develop drugs against targets for which their are predictive biomarkers that identify the right patients for clinical studies.

New developments outlined in the November 19, 2012 C&EN article

Both the November 19, 2012 C&EN article and our Bipharmconsortium Blog articles outline Agios’ program to target a mutated form of isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1), which together with mutated IDH2 has been implicated in 70% of human brain cancers. As stated in the C&EN article, Agios researchers have recently reported a series of compounds that selectively inhibit the mutant form of IDH1. This research had been carried out in collaboration with researchers from Ember Therapeutics (Watertown, MA). As we stated in another Biopharmconsortium Blog article, Ember specializes in targeting beige adipocytes for treatment of metabolic diseases.

As we noted in our November 30, 2011 Biopharmconsortium Blog article, Agios had slated a portion of the $78 million that it raised in its Series C financing to expand its R&D efforts into inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs). IEMs comprise a large class of inherited disorders of metabolism, most of which are defects in single genes that code for metabolic enzymes. These rare metabolic diseases have a high level of unmet medical need.

As outlined in the C&EN article, Agios’ work with mutant IDH1 and IDH2 is serving as a bridge to the company’s programs in IEMs. IDH2 mutations have been found in a class of children with 2-hydroxyglutaric aciduria, a rare inherited neurometabolic disorder that can cause developmental delay, epilepsy, and a set of other pathologies.

According to the C&EN article, IEMs are of special strategic interest to Agios. Agios CEO David Schenkein stated that expanding the company’s R&D efforts into IEMs helps the company to manage the risk profile of its portfolio. In the case of cancer, Agios researchers must identify and validate targets involved in the pathobiology of these diseases, and then to find drugs that modulate these targets. In the case of IEMs, disease biology is already validated by genetics.

Moreover, IEMs have small patient populations. Thus only small clinical trials are needed to bring a drug to market. Agios therefore believes that it can bring drugs for these diseases to market on its own, without the need for a larger partner such as Celgene or a Big Pharma.

As we discussed in a Biopharmconsortium Blog article on improving the clinical trial system, although rare diseases only require small clinical trials, finding and recruiting patients for the trials is made more difficult because of the very small number of patients with a particular disease. One solution is to work with patient advocates and “disease organizations”, some of which have patient registries. In the case of 2-hydroxyglutaric aciduria and other organic acidemias, a “disease organization” exists–the Organic Acidemia Association (OAA). Perhaps Agios will find it fruitful to work with the OAA in its patient recruitment efforts.

Currently, Agios is focused on getting compounds into the clinic–both for IEMs and for cancer. Looking down the road, the company’s $180 million war chest should enable Agios to put several compounds through proof-of-concept studies, according to Dr. Schenkein. (This is besides any cancer drug candidates that are licensed by Celgene.) Despite Agios’ strategy of conducting small trials for IEM drug candidates, Dr. Schenkein said that the company will eventually need to go public to achieve its strategic goal of dominating the cancer metabolism field.

________________________________

As the producers of this blog, and as consultants to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, Haberman Associates would like to hear from you. If you are in a biotech or pharmaceutical company, and would like a 15-20-minute, no-obligation telephone discussion of issues raised by this or other blog articles, or an initial one-to-one consultation on an issue that is key to your company’s success, please contact us by phone or e-mail.  We also welcome your comments on this or any other article on this blog

What is Haberman Associates?

habermanassoc_logo

A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation that was produced by another consulting firm, which we shall call Company X. They began their presentation with a discussion of “what is Company X?” Then they went on the the substance of their presentation.

In the same vein, as the producers of the Biopharmconsortium Blog, this article is entitled “What is Haberman Associates?” After we have posted this article, we also shall go on to our usual subject matter.

Haberman Associates is a Boston-based consulting firm, founded in 1993, that specializes in science and technology strategy for life science companies–principally pharmaceutical, biotechnology, diagnostics, and research products companies, and other companies (e.g., life science publishers, venture capitalists, angel investors, etc.) that serve the industry.

The focus of our company is new product development and commercialization. This includes new products developed via internal R&D and through partnering. In internal R&D, our usual focus is toward the early end of the process–drug discovery and early development.

Clients have used our consulting services to help them:

  • discover and develop new drugs, diagnostics, and research products
  • improve their drug pipelines
  • identify and evaluate potential partners
  • develop new applications for their technologies
  • penetrate new markets

Haberman Associates is a member the Boston-based Biopharmaceutical Consortium (BPC) and an Affiliate of the North Carolina-based consulting consortium Innovalyst. Our relationship with Innovalyst began after one of our BPC partners moved to North Carolina, and eventually became a Principal of Innovalyst. Between BPC and Innovalyst, we have nearly 90 senior consultants on our team.

We have worked on consulting engagements with both BPC and Innovalyst consultants.  Our relationship with these consortia enables us to take on larger projects, as well as projects requiring multiple types of expertise.

One of my Innovalyst colleagues referred to the Haberman Associates/Innovalyst combination as a “virtual drug discovery and development organization”. Another way to look at the Haberman Associates/Innovalyst combination is as having to power of a single office of a large consulting firm, but one dedicated to helping pharmaceutical and biotechnology clients to increase their effectiveness in the difficult areas of drug discovery and development.

In one case last year, a prospective client asked me whether Haberman Associates could take on a consulting engagement involving GMP services. I know little about that subject, other than where it fits into the process of developing a drug. I also know people who work in that area. So I handed the engagement over to another project leader in Innovalyst. He formed a team that included himself, several domain experts (one of whom knows the Chinese GMP services market), and me.  Although I knew little about GMP services, I used my research and interviewing skills, and made a material contribution to the project. Our team delivered a result that exceeded client expectations.

We always aim to exceed client expectations, whatever the project.

In addition to consulting, Haberman Associates has produced numerous publications–ranging from articles to book-length reports–which have been published by leading life science industry publishers. A list of recent publications is now available on my public LinkedIn profile.

As for the Biopharmconsortium Blog, it is the blog for our consulting group, not a journalistic blog. Despite the diversity of subjects covered by the blog, the focus is on effective drug discovery and development, and on company strategies designed to facilitate effective new product development. We have more good content available than we can possibly blog about, and do not accept requests to blog about content that is irrelevant to our focus.

We hope that the diverse community of our readers will benefit from the discussions on our blog. We also hope that potential clients in the life science industry will get a feeling for how we approach issues in drug discovery and development and company strategies.

However, even the best articles or books on how to solve key industry problems (such as clinical attrition) will not solve these problems on their own. Companies need to develop company-specific solutions and to implement them. For various reasons, they often are unable to do this without outside consulting help. Haberman Associates consulting may enable your company to formulate and implement the solutions you need to improve your productivity.

If you are in  a life sciences firm, and have questions about Haberman Associates, or wish to send us a consulting inquiry or to commission us to write a report for publication, please telephone or e-mail us.