oncology Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

EMA’s pilot scheme for academic and non-profit development of ATMPs


by Giuliana Miglierini Advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) are often developed by academic and non-profit organisations, because of their high level expertise in the biotechnological techniques that underpin many new therapeutic approaches. On the other hand, these organisations often lack Read more

Lessons learnt to transition from Horizon 2020 to the new FP10


by Giuliana Miglierini The European Commission published the ex post evaluation of Horizon 2020 (H2020), the FP8 framework programme for research and innovation (R&I) run in years 2014-2020. The report identifies several areas of possible improvement, which may be taken into Read more

Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023


by Giuliana Miglierini Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023 The European Medicines Agency published its annual highlights, showing 77 medicines were recommended for marketing authorisation, and just 3 received a negative opinion (withdrawals were 19). In 2023 some highly expected Read more

Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Approvals and flops in drug development in 2023

The European Medicines Agency published its annual highlights, showing 77 medicines were recommended for marketing authorisation, and just 3 received a negative opinion (withdrawals were 19).

In 2023 some highly expected candidates under clinical development failed to meet the fixed endpoints, as reported by Fierce Biotech. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic reduced the commercial performance of medical products launched in 2020, highlights the Trinity Annual Drug Index. We summarise the main features emerging from the three documents.

The approval of the first CRISPR/Cas-9 gene therapy

The only advanced therapy medicinal product (ATMP) recommended by EMA in 2023 represents a true innovation in the therapeutic arsenal to treat transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia and severe sickle cell disease. Casgevy (exagamglogene autotemcel) is the first-in-class CRISPR/Cas 9 gene therapy approved, targeting specific mutations in the genome of patients that affect the production or function of haemoglobin.

EMA recommended in 2023 39 medicines based on a new active substance never authorised before in the EU. Generics and biosimilars were about a third of the approved products (14 and 8, respectively). On the other hand, 17 products received an orphan designation. Other new medicinal products followed different dedicated regulatory pathways, such as Prime (3) or accelerated assessment (3). One product received approval under exceptional circumstances, other 8 a conditional marketing authorisation.

Oncology continues to represent the most attractive therapeutic area for pharmaceutical R&D, with a total of 14 new medicinal products.

Elrexfio (elranatamab) and Talvey (talquetamab) were approved for the treatment of adult patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the bone marrow that affects plasma cells. Two other new medicines – Columvi (glofitamab) and Tepkinly (epcoritamab) – were approved for the treatment of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive cancer of the lymphatic system. The treatment of myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer that affects the bone marrow, can benefit from the approval of Omjjara (momelotinib). Cerebral glioma in paediatric patients from one year of age is the target of the combination of Finlee (dabrafenib) and Spexotras (trametinib).

Among other particularly innovative products recommended for approval by EMA are two vaccines to protect against lower respiratory tract disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus, Abrysvo (bivalent, recombinant) targeting small infants via immunisation of the mother during pregnancy (and over-60 adults), and Arexvy (recombinant, adjuvanted), representing the first vaccine for active immunisation of adults aged 60 years and older.

EMA also recommended two medicines for use in countries outside the EU, under the regulatory procedure “EU-Medicines for all” (EU-M4All). Arpraziquantel (arpraziquantel) targets schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease caused by parasitic trematode worms and affecting an estimate of 50 million young children. Fexinidazole Winthrop (fexinidazole) is already in use from 2018 to treat human African trypanosomiasis, a disease caused by the parasite trypanosoma brucei gambiense and also known as sleeping sickness. The CHMP extended the indications to include treatment of the more acute and lethal form of the disease caused by trypanosoma rhodesiense.

The main failures in clinical R&D

Pharmaceutical R&D may also lead to failure of the clinical development for candidate products. A selection of the more significant flops in 2023 as for clinical trials has been published by Fierce Biotech on its website.

An already FDA approved gene therapy product is also included in the list, Sarepta’s Elevidy for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, as its phase 3 Embark study didn’t meet the primary endpoint. The product is now under further scrutiny by the FDA. As for vaccines, a major failure refers to Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ HIV vaccine and its phase 3 Mosacio study, that was terminated as it was not expected to meet the primary endpoint. According to Fierce Biotech, Johnson & Johnson would have ended the development of the HIV vacci-ne and completely revised the infectious disease R&D unit. Failure to meet the expected benefit (3.5-month overall survival) in the phase 3 Sapphire trial impacted also sitravatinib, a spectrum-selective kinase inhibitor developed by Mirati Therapeutics to overcome resistance to checkpoint inhibitors in the treatment of non-small lung cell carcinoma. Tarcocimab tedromer is an anti-VEGF antibody biopolymer conjugate developed by Kodiak Sciences to treat diabetic macular edema, and that did not meet the primary endpoint in a phase 3 trial compared to the approved therapy. The same occurred to evobrutinib, a BTK inhibitor from Merck KGaA to treat multiple sclerosis, that failed the comparison with the reference product in two phase 3 studies. The failure of the potential blockbuster factor-XIa inhibitor asundexian, developed by Bayer for treatment of atrial fibrillation with stroke risk, was due to an observed “inferior efficacy” com-pared to the standard treatment Eliquis. The failure of efruxifermin (a FGF21 analog) in a phase 2b study aimed to treat fibrosis in cirrhotic MASH patients was attributed by Akero Therapeutics to the fact enrolled patients may have reached a too advanced state of disease for the treatment to be effective. The failure of Nektar Therapeutics’ phase 2 clinical trial in lupus with Rezpeg (rezpegaldesleukin) is a less typical occurrence, as it was due to errors made by the industrial partner Eli Lilly in the analysis of data from a phase 1b trial in eczema and psoriasis. Lilly admitted the errors and was then sued by Nektar.

The land of unicorns also crashed down when izokibep, a small protein developed by Acelyrin, failed the primary endpoint against placebo. The company had received a $540 million IPO, to then see its shares value decreasing by 58%. The failure was attributed to a programming error by a CRO, which according to Fierce Biotech is under investigation by the sponsor. The potential of artificial intelligence in supporting drug discovery may also be impacted by the failure of BEN-2293, a topical pan-Trk inhibitor in eczema developed by Benevolent AI which failed to meet the secondary endpoints of the safety-focused study.

The commercial performance of products approved in 2020

The commercial performances of novel drugs approved in 2020 are the focus of the Trinity Annual Drug Index.

Oncology represented in 2020 the leading indication (29% of the total 58 unique FDA drug and biologic approvals), followed by neurology (16%). The combination of the two therapeutic areas marked a net increase compared to 2017 (45% vs 34%, respectively). Half (9/17) of the new pro-ducts approved in Oncology were small molecules, mainly mutation directed. A quarter (24%) of the new medicines were monoclonal antibodies. The antibody drug conjugates Trodelvy, in particular, was the highest performing Oncology drug overall.

The strong impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the pharmaceutical industry in 2020, with many shifts of priorities in development and the need to manage shortages and disruptions of the supply chain, led to a lower commercial performance of the new products launched com-pared to 2016-2019. Good commercial results were obtained only by new medicines addressing significant unmet need or providing very strong therapeutic benefits.

The Trinity Annual Drug Index also highlights that approx. 21% (12/58) of approved products in 2020 constituted a “first launch” for their respective companies. None of them surpassed their forecast expectations, and approx. a half significantly underperformed.


The risk of a biosimilar void in Europe

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by Giuliana Miglierini

The undergoing revision of the pharmaceutical legislation aims, among others, to redefine data protection to better support competitiveness of generics and biosimilars and to favour the timely access of patients to treatments.

While the innovator pharma industry is claiming the proposed reform would reduce the attractiveness of Europe for R&D activities, a recent report from Iqvia analysed the status of biosimilar competition. According to the document, not all biological medicines experiencing loss of exclusivity (LoE) in the next decade would automatically face competition by the corresponding biosimilars. This would result in the creation of a “biosimilar void” on the market, with many originators losing protection without seeing the parallel development of their biosimilar versions.

Competition is not guaranteed

Biosimilar competition is not necessarily guaranteed, and emerging dynamics pose a risk to conventional notions of medicines lifecycles, states the report since its very beginning. The analysis refers to biological medicines that will lose protection in the period 2023-2032.

Despite the approx. 8-fold expected increase in LoE opportunity by value between 2012 and 2032 (from €4.4 billion to €32.2 bln, as result of loss of exclusivity for 110 biological medicines), data show a declining trend for years 2021-2023 (€4.3 bln). According to Iqvia, more than a half (55%) of biologics with LoE in the period 2023-2027 might experience the lack of a biosimilar in development.

The report highlights five areas of common perception to be addressed to better define the issue. The increasing complexity of many biological medicines coupled to new barriers to entry is one of the factors making the development of biosimilars interesting only for products referred to originators with large market shares. According to Iqvia, 27% of the 26 high-sales products that will reach loss of exclusivity by the end of 2032 do not have yet a biosimilar candidate in development in Europe (vs 45% at the global level), corresponding to a potential loss of approx. €8 bln market opportunity. The number of biosimilar candidates in the pipeline for high-sales biologics is also expected to decrease from 2027 onwards.

Regulatory hurdles, therapeutic classes, and disease indication are expected to play a greater role in guiding decisions on biosimilar development, indicates the report. The attractiveness of the European market should also be considered. Oncology will remain the more interesting area, with 44% of all candidates in early to late development for LoE events occurring between 2023 and 2027. Immunology and ophthalmology are other therapeutic areas that might experience growing competition.

The current barriers to biosimilar development

According to Iqvia, the main constraints limiting the decision on biosimilars development are represented by cost and time. In the oncology area, for example, high costs have to be considered to purchase the reference comparator biologic medicine, and large patients populations are required to demonstrate relevant clinical endpoints. New therapeutic classes, i.e., PD-L1/PD-1 inhibitors, may also pose challenges for the design of pharmacokinetic and equivalence studies. From the manufacturing perspective, the increasing use of antibody-drug conjugates (ADC) would result in new barriers to entry.

According to Iqvia, the least attractive products for biosimilars development are those with less than €500 million annual sales in Europe. The report shows 93% of these products might fail to see biosimilar competition, compared to 27% of high-sales medicines. This negative trend would result in a “biosimilar void” corresponding to approx. €15 bln in lost savings. Iqvia also identified some exceptions that might experience a niche development, on the basis of specific technological and manufacturing know-how, platforms and market access excellence.

Another factor to be considered is reimbursement rate, that the report identifies in 51% for low-sales biologics with no biosimilar pipeline (approx. 30% lower than for products with a biosimilar pipeline). The management of the intellectual property referred to the originator should be also taken into consideration.

Orphan and one-off medicines

Despite the growing number of new biologics reaching marketing authorisation as orphan medicines, according to Iqvia biosimilar development is undergoing by now for only one product (eculizumab). No other orphan biologics are expected to face biosimilar competition in future, as annual sales of the 39 orphan medicines currently on the market are too low (approx. €105 mln).

A major factor limiting the development of biosimilars for orphan medicines is linked to the fact many of these therapies fall in the antibody-drug conjugates (ADC) and cell- or gene-therapies (ATMPs) categories (wave 3 biologics). This implies many challenges from the development and manufacturing point of view, higher upfront investments and a more complex setup for analytical and clinical testing.

According to Iqvia, there are currently 16 non-orphan biosimilar candidates under development, corresponding to wave 3 biologics. A limiting factor for this pipeline is identified in the still present fragmentation of the European regulatory system, e.g., reimbursement policies, incentives, and clinical standards. ATMPs, also referred to as one-off therapies, represent a particular case, being relatively young on the market. This leads to no expectation of LoE events in the next five years. The trend would then change, with some 10 products losing protection by 2040, but it should be considered together with the parallel declining of the number of eligible patients, as many of them might have been already treated with the one-off originator medicine.

Shifting standards of care

Another factor analysed by Iqvia is the impact on biosimilars development of the possible changes in the current standards of care, for example resulting from the availability of new and more user-friendly formulations of the originator (i.e., subcutaneous vs intravenous injections). The availability of second- and third generation versions of the original biologic should be considered as another factor limiting the possible market share of a biosimilar of the first-generation product. The picture is indeed furthermore complicated, as another frequent possibility, especially in the oncology area, sees the development of combination therapies based on the use of two or more biologics. As already said, some of them might be very costly (i.e. monoclonal antibodies and PD-1 inhibitors), and require a larger study population to demonstrate equivalence of the add-off effect.

The proposed solutions to fill the biosimilar void

The Iqvia report proposes several possible solutions to overcome the expected biosimilar void, starting from horizon scanning activities aimed at early identification of upcoming LoE events in order to prevent contractions in biosimilar development. Horizon scanning may also support market entry and granting of incentives based on demand. The development of biosimilars of orphan medicines might benefit of a default waiver of comparative efficacy studies, a suggested measure that according to Iqvia would not compromise the demonstration of biosimilarity. Improvements at the regulatory level might also help to streamline development, together with global convergence of regulatory guidance. Iqvia also suggests the adoption of clear regulatory pathways to incentivise the development of the next-generation, one-off biosimilar gene- and cellular treatments. Access might be improved by optimisation of market conditions, with incentives for clinicians combined with the introduction of prescription targets. New tender models would also be needed to favour multi-winner procurement practices.