Friday Five – The Pharma Week in Review (4 June 2021)

We break down five of the week's most important news stories.

For further analysis, listen to the latest episode of The FirstTake podcast here.

KRAS momentum

OX40 comes to the fore as a new target in atopic dermatitis

More wind in EQRx's sails

  • CStone Pharmaceuticals and partner EQRx announced that a Phase III study of the PD-L1 inhibitor sugemalimab as consolidation therapy in patients with locally advanced/unresectable stage III NSCLC, without disease progression after concurrent or sequential chemo-radiotherapy, met its primary endpoint of progression-free survival (PFS).
  • Sugemalimab is the first PD-(L)1 antibody to demonstrate a PFS benefit in this setting (AstraZeneca's Tagrisso is approved for use after concurrent chemotherapy).
  • This is a notable win for a non-Big Pharma developed immunotherapy (although Pfizer has recognised sugemalimab's credentials by in-licensing marketing rights in mainland China) and EQRx, which has promised to bring price competition to key drug classes.

ASCO ahead

  • The annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) begins today (June 4).
  • The use of immunotherapies and targeted cancer agents to treat earlier-stage disease (moving upstream from approved use in metastatic cancers) will be a key theme at this year's meeting.
  • Notable study results that could reshape treatment practice include those for Roche's PD-L1 inhibitor Tecentriq in adjuvant NSCLC, Merck & Co.'s PD-1 inhibitor Keytruda in adjuvant renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and AstraZeneca and Merck's PARP inhibitor Lynparza in adjuvant BRCA-mutation breast cancer.

See ASCO 2021 FirstImpact Results – Survey suggests Tecentriq primed for adjuvant lung cancer use

  • Also noteworthy will be presentation of data from Bristol Myers Squibb's RELATIVITY-047, the abstract of which was released last month. These data suggest that the novel drug relatlimab could become the first approved LAG-3 inhibitor – a third validated checkpoint inhibitor target.

See ASCO 2021 FirstImpact Results – LAG-3 success should see BMS dominate metastatic melanoma market

MorphoSys makes a move

  • The German biotech company MorphoSys agreed to acquire Constellation Pharmaceuticals for $1.7 billion, it was announced this week.
  • The purchase will be funded by a separate agreement with Royalty Pharma, which will make an upfront payment to MorphoSys worth more than $1.4 billion in return for future royalties on drugs discovered by the German biotech, including Johnson & Johnson's Tremfya.
  • Constellation previously collaborated with Roche's Genentech division to develop cancer therapies, but the latter passed on an opportunity to acquire the company in 2015.
  • MorphoSys investors will need some time to digest the deal, which not only raises question marks about the company's ability to develop new assets in-house, but the rationale of selling off a sizable revenue stream to fund its correction course.

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