Haystack 2010 Year-In-Review
Dec17

Haystack 2010 Year-In-Review

This Friday, we're looking back at 2010's big news in pharma and biotech, both the good and the bad. Check out our picks and be sure to weigh in on what you think we missed. 1. Provenge Approved In April, Dendreon's Provenge became the first approved cancer immunotherapy. Dendreon CEO Mitch Gold called it “the dawn of an entirely new era in medicine.” And while prostate cancer patients are excited for a new treatment option, the approval is perhaps most exciting for its potential to reignite interest in cancer immunotherapy research. There’s a lot of room for improving the approach—Provenge is, after all, expensive and highly individualized. Now that immunotherapy have been proven to work, there’s hope that the lessons learned in both its discovery and clinical development will aid scientists in inventing even better cancer vaccines. 2. Obesity Field Slims The obesity drug race played out in dramatic fashion in 2010, with three biotech companies-Vivus, Arena, and Orexigen, each making their case for its weight-loss medication before FDA. As of this writing, Orexigen's drug Contrave seems to be on the surest footing to approval, but longtime obesity-drug watchers know that caution seems to rule the day at FDA, so nothing is a sure bet. Orexigen's Contrave and Vivus's Qnexa are both combinations of already-approved drugs, whereas Arena's Lorqess is a completely new molecule. When C&EN covered the obesity race in 2009, it seemed that Lorqess (then going by the non-brand-name lorcaserin) had the cleanest safety profile, but Qnexa was best at helping patients lose weight. But FDA's panels didn't always play out the way folks expected. There were safety surprises- notably the worries about tumors that cropped up in rats on high doses of Lorqess, and the extensive questioning about birth defect risks from one of the ingredients in Vivus' Qnexa. The fact that FDA's panel voted favorably for Orexigen's Contrave, a drug that's thought to have some cardiovascular risks, generated discussion because FDA pulled Abbott's Meridia, a diet drug with cardiovascular risks, from the market in October. The dust still hasn't fully settled. Arena and Vivus received Complete Response Letters from FDA for Lorqess and Qnexa. Vivus has submitted additional documentation and a followup FDA meeting on Qnexa is happening in January. Also to come in January is the agency's formal decision on Contrave. And if you're interested in learning about the next wave of obesity drugs coming up in clinical trials, read this story in Nature News. 3. Sanofi & Genzyme: The Neverending Story Speaking of drama, Sanofi’s pursuit of Genzyme has been in the headlines for months now, and promises to stretch well into 2011. The...

Read More
Obesity Musings On Alkermes, J&J News
May25

Obesity Musings On Alkermes, J&J News

I am always on the lookout for news in the obesity drug area. But lately two of the molecular components of experimental obesity drugs in late-stage clinical trials-naltrexone and topiramate- are in the news for other reasons. Alkermes announced this morning that it will receive priority review from FDA for VIVITROL, an injectable extended-release formulation of naltrexone, for treating opioid-dependent patients, with a PDUFA date of October 12, 2010. The idea is that a once-monthly injection of VIVITROL would be given to lower cravings in people with a dependence on opioids such as heroin, Vicodin, or Oxycontin. VIVITROL is already approved for treating alcohol dependence. It's Alkermes's formulation that's new. Naltrexone as a chemical entity has been around for some time. DuPont originally marketed it as Trexan in 1984 but that form is now off-patent, as C&EN's Ann Thayer wrote back in 2006. I also promised that there was an obesity connection here, and indeed there is. Naltrexone is one of the two components in Orexigen's experimental obesity medication, Contrave, as I explained last year. Orexigen has developed its own proprietary sustained-release formulation of naltrexone and the experimental drug's other active ingredient-bupropion, an antidepressant and smoking-cessation aid that boosts dopamine signaling. Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, has agreed to pay $81 million (that's $6.1 million in criminal fines and $75.37 million from civil suits) for promoting its epilepsy medication Topamax for several uses not approved by FDA. This story has been in the news for nearly a month now (see Pharmalot's entry about it here) but the company pled guilty to the illegal marketing just last Friday, placing this item back at the top of my Google News list. One of the off-label indications J&J was promoting turns out to be obesity, according to the whistleblower who brought the case. Read the legal documents here [pdf format]. Thanks to Jim Edwards at BNET for posting these. Topiramate (the active ingredient in Topamax) is one of the two active ingredients in Vivus's experimental obesity drug Qnexa. But Vivus's formulation uses topiramate at a much lower dose than would be taken as a standalone...

Read More