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Today we talk about Pfizer’s obesity woes, how J&J is leaning heavily into artificial intelligence, chat about how ADCs are having a heyday, and ponder the zombie microcap.
Pfizer’s GLP-1 troubles continue
Pfizer said it was stopping development of a twice-daily oral obesity medication after an underwhelming clinical trial, a blow to the company’s efforts to compete in the booming field of weight-loss medications.
The medicine, danuglipron, met its primary target in a placebo-controlled Phase 2b trial, leading to a statistically significant amount of weight lost, the company said. But the weight reductions were smaller than those seen in trials of rival medicines targeting the same GLP-1 pathway, and a high rate of patients experienced side effects and dropped out of the trial.
The results are a further setback in Pfizer’s efforts to join the hot obesity market, which some analysts estimate could balloon to $100 billion. In June, Pfizer stopped trials of a once-daily GLP-1 pill because patients on the treatment had elevated liver enzymes.
Are ADCs having a moment?
Is CAR-T safe? And who’s to blame for failed trials? We cover all that and more this week on “The Readout LOUD,” STAT’s biotech podcast.
We discuss why AbbVie is spending $10 billion on a cancer-focused company that spent four decades on the path to its first FDA approval, a deal with implications for biotech in 2023 and for a burgeoning area in oncology. We also talk about the latest news in the life sciences, including safety concerns for CAR-T cancer treatment, the slumping industry job market, and some curious explanations for clinical failures.
J&J bets heavy on AI-driven drug discovery
Johnson & Johnson has made massive investments in artificial intelligence, with plans to use it for drug discovery. The company has hired about 6,000 data scientists in recent years, and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to use machine learning to make sense of enormous health datasets, the Wall Street Journal writes.
Despite the hype, there still are only wisps of validation in this space. It could be years before an AI-discovered drug makes it through the developmental pipeline and achieves approval. Still, J&J says it has an edge with its database, med.AI, which it says can rapidly recognize patterns to speed up drug development. This database includes anonymized information from standard patient visits to doctors and hospitals, as well as years of clinical trial results.
“AI and data science are going to be the heart of how we are transforming and innovating,” Najat Khan, J&J’s chief data science officer, told the WSJ. “The amount of data is increasing, the algorithms are getting better, the computers are getting better.”
Texas attorney general files suit against Pfizer
The Texas attorney general has filed a lawsuit that accuses Pfizer of “unlawfully” and “intentionally” misrepresenting the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine. The 54-page lawsuit claims that Pfizer conducted a “scheme of serial misrepresentations,” and violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, by saying the shot was durable and could protect against transmission. Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking $10 million in reparations.
“We are pursuing justice for the people of Texas, many of whom were coerced by tyrannical vaccine mandates to take a defective product sold by lies,” the attorney general said in a statement. “The facts are clear. Pfizer did not tell the truth about their Covid-19 vaccines.”
Why aren’t more biotechs consolidating?
It’s been assumed that biotech consolidation would naturally follow after the recent bubble burst. Too many companies had launched before and during the pandemic, creating “wasteful crowding” in many sectors, so a natural winnowing of the chaff was to be expected, blogs Bruce Booth of LifeSciVC. But very little consolidation has actually happened: “My guess is most industry insiders would like to see 30-40% fewer public biotechs,” he writes. “I’m fairly confident that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
Booth thinks that a number of floundering companies will continue to cling to life — no one likes to throw in the towel, particularly the “zombie” microcap companies that “never seem to die.” As such, “we’re likely stuck with a big universe of small cap public biotech companies for the foreseeable future,” he writes.
• U.S. Supreme Court to review controversial Purdue Pharma bankruptcy settlement, STAT
• Novo Nordisk finds compounded Wegovy up to 33% impure, sues Florida pharmacies, Reuters
• More companies need to set diversity enrollment goals in cancer trials, FDA says, Endpoints
• After watching Merck’s chronic cough drama, GSK knew exactly what not to do with Bellus asset, FierceBiotech