Bristol-Myers checks off another milestone on the Celgene CVR, hustling Yescarta rival to the market

As Bristol-Myers Squibb wrapped its $74 billion acquisition of Celgene last November, investors began a 16-month countdown to March 2021 — the deadline for the pharma giant to gain approval on three of its new pipeline favorites in order for the $9 contingent value rights to materialize.

Another one of them is now firmly on track to hit the goal early.

The FDA has accepted Bristol-Myers’ BLA for liso-cel, the CD19-directed CAR-T originally developed by Juno, and granted a priority review that brings the PDUFA date up to August 17, 2020.

You may remember the drug as JCAR017, the follow-up drug at the center of Juno’s comeback following some lethal neurotoxicity issues with its first-gen JCAR015. Along with Juno’s BCMA CAR-T program and the infringement lawsuit against Kite Pharma, it’s also part of what intrigued Celgene enough to gobble up the whole operation with $9 billion two years ago.

Bristol-Myers has since taken over and presented an upbeat assessment of a 268-patient pivotal trial for relapsed/refractory large B-cell lymphoma. Investigators tracked a 73% response rate and 53% complete response rate among patients who have undergone at least 2 prior lines of treatment.

“Recall, there was some debate in the marketplace whether this drug would get Priority Review given it would be the third CAR-T on the market if approved,” Mizuho analyst Salim Syed noted.

The news marks the “best case outcome,” he added, given that the milestone deadline for liso-cel is Dec 31, 2020.

“There remains a critical need for additional therapies in large B-cell lymphoma, particularly for relapsed or refractory patients,” Stanley Frankel, Bristol Myers’ SVP of cellular therapy development, said in a statement.

Gilead’s pioneering CAR-T Yescarta was approved in the exact same indication in October 2017 based on similar data from a smaller trial. Bristol-Myers’ hope is that a lower rate of cytokine release syndrome — just 2% in TRANSCEND NHL 001 — can convince physicians and payers to choose their therapy, even as new evidence suggests CRS risks can be mitigated by early use of steroids.

“There is a potential these patients can be treated on an outpatient basis,” Samit Hirawat, the chief medical officer, previously told Endpoints News.

The commercial prospect remains a whole other question, as investors question whether Yescarta sales have plateaued at roughly $120 million per quarter.

The other two catalysts that former Celgene shareholders need to redeem their CVR — now listed on the NYSE as $BMYRT — will be the approvals of multiple sclerosis drug ozanimod and bb2121, the bluebird-partnered BCMA CAR-T. Once spurned, ozanimod now has a PDUFA date of March 25. Meanwhile, the bb2121 submission may not happen until later this year; it has the latest deadline out of the triple crown, set at the end of Q1 2021.

Social image credit: AP

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