News briefing: Cosentyx shows early positive signs in psoriatic arthritis; Pfizer’s PhIIb for cardio drug triggers $75M milestone

Novartis’ blockbuster Cosentyx is seeking approval in another indication, and the company reported positive early Phase IIIb results Thursday.

Looking to reduce joint lining inflammation in psoriatic arthritis, Cosentyx saw benefits against placebo after 12 weeks. Though Novartis didn’t provide any numbers in this early look, the company said the drug showed “significant benefit” on its way to meeting the primary endpoint.

Novartis is assessing the specific inflammation Cosentyx is trying to treat, known as synovitis, using an ultrasound test. The drugmaker expects to release the full 24-week data in 2021.

Cosentyx was Novartis’ bestseller in the first half of this year, tallying nearly $1.9 billion in global sales. It also sold more than any other Novartis product in all of 2019, netting the Swiss pharma more than $3.5 billion last year, up 25% from 2018.

The drug, an IL-17F inhibitor, is currently approved across three indications psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. It’s facing potential R&D competition in the psoriasis space from AbbVie’s Humira successor Skyrizi and UCB’s bimekizumab. — Max Gelman

Ionis bags $75M milestone as Pfizer kicks off PhIIb for cardio drug

Pfizer has treated the first patient of a Phase IIb study of vupanorsen, the ANGPTL3-targeting antisense oligonucleotide it licensed from Ionis a year ago.

For Ionis, that means receiving a $75 million milestone payment and sitting back to let the pharma giant handle everything from here on out.

The goal is to enroll 260 patients with elevated non-HDL cholesterol and triglycerides who are receiving a stable dose of a statin. The drug met the primary endpoint of significant reductions in triglycerides levels in Phase IIa, which targeted those with hypertriglyceridemia, type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

In the new trial, investigators will be evaluating multiple doses and focus on change in non-HDL-C. — Amber Tong

California cytometry player raises $120M in Series D

Cytek Biosciences has a whole new heap of cash to play with.

The Fremont, CA-based biotech has closed a $120 million Series D round, it announced Thursday, that will be used to expand its global infrastructure. Cytek focuses its research on flow cytometry, a cell analysis technique that Cytek hopes can provide better diagnostic tools for cancer and cell biology.

“We are committed to advancing the scope, reach and capabilities of flow cytometry — and to providing researchers and clinicians around the globe with the tools they need to improve patient treatments,” CEO Wenbin Jiang said in a statement.

Thursday’s round was co-led by RA Capital and Hillhouse Capital, with OrbiMed and LYFE Capital also chipping in. RA and Hillhouse have also joined Cytek’s board of directors.

Cytek says its proprietary platform offers a more complete picture of all the different cellular players in the immune system than previous cytometry efforts. — Max Gelman

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