September 9, 2014

Bristol-Myers vs. The Field (ex-Provectus)

Last week Bristol-Myers filed a lawsuit against Merck over [anti-]PD-1 agent pembrolizumab (trade name Keytruda), which was approved last week by the FDA for late-stage or metastatic melanoma.
Specifically, Bristol-Myers claims that Merck is violating the patent on its Opdivo mediation for tackling melanoma, which was recently approved in Japan and became the first so-called PD-1 inhibitor to win regulatory backing anywhere. A PD-1 inhibitor blocks a protein that acts as a brake on certain immune system cells and prevents them from attacking healthy tissue. (Bristol-Myers Sues Merck Over a Patent on its new Cancer Drug, The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2014)
Merck disclosed PD-1 antibody patent oppositions and litigation, at the time in Europe, in its 10-Q filing for the period ending June 30, 2014 (see page 22):
As previously disclosed, Ono Pharmaceutical Co. (“Ono”) has a European patent (EP 1 537 878) (“’878”) that broadly claims the use of an anti-PD-1 antibody, such as the Company’s immunotherapy, pembrolizumab (MK-3475), for the treatment of cancer. Ono has previously licensed its commercial rights to an anti-PD-1 antibody to Bristol-Myers Squibb (“BMS”) in certain markets. The Company believes that the ‘878 patent is invalid and filed an opposition in the European Patent Office (the “EPO”) seeking its revocation. In June 2014, the Opposition Division of the EPO found the claims in the ‘878 patent are valid. The Company expects to receive the Opposition Division’s written opinion in the third quarter of 2014, after which it will begin the appeal process. {Underlined emphasis is mine}
As FiercePharma's Tracy Staton writes: "The lawsuit asks for damages, but more importantly, asks the court to declare that Merck infringes that PD-1 patent. Such a decision would bolster Bristol-Myers and Ono's argument that they are owed royalties on sales of rival PD-1 drugs."

As I wrote in my Why Keytruda's approval is a good thing for PV-10 (September 8, 2014) news item under the blog's News tab:
KOLs see PD-1s as treating the bulk of late stage cancer. Key opinion leaders ("KOLs") see PD-1s, which fall under the category of checkpoint protein inhibitors that also include CTLA-4 and PD-L-1 agents, as an improvement over CTLA-4 agents like approved ipilimumab (trade name Yervoy) and tremelimumab. KOLs will use PD-1s to treat as many indications as they can scientifically support. Abstracts of Merck oncology-sponsored pembrolizumab studies being presented at ESMO 2014 in late-September, for example, include bladder and gastric cancer, advanced melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer ("NSCLC"), and head and neck cancer.
Bristol-Myers and Merck's PD-1s are projected to play key roles in the supposed several tens of billions of dollars equity research analysts estimate will be derived from the immuno-oncology addressable market.

But KOLs believe the more dominant use of PD-1s will come from combining them with other drugs to treat late-stage cancer, rather than strictly using them as monotherapies. I summarized 14 previously announced and/or conducted combination studies below, and first in my Combinations (July 24, 2014) news items under the blog's News tab.
Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
Bristol-Myers, however, has its bases covered with a combination therapy patent that covers PD-1s and other therapeutic compounds and compound categories. Again, Merck challenged it, noting such in the above mentioned quarterly filing:
On April 30, 2014, the Company, and three other companies, opposed another European patent (EP 2 161 336) (“’336”) owned by BMS and Ono that it believes is invalid. The ‘336 patent, if valid, broadly claims anti-PD-1 antibodies that could include pembrolizumab. {Underlined emphasis is mine.}
Bristol-Myers and Ono Pharmaceutical's '878 patent covers PD-1s as monotherapies.

Bristol-Myers and Ono's '336 patent covers PD-1s in combination with other agents, and appears to include a number of companies' products including Amgen's oncolytic virus and intralesional agent talimogene laherparepvec ("T-Vec"). T-Vec had been combined with Bristol-Myer's approved [anti-]CTLA-4 agent ipilimumab (trade name Yervoy), the results of which were presented at ASCO 2014. Amgen and Merck plan to combine T-Vec with Keytruda in a trial slated to start later this year.

A Big Pharma (BMS) with a market capitalization of about $85 billion (per Yahoo! Finance as of yesterday's close) battling one (MRK) with a market cap of about $176 billion. Afterall, in 2013, Citi analyst Andrew Baum estimated potential annual immuno-oncology-related sales to be $35 billion by 2023 (cough). Titans battling...

It does not appear PV-10 is covered by Bristol-Myers and Ono Pharmaceutical's '336 combination therapy patent. PD-1s in combination with PV-10 apparently are, however, covered by Provectus' combination therapy patent application (20120263677 ["'677"]) that it jointly filed with Pfizer (through an expansion, or continuation in part, of Claim #1) in 2012. Pfizer and Provectus would share CTLA-4-related combination therapy sales revenue via the '667 patent application if/when issued, but the former has no claim in the patent app on economics derived from PD-1-related combination therapy sales.

Whether the '878 monotherapy patent ultimately prevails -- that is, whether Merck is violating the patent for tackling cancer (see paragraph 047) -- is Merck's problem, and the Big Pharma eventually may elect to direct royalties Bristol-Myers and Ono's way(s).

Merck could, however, circumvent paying the other parties by meaningfully combining pembrolizumab/Keytruda with PV-10. Directionally speaking, immuno oncology is trending towards combination therapies for late-stage cancer treatment. Strategically, PV-10 should permit Merck's PD-1 to achieve greater tumor destruction and immunological signaling, and be the perfect front end for an immunologic back-end like Keytruda for the ultimate and better benefit of patients than what the PD-1 alone could achieve as a monotherapy. This combination proposition of course would require a sound scientific and medical data-based foundation, which one hopes Moffitt Cancer Center will present and convey at the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer's annual meeting in early-November. Tactically, an effective Keytruda/PV-10 combination with a compelling clinical value proposition should obviate the need for royalty payments to Bristol-Myers/Ono because the '336 combination patent would not be infringed. Increasing anti-PD-1 antibody patent opposition and litigation could tip Merck's decision-making scales in favor of embarking on a near-term combination study of Keytruda and PV-10, with perhaps an eye to a longer-term combination.

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