FDA to ramp up cell and gene therapy activity as tidal wave of new products approaches


In a statement, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency anticipates more than 200 cell and gene therapy INDs per year by 2020, and 10-20 approvals annually by 2025.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to add 50 new staffers to its clinical review group for cell and gene therapies as it anticipates a surge in new products entering the clinic and the market over the next several years.

In a statement Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that by next year, the agency will receive on an annual basis more than 200 Investigational New Drug applications – used by companies to get regulatory approval to start clinical trials – and approving 10-20 cell and gene products per year by 2025.

“The activity reflects a turning point in the development of these technologies and their application to human health,” Gottlieb’s statement read. “It’s similar to the period marking an acceleration in the development of antibody drugs in the late 1990s, and the mainstreaming of monoclonal antibodies as the backbone of modern treatment regimens.”

That picture stands in stark contrast to the current roster of approved cell and gene therapies. Those consist of two CAR-T cell therapies for blood cancers – Novartis’s Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) and Gilead Sciences’ Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) – and one gene therapy, Spark Therapeutics’ Luxturna (voretigene neparvovec-rzyl), for a rare, inherited form of blindness.

For the application review of Kymriah’s initial approval in August 2017, for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and young adults, the agency convened the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee, a panel of outside experts who offer advice on approvals when the agency requests it. But it did not do so for Yescarta’s approval two months later for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in adults, nor did it for Kymriah in DLBCL – the relative ease of the latter approvals indicating the agency had quickly become more comfortable approving the then-unprecedented cell therapies.

But Gottlieb noted there are now more than 800 active INDs for cell and gene therapies on file with the FDA. In a panel discussion at last week’s Biotech Showcase in San Francisco, which coincides with the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Iovance Biotherapeutics CEO Maria Fardis noted that competition in CAR-T therapy is heating up at clinical trial centers, making it harder to recruit patients. She was speaking in the context of CAR-Ts for solid tumors, which remain a much less well-established area of the field than blood cancers. Other types of cell therapies are in development as well, including T-cell receptors and tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, respectively also known as TCRs and TILs.

Of course, the announcement took place against the background of the ongoing government shutdown. As a result, the FDA is currently only able to perform activities covered by user fees paid before the impasse, but is unable to perform many activities for which user fees had not yet been paid.

Several cell and gene therapy products are expected to reach the market in the near term. Celgene anticipates two CAR-T filings: bb2121 in multiple myeloma; and lisocabtagene maraleucel, which it acquired when it bought Juno Therapeutics last year. Both therapies were touted as near-term opportunities in Bristol-Myers Squibb’s recent $74 billion acquisition of Celgene. Separately, bluebird also anticipates approval in the US by next year for LentiGlobin for transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia. BioMarin Pharmaceutical also anticipates filing for approval of valoctocogene roxaparvovec in hemophilia A.


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