ASH23: Pharma branding, Editas’ high bar and clinical trial diversity

SAN DIEGO — At the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting, pharmaceutical branding is inescapable.

Johnson & Johnson’s and GSK’s new logos are splashed across the side of phone charging stations. Sanofi, among others, let attendees know via hand sanitizer stands that it was proud to keep those fingers and palms germ-free.

A few, AbbVie among them, have taken a more mobile approach. The company’s navy blue logo papers the back of honking pedicabs, with drivers wearing a logoed T-shirt to match. And, in a sign of the times, the Imbruvica maker is also sponsoring a chatbot named Red, who can answer questions about shuttle buses.

The biotechnology sector may be in a bleak midwinter, but, from the looks of advertising budgets, pharma companies have plenty of cash to spare for ASH this year. Most sponsorships were sold by the start of the convention, with every $2,500 in spending giving exhibitors “priority points” toward picking their space for next year’s convention, according to a media kit.

Attendees could get in on the spending themselves, too. Among the offerings at the “fASHion” booth in the convention center were neckties ($20) and scarves ($22) patterned with red blood cells, baby onesies ($15) emblazoned with the slogan “Future Hematologist” and white pet bandanas ($10) bearing the ASH logo, paw prints and bones.

For those who could wrest their attention from all the advertising and pharma-proffered espresso, though, ASH continued to offer reams of important research Sunday and Monday.

At the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Diego, pharmaceutical companies including AbbVie and Novartis paid to brand pedicabs with corporate logos.

Gwendolyn Wu/BioPharma Dive


Diversity in myeloma trials

How should researchers and drugmakers incorporate race into clinical trial design?

Studies often have specific patient eligibility criteria to test how an experimental treatment performs in different populations. But researchers don’t always prioritize demographic markers such as race and socioeconomic status in trial recruitment.

When the Food and Drug Administration looked at 19 multiple myeloma drug trials conducted between 2006 and 2019, they found that Black, Latino and Native American people were underrepresented in clinical studies compared to the demographics of the general patient population.

Per FDA data presented Sunday at ASH, Black people made up just 4% of multiple myeloma trial participants over that time frame. By contrast, 20% of multiple myeloma patients in the U.S. are Black, according to the International Myeloma Foundation.

“This is a significant underrepresentation of populations that have the disease and really underscores that we really don’t have a lot of information about the safety and efficacy of these specific products in patients that will ultimately receive them,” said Nicole Gormley, the FDA’s associate director for oncology endpoint development.

A type of blood cancer formed in plasma cells, multiple myeloma fills the bone marrow with malignant clones, crowding out normal cells and damaging bones and other organs.

A wide range of treatments exist for myeloma, but patients often cycle through many different regimens. Newer drugs to recently reach market include antibodies such as Johnson & Johnson’s Tecvayli and Pfizer’s Elrexfio as well as CAR-T therapies like Bristol Myers Squibb and 2Seventy Bio’s Abecma and J&J and Legend Biotech’s Carvykti.

Improvements in the standard of care have quadrupled survival outcomes for multiple myeloma patients, said Saad Usmani, chief of myeloma service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Still, patients of color face bias and delay in referrals to clinical trials of myeloma treatments, as do people living in parts of the U.S. where there are no cell therapy centers offering CAR-T, Usmani said.

Federal reforms could help broaden who enrolls in clinical studies. In 2022, Congress passed the Food and Drug Omnibus Reform Act, which requires drug sponsors to submit plans outlining how they plan to diversify trial enrollment for Phase 3 or post-approval studies. This year, the FDA drafted guidance for cases when data from specific populations hasn’t been obtained prior to a drug approval.

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