FierceBiotech's top 10 stories of 2019—Gilead's failure, Biogen's phoenix, JPM venue fatigue and more

New Year Fireworks
New Year's fireworks (Wikimedia Commons)

As we reach the end of the year, we look back on the most read stories of the last 12 months as we also look ahead not just to a new year, but a new decade. So, what were the stories that you, dear reader, sought to end the 2010s with?

The largest was a failure: Gilead Sciences' late-stage nonalcoholic steatohepatitis hopeful, to be specific, which shows just how much pressure is on Gilead to succeed outside of infectious disease and how much you are watching therapies aiming to make it big for fatty liver disease.

Selonsertib bombed when the ASK1 inhibitor was no better than placebo at improving fibrosis, wiping out hopes that selonsertib would spearhead Gilead’s push into a new market.

Gilead moved selonsertib into phase 3 on the back of a midphase program that left big questions about the efficacy of the drug unanswered: The doubts created by the shortcomings of the phase 2 study and the data it generated have now proven to be well founded. It has other assets but now faces falling behind rivals, although they (Genfit and Intercept) have also been treading a rocky path to approval.

The second most read comes from another Big Biotech with issues, this time Biogen. Earlier this year, its much-hyped Alzheimer’s disease prospect flopped (your tenth most read story), and it looked like it would be assigned to the scrapheap with the dozens of other failed trials in this area.

But in October, the biotech stunned the market when, after more than a little data dredging, it managed to pull out a glimmer of hope and now plans to submit aducanumab for FDA approval in the near future.

Third was the ever-running story of the J.P. Morgan conference venue farce in San Francisco and how much hate this brings from attendees. Pricing is through the roof, and (we speak from experience here) running it several days after the Christmas and New Year's break seems unusually cruel.

Fourth, we had the highly anticipated data from a pivotal trial of Celgene’s CAR-T therapy hopeful, and one of the big reasons Bristol-Myers Squibb is spending billions to acquire the Big Biotech. The data looked competitive against Gilead’s Yescarta and Novartis’ Kymriah, leading analysts to predict Celgene will win FDA approval next year.

Fifth was a story from FierceBiotechResearch about how Roche's effort to stop cancer spreading has unexpectedly led to a Merck drug.

Coming in sixth was the news that Eli Lilly is joining a growing list of Big Pharma to shutter much of its neuroscience work, with the company axing research at its main U.K. neuro center, although it will now be spreading some of that work further around the globe.

Just last month, your seventh-biggest story saw Novartis snap up The Medicines Company and its next-gen late-stage heart drug for nearly $10 billion in a hope that cardiovascular drugs can be "in" again. (Although questions have now been raised over whether the Big Pharma paid too much for the co.)

Gilead spent $12 billion to buy cell therapy biotech Kite Pharma a few years back, but it was hit this year when, buried in among Gilead’s fourth-quarter results, the company revealed that it had abandoned an anti-BCMA cell therapy for multiple myeloma, taking a major $820 million charge in the process.

And, finally, another Celgene/Bristol story caught your interest when its former head of immunology and inflammation Terrie Curran jumped ship to Phathom Pharmaceuticals, part of a mini exodus of execs from both companies as they become Squelgene.

We are taking a short newsletter publication break for the holidays, but look forward to 2020 and the decade ahead, which starts off with the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference. Check in for any breaking news over the holidays. We will return Jan. 2. Thanks for reading with us in 2019, and we look forward to seeing you next year.

— Ben Adams, senior editor, FierceBiotech

Check out your top 10 below:

1) Gilead rocked by phase 3 failure of selonsertib in NASH

2) Biogen resurrects aducanumab, arguing expanded data set supports FDA filing in Alzheimer's

3) Attendees fed up with venue, high prices call to move JPM out of San Francisco

4) Celgene posts pivotal CAR-T data ahead of FDA filing

5) Roche's effort to stop cancer metastasis unexpectedly leads to a Merck drug

6) Eli Lilly to shutter neuroscience R&D center next year

7) Novartis strikes $9.7B takeover of The Medicines Company

8) Gilead drops anti-BCMA CAR-T from Kite, takes $820M charge

9) As Celgene becomes BMS, its I&I lead lands CEO job at Takeda spinoff

10) Biogen hit by 'transformative failure' as it cans aducanumab tests