Drug Development

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down: Novartis’s retreat leaves plenty of casualties; Biogen orchestrates a shameful media show, and more


Endpoints assesses the big biopharma R&D stories of the week, with a little added commentary on what they mean for the industry.


thumb down Novartis executes a messy withdrawal on CAR-T

Whatever Novartis’s PR Team has come up with to rationalize its decision to disband its 400-member cell and gene therapy unit, make no mistake that this move marks a significant pipeline retreat on the pharma giant’s part. Two years ago the company couldn’t say enough about its commitment to CAR-T development, but these new actions speak much louder than words. That’s not to say that Novartis is out of the game, but it is clearly falling by the wayside as a much faster set of players at Kite is left in sole possession of front place. (Juno’s recent pratfall seriously delayed its entry.)

thumb down Biogen is feasted after reheating some old Alzheimer’s data

Biogen execs knew exactly what they were doing when they heralded the publication of early Alzheimer’s data for aducanumab. By pushing some very thin results from a small study back into the spotlight, old claims about cognitive trends were transformed into new headlines about a cure. The company, which has been struggling to spark fresh enthusiasm for its risky pipeline, wasn’t able to get any boost out of it from Wall Street, where analysts were acutely aware of the sham. Patients and families, though, were likely tricked by the dog and pony show into believing some new wonder drug lay just on the horizon. The whole thing was shameful, and Biogen is complicit in spurring the media show.

thumb Medivation’s David Hung makes out like a bandit – and that’s a good thing

When you look for an accountant to handle the books, chances are you expect to save more on your taxes than what you’re paying your number cruncher. The same principle applies to what you pay your CEO when it comes time to sell the company. For Medivation’s David Hung, that’s a princely sum of $354 million. Sound expensive? Perhaps. But when you dig into the auction he performed for Medivation before selling to Pfizer for $14 billion, you get the impression that he earned it. Hung set a standard on dealmaking in biotech M&A. Let’s all raise our glasses and make a toast. A win is a win.

thumb Martin Shkreli makes his final exit at KaloBios

Martin Shkreli has specialized in defining the worst about biotech. Greed always trumped the public interest. Confused epithets were coined and tossed out to the masses via Twitter. And his let-the-insurers-pay-for-it defense — trotted out once again in an effort this week that would ultimately help vilify Mylan — incited a mob of angry critics. His character is so toxic that now that he’s cut his final ties to KaloBios, the biotech has responded by vowing to be a model of transparency while it seeks to hammer out a fair way to price drugs. We could only hope that the rest of the industry is shamed into the same position. Because the next drug pricing scandal is right around the corner. Innovators have to learn how to separate themselves from the profiteers, or everyone will be “reformed” the same way in the backlash to come.

thumb Novartis proves it can still be the leader in biosimilars

This week, Novartis’s biosimilars crew at Sandoz won a key FDA approval on its biosimilar of Enbrel, Amgen’s $5 billion drug. Once again, the agency was ready to extrapolate the data for one indication and apply it across the board. That will all help blaze a clear trail for others to follow at the agency. Of course, as the FDA becomes part of the solution, the courts remain ready to throw up roadblocks for long and tortuous patent litigation. And there’s no sign of that ending anytime soon.

person RIP Roger Tsien [1952-2016]

By all accounts, UC San Diego’s Roger Tsien illuminated many lives through his work, and not just by his groundbreaking work on fluorescent proteins. His untimely death is a cause of sadness, truly, but we should all celebrate a life well lived and the fact that his work will continue to benefit people for some time to come.

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John Carroll, Editor and Co-Founder

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