2021's NDA list in­cludes some ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­com­plish­ments in year #2 of the pan­dem­ic

All the big R&D trends are on display in this new list of drug approvals for 2021. Plus one.

Add up everything OK’d from CDER and CBER, and you have 60 new drug approvals for last year, topping the 59 in 2020. That’s a close second to the 64 OKs that came out of the FDA in 2018. The dark days of the early 2000s are a distant memory now, with a host of hungry upstarts promising to make their own entries one day as Big Pharmas double down on innovation.

There’s the new list of small biotechs that nailed down their first drug approvals, expressing nothing but eagerness to get out there and start marketing — something they all have much to learn about. Not all of these drugs are tipping the scales on the commercial side, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important to the small orphan populations that set this trend in motion more than a decade ago.

In the meantime the list of smaller players making the leap now include biotechs like Apellis and ADC Therapeutics. Kadmon hit, then sold to Sanofi. Can they perform like the analysts have promised? Hopes and forecasts during development are one thing, but as Biogen execs can tell you, sales is an unforgiving, hard-numbers game.

There are the late arrivals in the win column, often showing up at the regulatory finish line well past schedule, sometimes cuffed and bruised by CMC issues that continue to plague the field. The FDA has shown time and again that it isn’t in a forgiving mood over suspect manufacturing problems. That trend looks embedded into the fabric of the drug approval process, for big and small companies alike.

Novartis dealt with that, before getting their approval of Leqvio (inclisiran) and will now put its colossal shoulder behind the commercial wheel in the LDL market.

The major players, of course, tended to dominate the list of potential blockbusters. That’s another industry tradition. So AstraZeneca and Amgen made notable contributions to the list, for breakthrough asthma as well as impressive cancer drugs. AbbVie made its mark with migraines, which is seeing a new wave of therapies enter the market.

As always, sheer grit counts for much of the success. SeaGen’s success with next-gen ADCs is an example of that. AstraZeneca’s R&D staff almost never gives up, but just keeps battling ahead, changing trial designs, persisting. In that sense, finally finishing its world headquarters in Cambridge, UK in 2021 was a fitting symbol for the company’s stubbornness. They may not wow you with speed every time, but they get to the regulatory goal posts.

But amid all the hard work and endurance, let’s not overlook the year’s triumphs, topped by Albert Bourla’s Pfizer. Faced with a pandemic, Pfizer took its partnership with BioNTech to legend status. Its mRNA vaccine provided an instant burst of sales worth tens of billions of dollars. They got there first, breaking development and regulatory barriers, and set up a franchise that will help transform the multinational for the decade ahead. And let’s not forget that they did it in a year in which they brought through Prevnar 20, a next-gen approach that is expected to safeguard one of its biggest franchises.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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