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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A new can­cer im­munother­a­py brings cau­tious hope for a field long await­ing the next big break­through

Bob Seibert sat silent across from his daughter at their favorite Spanish restaurant near his home in Charleston County, SC, their paella growing cold as he read through all the places in his body doctors found tumors.

He had texted his wife, a pediatric intensive care nurse, when he got the alert that his online chart was ready. Although he saw immediately it was bad, many of the terms — peritoneal, right iliac — were inscrutable. But she was five hours downstate, at a loud group dinner the night before another daughter’s cheer competition.

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Graphic: Alexander Lefterov for Endpoints News

Small biotechs with big drug am­bi­tions threat­en to up­end the tra­di­tion­al drug launch play­book

Of the countless decisions Vlad Coric had to make as Biohaven’s CEO over the past seven years, there was one that felt particularly nerve-wracking: Instead of selling to a Big Pharma, the company decided it would commercialize its migraine drug itself.

“I remember some investors yelling and pounding on the table like, you can’t do this. What are you thinking? You’re going to get crushed by AbbVie,” he recalled.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er de­buts Pre­vnar 20 TV ads; Lil­ly gets first FDA 2022 pro­mo slap down let­ter

Pfizer debuted its first TV ad for its Prevnar 20 next-generation pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. In the 60-second spot, several people (actor portrayals) with their ages listed as 65 or older are shown walking into a clinic as they turn to say they’re getting vaccinated with Prevnar 20 because they’re at risk.

The update to Pfizer’s blockbuster Prevnar 13 vaccine was approved in June, and as its name suggests is a vaccine for 20 serotypes — the original 13 plus seven more that cause pneumococcal disease. Pfizer used to spend heavily on TV ads to promote Prevnar 13 in 2018 and 2019 but cut back its TV budgets in the past two fall and winter seasonal spending cycles. Prevnar had been Pfizer’s top-selling drug, notching sales of just under $6 billion in 2020, and was the world’s top-selling vaccine before the Covid-19 vaccines came to market last year.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Pfiz­er fields a CRL for a $295M rare dis­ease play, giv­ing ri­val a big head start

Pfizer won’t be adding a new rare disease drug to the franchise club — for now, anyway.

The pharma giant put out word that their FDA application for the growth hormone therapy somatrogon got the regulatory heave-ho, though they didn’t even hint at a reason for the CRL. Following standard operating procedure, Pfizer said in a terse missive that they would be working with regulators on a followup.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Opin­ion: Flori­da is so mAb crazy, Ron De­San­tis wants to use mAbs that don't work

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying so hard to politicize the FDA and demonize the federal government that he entered into an alternate universe on Monday evening in describing a recent FDA action to restrict the use of two monoclonal antibody, or mAb, treatments for Covid-19 that don’t work against Omicron.

Without further ado, let’s break down his statement from last night, line by line, adjective by adjective.

Not cheap­er by the dozen: Bris­tol My­ers be­comes the 12th phar­ma com­pa­ny to re­strict 340B sales

Bristol Myers Squibb recently joined 11 of its peer pharma companies in limiting how many contract pharmacies can access certain drugs discounted by a federal program known as 340B.

Bristol Myers is just the latest in a series of high-profile pharma companies moving in their own direction as the Biden administration’s Health Resources and Services Administration struggles to rein in the drug discount program for the neediest Americans.

Joaquin Duato, J&J CEO (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

New J&J CEO Joaquin Du­a­to promis­es an ag­gres­sive M&A hunt in quest to grow phar­ma sales

Joaquin Duato stepped away from the sideline and directly into the spotlight on Tuesday, delivering his first quarterly review for J&J as its newly-tapped CEO after an 11-year run in senior posts. And he had some mixed financial news to deliver today while laying claim to a string of blockbuster drugs in the making and outlining an appetite for small and medium-sized M&A deals.

Duato also didn’t exactly shun large buyouts when asked about the future of the company’s medtech business — where they look to be in either the top or number 2 position in every segment they’re in — even though the bar for getting those deals done is so much higher.

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Roy Baynes, Merck

FDA bats back Mer­ck’s ‘pipeline in a prod­uct,’ de­mands more ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Despite some heavy blowback from analysts, Merck execs maintained an upbeat attitude about the market potential of its chronic cough drug gefapixant. But the confidence may be fading somewhat today as Merck puts out news that the FDA is handing back its application with a CRL.

Dubbed by Merck’s development chief Roy Baynes as a “pipeline in a product” with a variety of potential uses, Merck had fielded positive late-stage data demonstrating the drug’s ability to combat chronic cough. The drug dramatically reduced chronic cough in Phase III, but so did placebo, leaving Merck’s research team with a marginal success on the p-value side of the equation.

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Amgen's Twitter campaign #DearAsthma inspired thousands of people to express struggles and frustrations with the disease

Am­gen’s #Dear­Asth­ma spon­sored tweet lands big on game day, spark­ing thou­sands to re­spond

Amgen wanted to know how people with asthma really felt about daily life with the disease. So it bought a promoted tweet on Twitter noting the not-so-simple realities of life with asthma and ended the post with a #DearAsthma hashtag, a megaphone emoji and a re-tweet button.

That was just over one week ago and the responses haven’t stopped. More than 7,000 posts so far on Twitter replied to #DearAsthma to detail struggles of daily life, expressing humor, frustration and sometimes anger. More than a few f-bombs have been typed or gif-ed in reply to communicate just how much many people “hate” the disease.