An FDA re­form agen­da: What would Com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb do in his first six months?

An ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval path­way for com­plex gener­ics, em­brac­ing killer apps, pub­lish­ing CRLs and a swift kick in the lead­er­ship at the FDA all fig­ure promi­nent­ly.

Pres­i­dent Trump has made it clear that he’s look­ing for a rev­o­lu­tion at the FDA, which in turn has raised fears that he’ll ap­point a rev­o­lu­tion­ary dereg­u­la­tor as com­mis­sion­er who will blow up a well es­tab­lished gold stan­dard on drug ap­provals.

Scott Got­tlieb

The on­ly name which has sur­faced as a se­ri­ous con­tender for the top job at the FDA who would al­so be wel­comed by most peo­ple in the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try is Scott Got­tlieb, a for­mer deputy com­mis­sion­er for pol­i­cy un­der George W. Bush, con­ser­v­a­tive com­men­ta­tor and lon­grun­ning crit­ic of the agency as it was han­dled un­der the Oba­ma ad­min­is­tra­tion.

As a lead­ing con­tender for this job, Got­tlieb’s nom­i­na­tion would con­form to the tra­di­tion of hav­ing a trained physi­cian in the com­mis­sion­er’s of­fice. And he would al­so be com­ing in as a re­former with an un­der­stand­ing of the in­ner work­ings at the FDA, able to swift­ly ex­e­cute a se­ries of changes that would meet Trump’s stat­ed goal of ac­cel­er­at­ing ap­provals and dra­mat­i­cal­ly low­er­ing some drug prices.

Like the rest of the se­ri­ous prospec­tive can­di­dates for this job, Got­tlieb has been keep­ing a low pub­lic pro­file, de­clin­ing re­quests for in­ter­views. Try­ing to ar­gue over a spe­cif­ic agen­da in news­pa­pers or on TV would on­ly threat­en his chances for the nom­i­na­tion, which in­sid­ers say is still like­ly weeks away.

But in a re­view of his pub­lic re­marks and back­ground dis­cus­sions with peo­ple fa­mil­iar with Got­tlieb’s think­ing, I’ve as­sem­bled a to-do list that would like­ly fig­ure promi­nent­ly in Got­tlieb’s first six months at the FDA.

Even if he doesn’t get the tap, Got­tlieb has laid out agency re­forms that would like­ly fig­ure promi­nent­ly at the FDA over the next four years; a mid­dle way be­tween an­ar­chy and a brit­tle, bu­reau­crat­ic sta­tus quo, re­vis­ing but not dis­man­tling the agency’s in­sis­tence that any new drug that hits the mar­kets has a clear risk/ben­e­fit pro­file for physi­cians and pa­tients to con­sid­er.

Easy pick­ings?

Got­tlieb does have some low hang­ing fruit to go af­ter, with a Re­pub­li­can con­trolled House and Sen­ate that are like­ly will­ing to go along.

First task: Re­form FDA rules for ap­prov­ing com­plex gener­ics. While most of the re­form­ers have con­cen­trat­ed on a back­log of thou­sands of ap­pli­ca­tions for gener­ic drugs, Got­tlieb has been say­ing for a few years now that the agency needs to have more flex­i­bil­i­ty in ap­prov­ing gener­ic ver­sions of com­plex ther­a­peu­tics, a mid­dle ground be­tween the sim­ple small mol­e­cule knock­offs that are rel­a­tive­ly easy to get through the FDA and biosim­i­lars, which have a spe­cif­ic ap­proval path­way.

These drugs in­clude some of the world’s biggest block­busters, in­clud­ing Co­pax­one and Ad­vair, which are on­ly now on the verge of see­ing re­al gener­ic com­pe­ti­tion long af­ter los­ing patent pro­tec­tion. But there’s a long list of these com­plex gener­ics that can be sped along — pro­vid­ed the Com­mis­sion­er can get the leg­is­la­tion need­ed to do that.

“Con­gress should con­sid­er leg­is­la­tion to mod­ern­ize the gener­ic drug frame­work to al­low FDA greater dis­cre­tion in the kinds of da­ta it re­lies on for its gener­ic ap­provals in this nar­row cat­e­go­ry of com­plex drugs,” Got­tlieb told a Sen­ate com­mit­tee in Oc­to­ber 2016, tes­ti­mo­ny that was high­light­ed in a note by Ja­mi Ru­bin at Gold­man Sachs a few days ago. “This would re­quire, for ex­am­ple, grant­i­ng FDA the abil­i­ty to ask for more than just bioe­quiv­a­lence and bioavail­abil­i­ty da­ta in mak­ing judg­ments around same­ness.”

“Con­gress should be tapped to give FDA the lat­i­tude to look at the sci­ence nec­es­sary to make com­fort­able and re­li­able de­ter­mi­na­tions,” he wrote in a col­umn for Forbes back in 2015. Com­mis­sion­er Got­tlieb work­ing with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and bi­par­ti­san sup­port­ers in Con­gress could make short work of this.

Got­tlieb has said in the past that leg­is­la­tion is need­ed, but an ag­gres­sive com­mis­sion­er could go a long way to clear­ing the path for com­plex gener­ics. So look for some quick, broad guid­ance that would give de­vel­op­ers a clear reg­u­la­to­ry path for the class, toss­ing aside the more cum­ber­some case-by-case method that has been in use — of­ten long af­ter these ri­vals could have made it to the mar­ket.

The ad­van­tage here is that Got­tlieb could have a dra­mat­ic im­pact in a short pe­ri­od, point­ing to an ac­com­plish­ment that would earn a lot of sup­port from the pub­lic as well as law­mak­ers — even as in­di­vid­ual drug­mak­ers try to qui­et­ly spear any such threat to their own block­busters. Just pick­ing off the top 10 com­plex gener­ics would re­duce costs by bil­lions, ush­er­ing in new com­pe­ti­tion.

Chang­ing the rules on com­plex gener­ics to fa­cil­i­tate ap­provals while go­ing af­ter the back­log in gener­ics in gen­er­al will re­quire the agency to at least fill its emp­ty po­si­tions. That will re­quire an ear­ly ex­cep­tion to the pres­i­dent’s hir­ing freeze.

Get with the BTD pro­gram

Got­tlieb has been an un­abashed ad­mir­er of what FDA can­cer czar Rick Paz­dur has ac­com­plished with the break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion when it comes to new can­cer drug ap­provals. On­col­o­gy R&D has been trans­formed over the past three years. De­vel­op­ment time­lines have been stream­lined and cut, in some cas­es by years, as reg­u­la­tors took a more flex­i­ble ap­proach to as­sess­ing da­ta and med­ical needs for dy­ing pa­tients.

But he isn’t at all sat­is­fied that the en­tire agency has got­ten with the BTD pro­gram. And he’s like­ly to ad­dress that quick­ly, putting in a team of reg­u­la­tors tasked with ramp­ing up the re­view process in spe­cif­ic di­vi­sions that have lagged be­hind.

This is not a top­ic that Got­tlieb has ad­dressed ex­ten­sive­ly in pub­lic over the past sev­en years, since a col­umn of his in the Wall Street Jour­nal cas­ti­gat­ed the FDA for stick­ing with bur­den­some tri­al re­quire­ments to land an ap­proval. Much has changed since then, which he has ac­knowl­edged. But much is still left to be done, a sub­ject he brought up last May in a speech he gave at IS­POR ti­tled “Ac­cel­er­at­ing Cures: Ad­dress­ing Un­met Pa­tient Need or Putting Pa­tients at Risk.”

In that speech, Got­tlieb fo­cused care­ful­ly on how the FDA han­dles new drugs for rare dis­eases. As re­searchers un­der­stand­ing of rare dis­eases has grown, he writes, it stands to rea­son that the FDA’s process for re­view­ing new drugs should speed up. But the re­verse hap­pened, as he il­lus­trat­ed with the reg­u­la­to­ry his­to­ry of Al­du­razyme, Hurler Syn­drome, or MPS 1. There are on­ly about 500 such pa­tients in the US.

Got­tlieb said:

As each of the sub­se­quent and dif­fer­ent en­zyme re­place­ment ther­a­pies tar­get­ing dis­tinct MPS dis­eases sought FDA ap­proval, the clin­i­cal tri­al re­quire­ments in­creased sub­stan­tial­ly. In oth­er words, as FDA got smarter about the mech­a­nism of these treat­ments, in­stead of us­ing that knowl­edge to stream­line de­vel­op­ment, the hur­dles grew sub­stan­tial­ly.

The use of bio­mark­ers as a sur­ro­gate end­point need­ed for a quick ap­proval is one way that the FDA can ad­vance.

The ex­per­tise at the FDA needs to be re­or­ga­nized, with a new ap­proach to eval­u­at­ing “tri­al de­sign, sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis, and the prod­uct is­sues re­lat­ed to new plat­forms for pur­su­ing bi­o­log­i­cal tar­gets.”

(P)er­haps all drugs for ul­tra or­phan dis­eases should be re­viewed by a sep­a­rate di­vi­sion just fo­cused on these prod­ucts – a sort of skunk works for ul­tra or­phan prod­ucts — where there is more ex­per­tise in sta­tis­ti­cal ap­proach­es to clin­i­cal tri­al de­sign that in­volve open la­bel or sin­gle arm stud­ies that are some­times the on­ly fea­si­ble ap­proach in these dis­ease set­tings. Con­sul­tants from the rel­e­vant clin­i­cal re­view di­vi­sion could in­form the clin­i­cal as­pects of the re­view. Right now, it’s the clin­i­cal re­view di­vi­sion that dri­ves the process, with the ex­perts in the prod­uct and tri­al de­sign is­sues who serve as con­sul­tants to the process. This can en­able these oth­er con­sid­er­a­tions to be­come mar­gin­al­ized, even in cas­es where they are the more crit­i­cal and chal­leng­ing fea­tures.

New Bayesian ap­proach­es to sta­tis­ti­cal de­sign may help in cer­tain cas­es, he said. And Con­gress could spec­i­fy where FDA stan­dards could be ap­plied more flex­i­bly, help­ing reg­u­la­tors aban­don a rigid con­cep­tion that there’s one pre­em­i­nent stan­dard that has to be ap­plied in all cas­es.

The FDA al­so hasn’t just fa­cil­i­tat­ed new drug de­vel­op­ment over the last few years. It’s al­so added on new rules re­lat­ed to pre-mar­ket de­vel­op­ment, most no­tice­ably the car­dio­vas­cu­lar out­comes stud­ies for some new meds.

Those kinds of add-ons will be rolled back, mak­ing it less ex­pen­sive to get new di­a­betes drugs to the mar­ket — a big is­sue in that field — with a shift to post-mar­ket­ing stud­ies.

There’s a va­ri­ety of ways a new FDA un­der Got­tlieb could adopt new tech­nolo­gies and de­vel­op­ment de­signs that would both speed R&D ef­forts as well as low­er the front-end costs biotechs face to get through ear­ly-stage re­search. Mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion, not a new con­cept at the FDA, has al­ready been used to scale down the once epic scope of a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram. It’s helped in ear­ly dose se­lec­tion and iden­ti­fy­ing pa­tient sub­pop­u­la­tions most like­ly to ben­e­fit, in­clud­ing of­ten ne­glect­ed pe­di­atric pop­u­la­tions, that can be helped.

PDU­FA VI in­cludes a range of fea­tures aimed at speed­ing de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing the bet­ter use of bio­mark­ers, adap­tive tri­al de­signs and bet­ter use of all the var­i­ous FDA pro­grams for ac­cel­er­at­ing ap­provals, from BTD to or­phan drug des­ig­na­tions, which can al­so be more de­fined to avoid re­peats of de­flaza­cort, the Marathon steroid ap­proved for Duchenne MD and prices any­where from 50 to 70 times what it’s been sold for out­side the US.

Got­tlieb’s “killer apps”: get new de­vices on the mar­ket, mak­ing the FDA a fa­cil­i­ta­tor rather than an ob­sta­cle

Ap­ple’s Tim Cook has been gin­ger­ly walk­ing around the FDA when it comes to the new Ap­ple Watch and some of the health ap­pli­ca­tions he’s had in mind.

“We don’t want to put the watch through the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion process,” Cook told The Tele­graph last fall. “I wouldn’t mind putting some­thing ad­ja­cent to the watch through it, but not the watch, be­cause it would hold us back from in­no­vat­ing too much, the cy­cles are too long. But you can be­gin to en­vi­sion oth­er things that might be ad­ja­cent to it — maybe an app, maybe some­thing else.”

You’ll find Google’s Ver­i­ly work­ing in the same space, for the same rea­sons, and with the same reg­u­la­to­ry con­cerns. Drug de­vel­op­ers have been in­creas­ing­ly whipped up about the op­por­tu­ni­ties here. Imag­ine a de­vice that could alert a pa­tient and physi­cian of heart risks, or a pend­ing episode of ma­jor de­pres­sion or schiz­o­phre­nia. How well are Parkin­son’s symp­toms be­ing con­trolled by a drug?

Ap­ples been play­ing a slow de­vel­op­ment game here, know­ing that they’re not go­ing to get any help from the FDA. That will have to change. The new FDA will make a point of open­ing up the reg­u­la­to­ry road­way on new med tech, en­cour­ag­ing play­ers like Ap­ple to dive deep­er.

And a per­son­al fa­vorite: Pub­lish­ing CRLs

Got­tlieb: “(T)he FDA should be re­quired to dis­close its rea­sons for re­ject­ing a drug.”

It’s a well known fact that de­vel­op­ers rou­tine­ly mis­rep­re­sent the con­tents of these re­jec­tion no­tices. Some big de­vel­op­ers, like Am­gen and No­var­tis, oc­ca­sion­al­ly don’t even both­er try­ing.

In his 2010 col­umn for the Wall Street Jour­nal, Got­tlieb signed off on his sup­port for that long-await­ed piece of re­form. Know­ing that the FDA will pub­lish these let­ters — or pro­vide the con­tents some oth­er way — would save a lot of time and grief spec­u­lat­ing about what’s hap­pen­ing. And it will keep de­vel­op­ers on the straight and nar­row path as they de­sign tri­als and map a reg­u­la­to­ry path­way most like­ly to suc­ceed.

The prospect of a pub­lic hang­ing at the FDA would fo­cus de­vel­op­ers’ minds won­der­ful­ly.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Israel Lowy (Regeneron)

#ES­MO20: 'As good as any PD-1 out there': Re­gen­eron flash­es PD-(L)1 lung can­cer da­ta to ri­val Mer­ck

Regeneron entered the PD-(L)1 game late, so they devised a two-pronged strategy to catch up with Big Pharma rivals: They would push it into cancers where PD-1s had yet been tested, and they would prove that it’s as powerful in the big indications as any other on the market.

They cleared a hurdle on the first goal Friday, showing a 31% response in patients with the rare skin cancer basal cell carcinoma. And with the data they’re rolling out Monday, Regeneron cancer chief Israel Lowy is ready to declare success on the second.

Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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As­traZeneca pub­lish­es Covid-19 vac­cine PhI­II pro­to­cols in lock­step with Mod­er­na and Pfiz­er. How are they dif­fer­ent?

Following in the steps of Moderna and Pfizer, the other two American drugmakers currently in Phase III trials for their Covid-19 vaccines, AstraZeneca posted its own study protocols over the weekend. The move is the latest in a series of rare peeks behind the curtain, as such blueprints are typically shared once such trials are completed.

“Given the unprecedented global impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for public information, AstraZeneca has published the detailed protocol and design of our AZD1222 clinical trial. As with most clinical development, protocols are not typically shared publicly due to the importance of maintaining confidentiality and integrity of trials. AstraZeneca continues to work with industry peers to ensure a consistent approach to sharing timely clinical trial information,” the company said in a statement.

#ES­MO20: As­traZeneca aims to spur PRO­found shift in prostate can­cer treat­ment with Lyn­parza OS da­ta

AstraZeneca has unveiled the final, mature overall survival data that cemented Lynparza’s first approval in prostate cancer approval — touting its lead against rivals with the only PARP inhibitor to have demonstrated such benefit.

But getting the Merck-partnered drug to the right patients remains a challenge, something the companies are hoping to change with the new data cut.

The OS numbers on the subgroup with BRCA1/2 or ATM-mutated metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer are similar to the first look on offer when the FDA expanded the label in May: Lynparza reduced the risk of death by 31% versus Xtandi and Zytiga. Patients on Lynparza lived a median of 19.1 months, compared to 14.7 months for the anti-androgen therapies (p = 0.0175).

Eli Lilly CSO Dan Skovronsky (file photo)

UP­DAT­ED: #ES­MO20: Eli Lil­ly shows off the da­ta for its Verzenio suc­cess. Was it worth $18 bil­lion?

The press release alone, devoid of any number except for the size of the trial, added nearly $20 billion to Eli Lilly’s market cap back in June. Now investors and oncologists will get to see if the data live up to the hype.

On Sunday at ESMO, Eli Lilly announced the full results for its Phase III MonarchE trial of Verzenio, showing that across over 5,000 women who had had HR+, HER2- breast cancer, the drug reduced the odds of recurrence by 25%. That meant 7.8% of the patients on the drug arm saw their cancers return within 2 years, compared with 11.3% on the placebo arm.

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Sebastian Nijman (file photo)

Roche looks to ge­net­ic mod­i­fiers for new drug tar­gets, team­ing up with Dutch biotech in $375M deal

Roche is gambling on a new way of discovering drug targets and, ultimately, promising to infuse more than $375 million into a small biotech if all goes well.

A spinout of the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Oxford University, Scenic Biotech set out to pioneer a field that’s gaining some traction among top VCs in the US: to harness the natural protecting powers of genetic modifiers — specific genes that suppress a disease phenotype.

Greg Friberg (File photo)

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The first time I sat down with Amgen’s Greg Friberg to talk about the pharma giant’s KRAS G12C program for sotorasib (AMG 510) at ASCO a little more than a year ago, there was high excitement about the first glimpse of efficacy from their Phase I study, with 5 of 10 evaluable non-small cell lung cancer patients demonstrating a response to the drug.

After decades of failure targeting KRAS, sotorasib offered the first positive look at a new approach that promised to open a door to a whole new approach by targeting a particular mutation to a big target that had remained “undruggable” for decades.

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