An in­censed Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma sues the FDA, ac­cus­ing agency of bow­ing to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and break­ing fed­er­al law

Af­ter hint­ing it was ex­plor­ing the le­gal­i­ty of the FDA’s ap­proval of a ri­val drug from fam­i­ly-run com­pa­ny Ja­cobus Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals on Wednes­day filed a law­suit against the health reg­u­la­tor — ef­fec­tive­ly ac­cus­ing the agency of bow­ing to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure sur­round­ing sky­rock­et­ing drug prices.

Patrick McE­namy Twit­ter

Be­fore Cat­a­lyst’s Fir­dapse (which car­ries an av­er­age an­nu­al list price of $375,000) was sanc­tioned for use in Lam­bert-Eaton myas­thenic syn­drome (LEMS) by the FDA, hun­dreds of pa­tients had been able to ac­cess a sim­i­lar drug from com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies for a frac­tion of the cost, or Ja­cobus’ for free, as part of an FDA-rat­i­fied com­pas­sion­ate use pro­gram. But the ap­proval of the Cat­a­lyst drug — ac­com­pa­nied by mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty span­ning sev­en years — ef­fec­tive­ly pre­clud­ed Ja­cobus and com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies from sell­ing their ver­sions.

Then, in an un­ex­pect­ed twist, weeks ago the FDA en­dorsed New Jer­sey-based Ja­cobus’ ver­sion in pe­di­atric pa­tients, on the ba­sis of adult da­ta — a move that could spark off-la­bel pre­scrip­tion in adults (As far as the FDA is con­cerned, doc­tors can pre­scribe drugs for off-la­bel use when they judge that it is med­ical­ly ap­pro­pri­ate for their pa­tient). Cat­a­lysts’ shares $CPRX sank on the an­nounce­ment and have not since re­vived. Adding fu­el to the fire, ear­li­er this week Ja­cobus re­vealed its drug, Ruzur­gi, will car­ry a list price that is less than half of Fir­dapse’s.

Cat­a­lyst main­tains that typ­i­cal­ly, cov­ered pa­tients pay less than $10 per month out-of-pock­et.

In LEMS pa­tients, the body’s own im­mune sys­tem launch­es an at­tack on the neu­ro­mus­cu­lar junc­tion — which con­nects nerves and mus­cles. The con­di­tion is as­so­ci­at­ed with oth­er au­toim­mune dis­eases, but tends to oc­cur in pa­tients with can­cer. Glob­al­ly it is es­ti­mat­ed to af­fect three per mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als, ac­cord­ing to the FDA, but its pe­di­atric preva­lence is not clear. Cat­a­lyst sug­gest­ed there are 3,000 LEMS US pa­tients, of which 300 are on Fir­dapse. Some es­ti­mates sug­gest there are few­er than three dozen pe­di­atric pa­tients in the Unit­ed States.

Un­der fed­er­al law, the agency is meant to treat all com­pa­nies in the same man­ner. Cat­a­lyst has as­sert­ed the agency un­der­mined the com­pa­ny’s or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty, and vi­o­lat­ed fed­er­al law by play­ing fa­vorites in con­text of a hy­per­vig­i­lant pric­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The ap­proval let­ters for Cat­a­lyst and Ja­cobus sug­gest that while the for­mer sub­mit­ted a body of clin­i­cal tri­al ev­i­dence as part of the pack­age the FDA re­viewed, the lat­ter did not sub­mit da­ta from cer­tain tox­i­col­o­gy stud­ies. In­stead, the FDA has asked Ja­cobus to pro­vide these da­ta as a post-mar­ket­ing re­quire­ment.

“We felt that the FDA’s ap­proval of Ruzur­gi was ar­bi­trary, capri­cious and not in ac­cord with the Food, Drug & Cos­met­ic Act,” Cat­a­lyst chief Patrick McE­nany told End­points News. 

“We be­lieve the FDA was im­prop­er­ly in­flu­enced in mak­ing this de­ci­sion by po­lit­i­cal pres­sures with re­gard to high drug pric­ing and we think it sets a hor­ri­ble prece­dent for oth­er com­pa­nies work­ing to de­vel­op drugs to treat rare dis­eases — it could in fact dis­cour­age com­pa­nies from in­vest­ing mil­lions of dol­lars and spend­ing many years to do this,” he said.

Ear­li­er this year, Ver­mont Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders — ahead of his an­nounce­ment to make a sec­ond at­tempt at the pres­i­den­cy — spot­light­ed Cat­a­lyst for the “im­moral ex­ploita­tion of pa­tients.”

McE­nany em­pha­sized that Cat­a­lyst has spent more than $100 mil­lion dol­lars in de­vel­op­ing the drug over the last sev­en years — and that his hope is the law­suit will cul­mi­nate in the with­draw­al of the Ruzur­gi ap­proval.

An FDA spokesper­son said the agency does not com­ment on pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion. End­points News has con­tact­ed Ja­cobus for com­ment.

Im­age: An­drew Harnik, AP Im­ages

Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

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Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: Bris­tol My­ers sus­pends clin­i­cal tri­als, grounds field team; Vir ush­ers an­ti­body can­di­dates to hu­man test­ing

The global nature of the Covid-19 pandemic is manifesting more profoundly every day. With Spain’s death toll now surpassing China’s and India on full lockdown, the number of confirmed cases around the world has exceeded 436,000 while recoveries edged close to 112,000.

While the outbreak derails R&D at another pharma giant, several drugmakers have some encouraging updates on both experimental and repurposed molecules. Philanthropic campaigns in anticipation of the economic fallout continue. An Australian biotech is taking extreme measures to hunker down. There’s also an alternative epidemiology model emerging out of the UK, stirring up more discussion regarding the true extent of the infections in the country.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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