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

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.


ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology


ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development


CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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SEC calls out lit­tle Ther­a­peu­tic­sMD for its in­sid­er con­tacts with an­a­lysts to boost share price, then halt rout

Back in May 2017, following an FDA rejection, TherapeuticsMD saw its share price plummet to the lowest levels in two years. The little Florida biotech eventually found its way back to the good side of regulators, scoring a curious OK a year later for its therapy preventing vaginal pain during sex. But the SEC is now accusing it of selectively disclosing nonpublic information in attempts to manipulate its stock.

In two instances in June and July of 2017, TherapeuticsMD allegedly violated the Regulation Fair Disclosure rule by sharing material information with certain sell-side analysts and not the public, resulting in a more favorable stock move than otherwise would be expected.

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Therapists Marcela Ot'alora and Bruce Poulter are trained to conduct MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. In this reenactment, they demonstrate how they help guide and watch over a patient who is revisiting traumatic memories while under the influence of MDMA. (Photo: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)

MD­MA, now in Phase III, shows promise as a PTSD treat­ment

The first time Lori Tipton tried MDMA, she was skeptical it would make a difference.

“I really was, at the beginning, very nervous,” Tipton said.

MDMA is the main ingredient in the club drug known as ecstasy or molly. But Tipton wasn’t taking pills sold on the street to get high. She was trying to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder by participating in a clinical trial.

After taking a dose of pure MDMA, Tipton lay in a quiet room with two specially trained psychotherapists. They sat next to her as she recalled some of her deepest traumas, such as discovering her mother’s body after Tipton’s mother killed two people and then herself in a murder-suicide.

Ted Ashburn. Oncorus

Cowen, Per­cep­tive lead $79.5M Se­ries B for 's­tand­out' biotech shep­herd­ing on­colyt­ic virus to clin­ic

As several Big Pharma players secure biotech partners in the oncolytic virus space for new immuno-oncology combos, Cowen and Perceptive Advisors have come out with their own bet on a startup that promises to shine.

The marquee investors are joining MPM, Deerfield, Celgene, Astellas, Arkin Bio Ventures and UBS Oncology Impact Fund in backing the drug developer, Oncorus, which will now deploy the $79.5 million in Series B cash toward clinical development of its lead program. Other new investors include Surveyor Capital, Sphera Funds, IMM Investment, QUAD Investment Management, UTC Investment, SV Investment Corp and Shinhan Investment-Private Equity, the last five of which are Korean-based funds.

Fu­til­i­ty analy­sis au­gurs de­feat in piv­otal tri­al test­ing of Nu­Cana's lead drug in metasta­t­ic pan­cre­at­ic can­cer

Nearly two years after making its public debut, UK-based NuCana’s mission to make chemotherapies more potent and safer was dealt a blow, after a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug halted enrollment in a hard-to-treat advanced form of cancer, following a futility analysis.

The drug, Acelarin, is being evaluated for use in metastatic pancreatic cancer patients who were not considered suitable for combination chemotherapy. In the late-stage ACELARATE study — which compared the experimental drug against the chemotherapy gemcitabine — 200 patients had been enrolled by the sponsor, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, before an analysis from an independent safety and data monitoring panel suggested the study’s main goal would not be met.