As a promi­nent an­a­lyst pre­dicts (even­tu­al) drug price con­trols, bio­phar­ma braces for a blow while Trump balls his fist

Some­time this week, no one is sure when, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is ex­pect­ed to give his long-await­ed speech on drug pric­ing. And a long line­up of key play­ers in the field has been scratch­ing their heads, anx­ious­ly try­ing to de­ter­mine just how far the na­tion’s most un­pre­dictable pres­i­dent could go.

Trump, of course, has been free with his pop­ulist brand of an­ti-in­dus­try rhetoric for more than a year now, af­ter es­tab­lish­ing the base­line with re­peat­ed as­ser­tions that phar­ma com­pa­nies have been get­ting away with mur­der for years. 

But there’s been lit­tle di­rect ac­tion, be­yond the work at the FDA to hus­tle up new gener­ic ap­provals while try­ing to use the pub­lic spot­light to whip up some fresh com­pe­ti­tion for the price gougers. 

FDA com­mis­sion Scott Got­tlieb like­ly tipped the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hand on one point in a pre­view he of­fered on pric­ing last week, in­di­cat­ing that in­dus­try prac­tices in fight­ing a de­lay­ing ac­tion against gener­ics and biosim­i­lars will face some di­rect chal­lenges. But while sig­nif­i­cant, that by it­self won’t bend any longterm trends on pric­ing in fa­vor of pay­ers.

Mean­while, pub­lic anger over drug pric­ing is re­peat­ed­ly stoked with an un­end­ing se­ries of high pro­file as­saults on cer­tain play­ers that have used their pric­ing pow­er to jack up rev­enue from old drugs.

Just last night, Mallinck­rodt was back in the spot­light with Ac­thar, which has gone from $40 a vial in 2001 to $40,000, threat­en­ing the ba­sic po­lice and fire ser­vices pro­vid­ed by the town of Rock­ford, IL.

For­mer Rock­ford May­or Lar­ry Mor­ris­sey set the stage for a 60 Min­utes seg­ment with this quote: “‘Why is health­care so ex­pen­sive? Be­cause the fix is in. That’s the an­swer. That’s the short an­swer.”

And it’s not the kind of an­swer bio­phar­ma wants to hear right now, es­pe­cial­ly on 60 Min­utes.

The in­dus­try is still dis­grun­tled over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to get phar­ma to cov­er part of the donut hole in Medicare drug prices. But they can live with that. There’s been a steady fo­cus at PhRMA on try­ing to shift the fo­cus from the man­u­fac­tur­ers to the in­sur­ers and PBMs that man­age the ben­e­fit. But it hasn’t worked. And re­cent­ly that tac­tic has pro­duced some painful­ly awk­ward sal­lies on so­cial me­dia that tends to at­tract as much spon­ta­neous laugh­ter as dis­cus­sion.

With pub­lic anger per­co­lat­ing at an un­prece­dent­ed rate — a ma­jor­i­ty told Kaiser Health that re­duc­ing drug pric­ing should be a top pri­or­i­ty of pol­i­cy mak­ers — some an­a­lysts be­lieve that what­ev­er Trump comes up with it won’t be enough to stop the one strat­e­gy that would make the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try reel: Price con­trols.

Se­nior Wells Far­go an­a­lyst David Maris put it in blunt terms a few days ago.

We be­lieve the US is on a longer-term arc to­ward price con­trols and low­er mar­gins, as there is an up­ris­ing that has been per­co­lat­ing for years against high drug prices. While the caus­es are many and the prob­lem much more com­pli­cat­ed and nu­anced than many oth­ers would lead read­ers to be­lieve, there is a re­bel­lion at hand. Ar­gu­ments about the cost to de­vel­op a drug or how oth­er sup­ply chain con­stituents are to blame are not ap­pre­ci­at­ed by the par­ent stand­ing at a phar­ma­cy counter aban­don­ing their child’s pre­scrip­tion be­cause they can­not af­ford it due to an out­ra­geous de­ducible or high co-pay. And ex­am­ples of un­con­scionable drug price in­creas­es have fur­ther hard­ened many con­sumer opin­ions. 

That day prob­a­bly won’t ar­rive this week. But if that’s the path we’re on, Trump is faced with ei­ther sat­is­fy­ing the anger with some grand com­pro­mis­es, or stok­ing it by pulling his punch­es.


Im­age: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at a speech in Oc­to­ber, 2017. AP IM­AGES

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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The fu­ture of mR­NA, J&J's vac­cine ad­comm, Mer­ck­'s $1.85B au­toim­mune bet and more

Welcome to the third installment of Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If this report was helpful in recapping it all for you, please do share it with your colleagues.

Get ready for FDA’s third Covid-19 vaccine

On the heels of a ringing endorsement from FDA reviewers earlier in the week, J&J‘s single-dose vaccine — which proved 66% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and 85% effective at stopping severe disease 28 days after administration — the advisory committee convened by the agency voted unanimously to recommend its emergency use authorization. It was “a relatively easy call,” according to one of the committee members — although that doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. Jason Mast has the highlights from the discussion, including new information from the company, on this live blog.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: Com­mit­tee votes 22-0 to rec­om­mend an FDA OK for the J&J vac­cine, set­ting up 3rd US Covid-19 jab

The US could have a third authorized Covid-19 vaccine within hours.

The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously — 22-0 — to recommend the agency issue an emergency use authorization for J&J’s vaccine. If they follow the precedent of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine,  the FDA will likely authorize the vaccine by Saturday, immediately adding a few million doses to the US supply and adding a 100 million by June. An authorization would give the world its first single-dose vaccine, a major weapon in the effort to vaccinate the world and bring the virus to heel, particularly in rural and developing areas.

Gos­samer push­es ahead with failed asth­ma drug; Cull­gen gets $50M Se­ries B for pro­tein de­graders

After getting beaten up by investors over the key failure of its lead drug GB001, Gossamer had already indicated that they thought they could move ahead in asthma, though likely through a partnership. And the biotech is pushing forward on that front, according to a Q4 statement today, following talks with regulators.

The company reported:

Gossamer engaged with the FDA and the EMA about the clinical development path in asthma, and based off those interactions, Gossamer believes that there is a viable clinical development path for GB001, or its backup molecule, in asthma. Gossamer does not currently plan to move forward with GB001, or its backup molecule, in further clinical trials without a partner.