As FDA looks to speed re­views even more, 2 pol­i­cy ex­perts want to re­strict the price of drugs that win an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK

Even af­ter the FDA added reg­u­la­to­ry path­ways for drug de­vel­op­ers to win ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­provals for new drugs, the po­lit­i­cal pres­sure in Wash­ing­ton to speed up drug re­views con­tin­ues to grow.

In tes­ti­mo­ny be­fore a House sub­com­mit­tee yes­ter­day, FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb as­sured law­mak­ers that bio­mark­ers, new tech­nolo­gies and more ef­fi­cient tri­al de­signs made it pos­si­ble to short­en the reg­u­la­to­ry process as he vowed to urge all the FDA to repli­cate the fast pace of the agency’s on­col­o­gy di­vi­sion, which has re­con­fig­ured can­cer drug de­vel­op­ment pro­grams over the past 3 years.

But should drugs ap­proved ear­ly with on­ly part of the da­ta that was once re­quired for an OK be able to fetch the full re­tail price that man­u­fac­tur­ers ex­pect to­day?

Two health pol­i­cy ex­perts say no.

Aaron Kessel­heim
Walid Gel­lad

In an op-ed for The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine, Walid Gel­lad from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh and Har­vard’s Aaron Kessel­heim ar­gue that any bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny that wins an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval should be sub­ject to cer­tain price re­stric­tions. And they’ve of­fered a few ex­am­ples of how that could work. You could, for ex­am­ple:

— Re­quire drug mak­ers to of­fer pub­lic pay­ers a set dis­count on drugs that get an ear­ly OK ahead of con­fir­ma­to­ry stud­ies. Med­ic­aid could get a statu­to­ry price re­duc­tion on top of the dis­counts it al­ready qual­i­fies for.

— Hold a por­tion of the rev­enue from these drugs in es­crow, un­til they prove they work as as­sumed based on the pre­lim­i­nary da­ta. Drug mak­ers can win it on a pos­i­tive Phase III, or lose it all as the cash is used to re­im­burse pay­ers.

— To avoid any gam­ing of this sys­tem, hik­ing the whole­sale price to make sure sell­ers make what they want from the dis­count­ed fig­ure, man­u­fac­tur­ers could be forced to switch to a cost-plus sys­tem, with set mar­gins.

The au­thors al­so call for a new sys­tem where de­vel­op­ers are held ac­count­able to see­ing their late-stage tri­als through on sched­ule. A sys­tem of re­wards and penal­ties can be put in place for com­pa­nies as they set out to achieve spe­cif­ic mile­stones in their stud­ies. And no more long run­ways, they say. New tri­als should start with­in months of an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK. And these con­fir­ma­to­ry stud­ies should be ex­pect­ed to wrap in a rea­son­able amount of time, not ex­tend for years in­to the fu­ture.

We be­lieve there should be plans in place to be­gin con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­als with­in 3 months af­ter ap­proval, with track­ing of tri­al progress through Clin­i­cal­Tri­als.gov. Though the rar­i­ty of the dis­ease and oth­er fac­tors might rea­son­ably af­fect tri­al ac­cru­al times, there should al­so be mean­ing­ful reper­cus­sions for miss­ing mile­stones such as hav­ing a pro­to­col in place or hit­ting re­cruit­ment tar­gets, cul­mi­nat­ing in with­draw­al of the drug if the tri­al is un­nec­es­sar­i­ly de­layed for an ex­tend­ed pe­ri­od. The FDA can, un­der cur­rent law, as­sess fi­nan­cial penal­ties or with­draw an ac­cel­er­at­ed-ap­proval drug from the mar­ket if the man­u­fac­tur­er fails to con­duct its con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al or fails to do so with “due dili­gence,” a bench­mark that the FDA can fur­ther clar­i­fy with stake­hold­er in­put.

Even more con­tro­ver­sial­ly, they sug­gest that an eco­nom­ic im­pact study should be used to eval­u­ate these drugs af­ter one or two years on the mar­ket, to see if the val­ue of a drug giv­en an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval is lost to the fi­nan­cial tur­moil it can cause.

As far as the in­dus­try is con­cerned, there isn’t any­thing here that would slip un­der the radar. It would all be fought tooth and nail. Ag­gres­sive gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions re­strict­ing prices and gov­ern­ing tri­als is anath­e­ma to bio­phar­ma, which much prefers vol­un­tary re­straint in the US. But as the de­bate over drug prices con­tin­ues to boil in Wash­ing­ton DC, it’s an­oth­er set of “so­lu­tions” like­ly to trig­ger fresh de­bate at a time ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­provals may just be get­ting start­ed.

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Joe Jimenez, Getty

Ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez is tak­ing an­oth­er crack at open­ing a new chap­ter in his ca­reer — and that in­cludes a new board seat and a $250M start­up

Joe Jimenez is back.

The ex-CEO of Novartis has taken a board seat on Century Therapeutics, the Versant and Bayer-backed startup focused on coming up with a brand new twist on cell therapies for cancer — a field where Jimenez made his mark backing the first personalized CAR-T approved for use.

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Can we make the an­tibi­ot­ic mar­ket great again?

The standard for-profit model in drug development is straightforward. Spend millions, even billions, to develop a medicine from scratch. The return on investment (and ideally a tidy profit) comes via volume and/or price, depending on the disease. But the string of big pharma exits and slew of biotech bankruptcies indicate that the model is sorely flawed when it comes to antibiotics.

The industry players contributing to the arsenal of antimicrobials are fast dwindling, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is embarrassingly sparse, the WHO has warned. Drugmakers are enticed by greener pastures, compared to the long, arduous and expensive path to antibiotic approval that offers little financial gain as treatments are typically priced cheaply, and often lose potency over time as microbes grow resistant to them.

The FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. They plan to squash it — and per­ma­nent­ly ex­ile him

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition. And their lawsuit is asking that Shkreli — with several years left on his prison sentence — be banned permanently from the pharma industry.

Amber Saltzman (Ohana)

Flag­ship's first ven­ture of 2020 is out, and it's all about sperm

A couple years ago, Amber Salzman got a call as she was returning East full-time after a two-year stint running a gene therapy company in California.

It was from someone at Flagship Pioneering, the deep-pocketed biotech venture firm. They had a new company with a new way of thinking about sperm. It had been incubating for over a year, and now they wanted her to run it.

“It exactly fit,” Salzman told Endpoints News. “I just thought I had to do something.”

Pfiz­er ax­es 6 ear­ly to late-stage can­cer stud­ies from the pipeline — with one oth­er cut for sick­le cell dis­ease

Pfizer trimmed a group of 3 R&D programs using their PD-L1 Bavencio — partnered with Merck KGaA — in their latest pipeline cull.

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UP­DAT­ED: In­cyte scores much need­ed PhI­II suc­cess — and of course it’s de­liv­ered by rux­oli­tinib

Incyte’s efforts to breathe a second life into ruxolitinib — its JAK inhibitor sold in pill form as Jakafi — has been greeted with clear, if preliminary and unsurprising, Phase III success.

Topline data from the TRuE-AD2 cements ruxolitinib’s foundational importance for Incyte, and gives analysts hope that there might yet be room for growth in a pipeline that’s suffered multiple R&D setbacks.

Stephen Hahn, AP

The FDA un­veils a new reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work to speed along gene ther­a­pies, re­ward­ing the lead­ing play­ers

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

The emphasis at the FDA over the past 5 years or so has been on assisting drug developers as much as they can to speed up regulatory reviews and push more drugs into the market. And they are now crafting a final set of regulations aimed at flagging through a whole new generation of gene therapies in clinical testing at a rapid clip.

In a set of 6 prospective guidances posted on the FDA web site Tuesday morning, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn committed the agency to staying flexible in handing out designations that are critical to gaining early approvals for drugs that claim to be once-and-done but don’t have anything close to the data needed to prove it.

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Mike Bloomberg (AP IMAGES)

Mike Bloomberg joins a grow­ing cho­rus of De­mo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates threat­en­ing to go af­ter drug patents

As the mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg had a few modest ideas about lowering prescription drug prices in the Big Apple that gained little traction. Now on the campaign trail on a faint hope of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, the billionaire has some bigger plans — including one that would alter the patent system central to the biopharma business.

In a barebones drug pricing plan posted on Monday, Bloomberg came out blasting President Donald Trump for failing to deliver his promise to lower drug prices, and then making misleading claims about them. The price of over 3,000 drugs still increased at a rate five times higher than inflation in the first six months of 2019, he wrote.