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.

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

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.

Vas Narasimhan (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Still held down by clin­i­cal hold, No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma falls fur­ther be­hind Bio­gen and Roche as FDA asks for a new piv­otal study

Last October, the FDA slowed down Novartis’ quest to extend its gene therapy to older spinal muscular atrophy patients by slapping a partial hold on intrathecal administration. Almost a year later, the hold is still there, and regulators are adding another hurdle required for regulatory submission: a new pivotal confirmatory study.

The new requirement — which departs significantly from Novartis’ prior expectations — will likely stretch the path to registration beyond 2021, when analysts were expecting a BLA submission. That could mean more time for Biogen to reap Spinraza revenues and Roche to ramp up sales of Evrysdi in the absence of a rival.

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FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials, and could help shore up public trust in the agency and any eventual vaccine.

Scoop: ARCH’s Bob Nelsen is back­ing an mR­NA up­start that promis­es to up­end the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing side of the glob­al busi­ness

For the past 2 years, serial entrepreneur Igor Khandros relied on a small network of friends and close insiders to supply the first millions he needed to fund a secretive project to master a new approach to manufacturing mRNA therapies.

Right now, he says, he has a working “GMP-in-a-box” prototype for a new company he’s building — after launching 3 public companies — which plans to spread this contained, precise manufacturing tech around the world with a set of partners. He’s raised $60 million, recruited some prominent experts. And not coincidentally, he’s going semi-public with this just as a small group of pioneers appears to be on the threshold of ushering in the world’s first mRNA vaccines to fight a worldwide pandemic.

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Isaac Veinbergs, Libra CEO

With $29M in Se­ries A, Boehringer-backed Li­bra looks to tack­le neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion through cel­lu­lar clean­ing

Can the natural process by which cells clean out toxic proteins be harnessed to create potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders?

That’s the question Libra Therapeutics will be trying to answer, as the new biotech officially launched Wednesday morning with $29 million in Series A financing. The company has three preclinical programs at the ready, with its lead candidate targeting ALS and frontotemporal dementia. But CEO Isaac Veinbergs said he hopes to develop therapies for a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

Patrick Enright, Longitude co-founder (Longitude)

As its biotechs hit the pan­dem­ic ex­it, Lon­gi­tude rais­es $585M for new neu­ro, can­cer, ag­ing and or­phan-fo­cused fund

The years have been kind to Longitude Capital. This year, too.

A 2006 spinout of Pequot Capital, its founders started their new firm just four years before the parent company would go under amid insider trading allegations. Their first life sciences fund raised $325 million amid the financial crisis, they added a second for $385 million and then in, 2016, a third for $525 million. In the last few months, the pandemic biotech IPO boom netted several high-value exits from those funds, as Checkmate, Vaxcyte, Inozyme and Poseida all went public.

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Gene Wang, Immetas co-founder and CEO (file photo)

Im­metas Ther­a­peu­tics nabs $11M Se­ries A to nar­row their bis­pe­cif­ic work tar­get­ing in­flam­ma­tion in age-re­lat­ed dis­eases

How does a biotech celebrate its two-year anniversary? For Immetas Therapeutics, it’s with an $11 million Series A round and a game plan to fight age-related disease.

Co-founders Gene Wang and David Sinclair came together years ago around the idea that inflammation is the ultimate process driving age-related illnesses, including cancer. The duo launched Immetas in 2018 and packed the staff with industry experts. Wang, who says he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, has held lead roles at Novartis, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck. He’s worked on blockbuster drugs like Humira, Gardasil, Varubi and Zolinza. And now, he’s channeling that spirit as CEO.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.