Big day loom­ing, No­var­tis' new CEO Vas Narasimhan read­ies his jump in­to a mar­ket­ing melee

Joe Jimenez
Bioreg­num
The view from John Car­roll

Next week, No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez will of­fi­cial­ly hand over the reins to Vas Narasimhan, a top ex­ec­u­tive at the multi­na­tion­al com­pa­ny that has scored some stand­out ap­provals dur­ing his two-year stretch run­ning the D side of R&D. And much of his near-term grades on the big test to come will sit square­ly on the fate await­ing his top picks for Phase III de­vel­op­ment projects.

To­day, No­var­tis gen­er­al­ly sat­is­fied an­a­lysts with a Q4 record that in­di­cat­ed its big woes with Gleevec copy­cats are be­ing man­aged as a set of new drugs — par­tic­u­lar­ly Cosen­tyx , Kisqali and En­tresto — gains mar­ket trac­tion as their pi­o­neer­ing CAR-T Kym­ri­ah be­gins to get es­tab­lished. That’s al­lowed the com­pa­ny to look for­ward to some mod­est growth again, trig­ger­ing a sharp 4% spike in the stock price Wednes­day morn­ing.

This year No­var­tis will jock­ey a set of drugs in a race that in­cludes the first CGRP mi­graine drug ap­proval for erenum­ab, al­lied with Am­gen and a near cer­tain win­ner at the FDA, with lots of com­pe­ti­tion bit­ing on their heels.

Kym­ri­ah will al­so al­most cer­tain­ly ex­pand its port­fo­lio of in­di­ca­tions, go­ing head-to-head with an ag­gres­sive group of play­ers at Gilead on DL­B­CL soon.

RTH258 (brolu­cizum­ab) is be­ing po­si­tioned to carve out some block­buster mar­ket ter­ri­to­ry from Re­gen­eron’s key Eylea fran­chise, some­thing that biotech is al­ready prep­ping for as Re­gen­eron hunts an OK for a quar­ter­ly in­jec­tion of Eylea, look­ing to kick back against what will be a big ad­van­tage for No­var­tis with 12-week dos­ing. Re­gen­eron, though, has al­so been ham­pered by the fail­ure of its next-gen com­bos.

Ap­provals with­out sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue in the bal­ance won’t get cel­e­brat­ed at No­var­tis un­der Narasimhan. Acute­ly aware of the chal­lenges pay­ers throw in the face of ex­pen­sive new heart meds, the com­pa­ny is po­si­tion­ing canakinum­ab — the big sur­prise in the pipeline — for a par­tic­u­lar slice of the tough car­dio mar­ket that is like­ly to ben­e­fit the most pa­tients and have the least trou­ble get­ting the drug cov­ered.

And Cosen­tyx is be­ing po­si­tioned for new in­di­ca­tions, which will al­so be chal­lenged by some heavy­weights in that mar­ket.

In every sin­gle case, the star per­form­ers in No­var­tis’ late-stage pipeline will face ei­ther di­rect, head-to-head chal­lenges or pay­er kick­backs — or both — ei­ther on the day they hit the mar­ket or what amounts to the day af­ter.

So now Narasimhan, who put the com­pa­ny in this po­si­tion as de­vel­op­ment chief, will have to prove that he can lead the mar­ket­ing team to­ward their block­buster goals in de­liv­er­ing new rev­enue from in­no­v­a­tive prod­ucts.

And then there’s 2019 and all the oth­er years that the new, young CEO plans to stay at the top.

He’s off to a sol­id start. And no one un­der­stands the pipeline strat­e­gy at No­var­tis bet­ter than Vas Narasimhan. That’s some­thing few new Big Phar­ma chiefs have been able to boast of over the past decade, a time of steadi­ly shrink­ing ROI on multi­bil­lion dol­lar R&D gam­bles. And as a re­sult, ex­pec­ta­tions are run­ning very high.


Vas Narasimhan at a Jan­u­ary 2018 news con­fer­ence in Basel. Geor­gios Ke­falas/Key­stone via AP

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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