Blue­bird en­dors­es plan for in­stall­ment-based pay­ments for cost­ly gene ther­a­py

Pay­ment-by-in­stall­ment to tack­le the sky­rock­et­ing costs of drugs has long been de­lib­er­at­ed in health pol­i­cy cir­cles, but is now gain­ing trac­tion on the man­u­fac­tur­er side in the field of gene ther­a­py, as back­lash to $1 mil­lion-plus prices of these one-shot treat­ments whose long-term dura­bil­i­ty has not been es­tab­lished forces drug­mak­ers to seek cre­ative so­lu­tions to en­sure re­im­burse­ment.

Nick Leschly. GET­TY

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Blue­bird bio $BLUE CEO Nick Leschly float­ed such a mod­el in an in­ter­view with the Wall Street Jour­nal on Tues­day at the JP Mor­gan Health­care con­fer­ence, in re­la­tion to its gene-re­place­ment ther­a­py Lenti­Glo­bin for be­ta tha­lassemia — a rare, in­her­it­ed blood dis­or­der — which is ex­pect­ed to win EU ap­proval this year, and US ap­proval in 2020. Pa­tients with the dis­or­der usu­al­ly re­quire life­long treat­ment with blood trans­fu­sions and med­ica­tion.

The to­tal price of the com­pa­ny’s gene ther­a­py has not been an­nounced, but is ex­pect­ed to be in the sev­en-fig­ure range, al­beit be­low $2.1 mil­lion — which the com­pa­ny be­lieves is the “in­trin­sic val­ue” of the treat­ment — the WSJ re­port said. The com­pa­ny’s pric­ing plan in­volves an up­front 20% of the cost of the treat­ment, while the rest is ex­pect­ed to come in 20% in­stall­ments per year via the in­sur­er if the drug does in­deed work as in­tend­ed.

Leerink an­a­lysts said they had mod­eled the launch price of Lenti­Glo­bin as $1.2 mil­lion in the US and $0.9 mil­lion in the EU.

“How­ev­er, 80% of the cost of gene ther­a­py would be at risk, and while the da­ta for Lenti­Glo­bin has been promis­ing in our view, long-term dura­bil­i­ty is still an un­known and low­er than ex­pect­ed dura­bil­i­ty could erode the as­sumed price,” they wrote in a note on Tues­day.

Blue­bird’s plan — akin to a mort­gage — in­volves an up­front cost, fol­lowed by in­stall­ments of pay­ment. Ex­cept un­like a mort­gage, the in­di­vid­ual (or in this case a pa­tient) sel­dom en­joys the free­dom of treat­ment choice, and pay­ments are based on out­comes. Be­fore he be­came FDA com­mis­sion­er, Scott Got­tlieb, in a re­port for the Wash­ing­ton-based pub­lic pol­i­cy think tank AEI Re­search in 2014, wrote that med­ical ad­vance­ments tan­ta­mount to cures ne­ces­si­tat­ed pay­ment mod­els that can spread the high up­front costs over time dur­ing which the pub­lic health and eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits can be re­al­ized.

In health­care for ex­am­ple the cost of a ro­bot­ic tool for per­form­ing surgery is typ­i­cal­ly spread out (or amor­tized) over the sev­en years dur­ing which the de­vice is pre­sumed to be use­ful, he not­ed. In terms of med­ical treat­ment, amor­ti­za­tion is a more op­er­a­tive con­cept. “In­stead of spread­ing out the costs over the use­ful life of a piece of cap­i­tal equip­ment, amor­ti­za­tion in this con­text would al­low a pay­er to spread out the costs over the pe­ri­od dur­ing which it would ac­crue the ben­e­fits of the re­duced down­stream costs from dis­ease avert­ed,” he wrote.

More re­cent­ly, an ICER re­port pub­lished in 2017 de­bat­ed the mer­its of the amor­ti­za­tion mod­el for gene ther­a­pies, sug­gest­ing that al­though the idea was com­mend­able it may ac­tu­al­ly con­tribute to in­creased over­all prices for al­ready ex­pen­sive treat­ments. Mean­while, there are al­so oth­er chal­lenges to im­ple­ment­ing such a scheme — for in­stance, in the Unit­ed States, where in­sur­ance is of­ten tied to em­ploy­ment, drug­mak­ers will be on the hook if pa­tients change jobs or in­sur­ance car­ri­ers.

The furor sur­round­ing drug price goug­ing has spawned oth­er ideas such as val­ue-based pay­ments, in which in­sur­ers are el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive retroac­tive re­bates if drugs don’t work as in­tend­ed. For in­stance, Spark Ther­a­peu­tic­s'$ONCE has de­ployed a sim­i­lar plan by agree­ing to re­bate cer­tain in­sur­ers if its $850,000-gene ther­a­py for in­her­it­ed vi­sion loss Lux­tur­na doesn’t work as promised. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, in­sur­ers pay for a drug — re­gard­less of whether it works or not.

Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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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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Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.