Phar­ma 'greed' emerges as a po­tent po­lit­i­cal is­sue in a rau­cous elec­tion year

Phar­ma ex­ecs aren’t the most pop­u­lar peo­ple in the US these days, par­tic­u­lar­ly when they keep hik­ing the price of their drugs. And a sen­ate cam­paign in New Jer­sey is dri­ving that point home — right to the hilt.

Over the last few days Bob Hug­in’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents fight­ing the Re­pub­li­can ex-Cel­gene CEO’s cam­paign in New Jer­sey have been run­ning a bit­ter ad spot fea­tur­ing can­cer sur­vivor Pam Holt. Holt notes that Cel­gene’s Revlim­id costs a dol­lar a pill to make, and Cel­gene charges $600 for it, af­ter more than dou­bling what it orig­i­nal­ly cost when it hit the mar­ket.

“He was the CEO of the drug com­pa­ny that dou­bled the price on us, while he made $100 mil­lion,” she tells the cam­era. “Now he wants to be your sen­a­tor. But I’ll al­ways know him as the guy who made a killing off can­cer pa­tients like me.”

Cel­gene has al­ready in­di­rect­ly come in for some point­ed crit­i­cism from HHS sec­re­tary Alex Azar af­ter push­ing the price 20% last year. And now the com­pa­ny has re­port­ed­ly fol­lowed up with a 5% hike, with plans to leave it at that.

That’s prob­a­bly not great tim­ing from Hug­in’s per­spec­tive. Bob Menen­dez’s cam­paign float­ed a web­site called Health­News­NJ to paint him as a greedy phar­ma ex­ec. And the Menen­dez cam­paign chief has tak­en to call­ing Hug­in’s pay at Cel­gene “blood mon­ey.”

Cel­gene’s heavy re­liance on an ever-ris­ing price for Revlim­id to swell rev­enue is a stan­dard strat­e­gy at the big bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies. But these at­tack ads show that it has be­come a po­lit­i­cal hot pota­to, fu­el­ing a back­lash with broad im­pli­ca­tions for all the big play­ers. 

Just last week, af­ter Don­ald Trump promised we’d all be see­ing falling prices, Pfiz­er went ahead — like oth­ers — with price hikes on dozens of its port­fo­lio prod­ucts. Then the phone rang. 

The pres­i­dent called Pfiz­er CEO Ian Read per­son­al­ly to per­suade him to de­lay a big round of price hikes on their port­fo­lio, and got him to slam the brakes on the move — at least for now. 

Will oth­ers fol­low, or risk draw­ing the same un­wel­come spot­light?

Hug­in left his po­si­tion as Cel­gene chair­man to run for the Sen­ate, and there’s noth­ing he can do about the price of Revlim­id now. But he is push­ing back against the at­tack ad. His cam­paign just post­ed a new 30-sec­ond spot fea­tur­ing the fa­ther of an­oth­er can­cer pa­tient who says the phar­ma ex­ec pro­vid­ed Revlim­id when his in­sur­ance com­pa­ny wouldn’t cov­er it for his son.

“It’s not the drugs,” he says. “It’s not the prof­its. It’s a very per­son­al thing for Bob Hug­in.”


Im­age: Bob Hug­in at a pri­ma­ry elec­tion, June 5, 2018. AP IM­AGES

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; and more

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Usama Malik

Ex-Im­munomedics CFO charged with in­sid­er trad­ing, faces up to 20 years in prison af­ter al­leged­ly tip­ping off girl­friend and rel­a­tives of a PhI­II suc­cess

The former CFO of Immunomedics, who helped steer the company to its $21 billion buyout by Gilead last year, has been charged with insider trading, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Usama Malik tipped off his then-girlfriend and four others that a Phase III study for Trodelvy would be stopped early four days before Immunomedics publicly announced the result in April 2020, DoJ alleged in its complaint. The individuals then purchased Immunomedics shares, selling them after the news broke and Immunomedics’ stock price doubled.

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Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

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Nurses star in J&J's campaign centered on the importance of nurses who are increasingly stressed, burnt out and quitting the profession (via Johnson & Johnson)

Thank­ful for nurs­es: J&J's new cam­paign aims to re­set pan­dem­ic clock back to grat­i­tude

In the early days of the pandemic, people cheered for nurses – delivering food, writing thank you notes and ringing bells nightly to show their appreciation. But something shifted this summer, and now Johnson & Johnson wants to remind people of the gratitude that nurses still deserve.

Call it politics or pandemic weariness or the result of almost two years of a deadly pandemic, but nurses today face threats and mistreatment from patients and their angry family members. And nurses are leaving the profession in record numbers.

Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

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Drug­mak­ers cut prices on av­er­age by more than 60% to get on Chi­na's 2022 NDRL list — re­port

China’s National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) is a crystal clear example of the country’s bargaining power in the biotech and pharma market, as more firms have reportedly agreed to cut their prices for 67 new medicines to be included in its national medical insurance coverage starting in January.

Being on the list is lucrative. Essentially, if a biotech or pharma company gets on this list, they’re covered by the biggest insurance network in the country. Given China’s vast population, the Chinese government has significant leverage to decide which medicines can make a profit. While domestic drugmakers are quite willing to play that game, cutting prices significantly in exchange for getting on the list, international companies don’t do it as often.