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

A new era of treat­ment: How bio­mark­ers are chang­ing the way we think about can­cer

AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

“What are you talking about?” Patel asked. He had never seen an oncologist so happy.

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Serhat Gumrukçu, Enochian BioSciences co-founder (Seraph Research Institute)

LA biotech founder ar­rest­ed, charged in mur­der-for-hire scheme be­hind 2018 death

A biotech founder has been arrested and charged for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the death of a man in Vermont back in 2018.

Serhat Gumrukçu, the co-founder of Enochian BioSciences, was arrested in Los Angeles, where the company is based, according to the Department of Justice. He was charged alongside Berk Eratay of Las Vegas, and a third person, Jerry Banks of Colorado, was previously arrested for kidnapping and allegedly murdering the victim, Gregory Davis.

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Adam Russell, ARPA-H's incoming acting deputy director

NI­H's new, in­de­pen­dent break­through drug ac­cel­er­a­tor ARPA-H gets its first em­ploy­ee

Despite the controversy of housing it in NIH, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday afternoon formally announced the establishment of the Advanced Research Project Agency for Health (ARPA-H) as an independent entity within the NIH, as HHS had previously stipulated that “NIH may not subject ARPA-H to NIH policies.”

Becerra also announced the appointment of ARPA-H’s inaugural employee, Adam Russell, who will serve as acting deputy director.

David Ricks, Eli Lilly CEO (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Eli Lil­ly set to in­vest $2.1B in home state man­u­fac­tur­ing boost

Eli Lilly is looking to expand its footprint in its home Hoosier State by making a major investment in manufacturing.

The pharma is investing $2.1 billion in two new manufacturing sites at Indiana’s LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District in Boone County, northwest of Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

The two new facilities will expand Lilly’s manufacturing network for active ingredients and new therapeutic modalities, including genetic medicines, according to a press release.

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Pfiz­er and CD­MOs ramp up Paxlovid man­u­fac­tur­ing with Kala­ma­zoo plant ex­pan­sion lead­ing the way

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, pharma companies and manufacturers are exploring how to step up production on antivirals.

Pfizer is planning to expand its Kalamazoo-area facility to increase manufacturing capabilities for the oral Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid, according to a report from Michigan-based news site MLive. The expansion of the facility, which serves as Pfizer’s largest manufacturing location, is expected to create hundreds of “high-skilled” STEM jobs, MLive reported. No details about the project’s cost and timeline have been released, but according to MLive, Pfizer will announce the details of the expansion at some point in early June.

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FDA spells out the rules and re­stric­tions for states seek­ing to im­port drugs from Cana­da

The FDA is offering more of an explanation of the guardrails around its program that may soon allow states to import prescription drugs in some select circumstances from Canada, but only if such imports will result in significant cost reductions for consumers.

While the agency has yet to sign off on any of the 5 state plans in the works so far, and PhRMA’s suit to block the Trump-era rule allowing such imports is stalled, the new Q&A guidance spells out the various restrictions that states will have to abide by, potentially signaling that a state approval is coming.

ProFound Therapeutics founding team

Flag­ship's lat­est biotech could turn some of the thou­sands of new pro­teins it dis­cov­ered in­to ther­a­pies — and it has $75M to start

Flagship Pioneering, the incubator of Moderna and dozens of other biotechs, says it has landed upon tens of thousands of previously undiscovered human proteins. The VC shop wants to potentially turn them into therapeutics.

Like other drug developers that have turned proteins into therapeutics (think insulin for diabetes), Flagship’s latest creation, ProFound Therapeutics, wants to tap into this new trove of proteins as part of its mission to treat indications ranging from rare diseases to cancer to immunological diseases.

Richard Silverman, Akava Therapeutics founder and Northwestern professor

This time around, Lyri­ca's in­ven­tor is de­vel­op­ing his North­west­ern dis­cov­er­ies at his own biotech

Richard Silverman was left in the dark for the last five years of clinical development of the drug he discovered. The Northwestern University professor found out about the first approval of Lyrica, in the last few days of 2004, like most other people: in the newspaper.

What became one of Pfizer’s top-selling meds, at $5 billion in 2017 global sales before losing patent protection in 2019, started slipping out of his hands when Northwestern licensed it out to Parke-Davis, one of two biotechs that showed interest in developing the drug in the pre-email days, when the university’s two-person tech transfer team had to ship out letters to garner industry appetite.

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Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla at the World Economic Forum (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP Images)

All about ac­cess: Pfiz­er moves to a non-prof­it mod­el for drug sales in 45 low­er-in­come coun­tries

Leading the way to increase access to cheaper drugs worldwide, Pfizer said Wednesday it will provide all current and future patent-protected medicines and vaccines available in the US or EU on a not-for-profit basis to about 1.2 billion people in 45 lower-income countries.

Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda are the first five countries to sign on to this accord, which will also seek to blaze new paths for quick and efficient regulatory and procurement processes to reduce the usual delays in making new medicines and vaccines available in these countries.