As Trump lash­es out at Fra­zier again, J&J's Alex Gorsky says he's not aban­don­ing pres­i­den­t's coun­cil

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J&J CEO Alex Gorsky isn’t join­ing any ex­o­dus off of the pres­i­dent’s man­u­fac­tur­ing coun­cil. And he of­fered his rea­sons why just be­fore Trump un­leashed a new at­tack on Mer­ck CEO Ken Fra­zier and the oth­ers who have fol­lowed him out of the White House group while fresh­ly stir­ring a pot of con­tro­ver­sy.

For more than a day, J&J kept qui­et in the face of queries from me and many oth­ers cov­er­ing bio­phar­ma whether its CEO Alex Gorsky would fol­low the lead of Mer­ck CEO Ken Fra­zier and re­sign from the coun­cil in protest to the way Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump han­dled a dead­ly en­counter in Char­lottesville, VA over the week­end be­tween right-wing ex­trem­ists and the pro­test­ers who greet­ed them.

Ini­tial­ly, Trump on­ly con­demned “many sides” in the vi­o­lent show­down, which erupt­ed in­to a vi­ral dis­pute over the pres­i­dent’s un­will­ing­ness to shout out against neo-Nazis, the KKK and oth­ers. That ran­kled Fra­zier, one of the few black CEOs of a For­tune 500 com­pa­ny, who de­part­ed from the coun­cil in high-pro­file fash­ion Mon­day morn­ing, trig­ger­ing an an­gry se­ries of tweets from Trump which once again point­ed­ly raised ear­li­er crit­i­cism of high drug prices.

Tues­day af­ter­noon, though, J&J put out a state­ment from Gorsky, who said he’ll stick with the coun­cil as a way to ex­press “the val­ues of Our Cre­do as cru­cial pub­lic pol­i­cy is dis­cussed and de­vel­oped.”

“Ours is an im­por­tant voice on health­care,” the state­ment con­tin­ues. “One that glob­al lead­ers at every lev­el, in and out of gov­ern­ment, need to hear. If we aren’t in the room ad­vo­cat­ing for glob­al health as a top pri­or­i­ty, if we aren’t there stand­ing up for our be­lief in di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion, or if we fail to speak out if the sit­u­a­tion de­mands it, then we have ab­di­cat­ed our Cre­do re­spon­si­bil­i­ty. We must en­gage if we hope to change the world and those who lead it.”

As of Tues­day af­ter­noon, four oth­er ex­ecs had joined Fra­zier in jump­ing ship, keep­ing the pot boil­ing on spec­u­la­tion of who else will fol­low. AFL-CIO chief Richard Trum­ka was the lat­est to bow out.

Gorsky, though, made a rare pub­lic pledge to stay with the coun­cil, which may well draw an an­gry re­ac­tion from the pres­i­dent’s grow­ing le­gions of crit­ics.

In a press con­fer­ence Tues­day af­ter­noon, Trump once again blast­ed Fra­zier and the oth­ers who joined with him, this time crit­i­ciz­ing Mer­ck for its man­u­fac­tur­ing work out­side the US. Fra­zier and the oth­ers, said the pres­i­dent, are leav­ing af­ter he’s lec­tured them on bring­ing jobs back to this coun­try.

“We want prod­ucts made in the coun­try,” said Trump. “Now I have to tell you some of the folks that will leave (the coun­cil), they’re leav­ing out of em­bar­rass­ment be­cause they make their prod­ucts out­side” of the US. “You have to bring this work back to this coun­try.”

Trump, though, dogged­ly stuck by his ini­tial com­ments on Char­lottesville, in­sist­ing that all sides in the con­fronta­tion were re­spon­si­ble for the vi­o­lence, and sin­gling out left­ists for their at­tack on the last sym­bols of the Con­fed­er­a­cy that still stand in the town. That po­si­tion will leave the con­tro­ver­sy front and cen­ter in the me­dia, which will make Gorsky’s de­ci­sion tough to weath­er.

The bio­phar­ma in­dus­try, in­clud­ing J&J, has been lob­by­ing hard for tax re­form, which would po­ten­tial­ly al­low the multi­na­tion­als to repa­tri­ate bil­lions in over­seas ac­counts at a low­er tax rate. And none of them have been hap­py about Trump’s erup­tions on drug prices.

As for Trump, he’s al­so still tweet­ing about how an­gry the de­fec­tions have made him.


Alex Gorsky with Don­ald Trump in the White House AP IM­AGES

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.

RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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