Ok­la­homa judge finds J&J guilty for its role in the opi­oid epi­dem­ic — but shares spike on $572M fine

An Ok­la­homa judge on Mon­day found phar­ma gi­ant J&J guilty of help­ing lay the ground­work on a na­tion­wide epi­dem­ic of opi­oid ad­dic­tion, but on­ly fined the com­pa­ny $572 mil­lion — at the very bot­tom of the range an­a­lysts had set, which stretched up in­to the bil­lions.

The close­ly watched out­come will help cal­i­brate es­ti­mates of just what kind of li­a­bil­i­ty the multi­na­tion­al com­pa­ny faces for an epi­dem­ic the CDC says has cost the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple through­out the coun­try.

For in­vestors, it was good news, as J&J shares spiked close to 4% on the guilty rul­ing.

Michael Ull­mann

The Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­er­al had ar­gued that J&J’s ag­gres­sive sales prac­tices cre­at­ed an over­sup­ply of opi­oids that drove the epi­dem­ic, while un­der­play­ing the dan­gers and hyp­ing the re­wards of opi­oids. J&J was the on­ly re­main­ing de­fen­dant, af­ter Te­va and Pur­due Phar­ma reached their own set­tle­ments with­out ad­mit­ting guilt.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, J&J saw it dif­fer­ent­ly, say­ing the state’s case nev­er proved their con­tention that the com­pa­ny’s ac­tions had cre­at­ed a pub­lic nui­sance. Now they’re go­ing to ap­peal.

“Janssen did not cause the opi­oid cri­sis in Ok­la­homa, and nei­ther the facts nor the law sup­port this out­come,” said Michael Ull­mann, J&J’s gen­er­al coun­sel. “We rec­og­nize the opi­oid cri­sis is a tremen­dous­ly com­plex pub­lic health is­sue and we have deep sym­pa­thy for every­one af­fect­ed. We are work­ing with part­ners to find ways to help those in need.”

This case was con­sid­ered a bell­wether suit which could have a big im­pact on the hun­dreds of state and lo­cal cas­es that are be­ing jug­gled now, pre­sent­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a mas­ter agree­ment that could reach past $100 bil­lion.

For its part, J&J ar­gued that it played — at most — a mi­nus­cule role in the epi­dem­ic in Ok­la­homa. The phar­ma gi­ant tried, with­out suc­cess, to get the case thrown out, ar­gu­ing it was pro­tect­ed by the First Amend­ment. 

Ok­la­homa AG Mike Hunter coun­tered by say­ing that J&J ex­ecs co­or­di­nat­ed their mar­ket­ing work on opi­oids with Pur­due for years. 

Pur­due’s own­ers, the Sack­ler fam­i­ly, came to a $270 mil­lion set­tle­ment deal with the state, which will be used to pay for a new drug re­search cen­ter.

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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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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.

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

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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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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.

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

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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.

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The discordant effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on pharma reputation continues. While the overall industry still retains a respectable halo from its Covid-19 quick response and leadership, a new patient group study reveals a different story emerging in the details.

On one hand, US patient advocacy groups rated the industry higher-than-ever overall. More than two-thirds (67%) of groups gave the industry a thumbs up for 2021, a whopping 10 percentage point increase over the year before, according to the PatientView annual study, now in its 9th year.

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Up­dat­ed: US sees spike in Paxlovid us­age as Mer­ck­'s mol­nupi­ravir and As­traZeneca's Evusheld are slow­er off the shelf

New data from HHS show that more than 162,000 courses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid were administered across the US over the past week, continuing a streak of increased usage of the pill, and signaling not only rising case numbers but more awareness of how to access it.

In comparison to this week, about 670,000 courses of the Pfizer pill have been administered across the first five months since Paxlovid has been on the US market, averaging about 33,000 courses administered per week in that time.