Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma's Fir­dapse bet on con­gen­i­tal myas­thenic syn­dromes turns sour

Months af­ter Fir­dapse mak­er Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals filed a law­suit against the FDA, the Flori­da com­pa­ny on Wednes­day said the drug had failed a piv­otal tri­al in pa­tients af­flict­ed with con­gen­i­tal myas­thenic syn­dromes (CMS), an um­brel­la term for rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­or­ders com­pris­ing a spec­trum of more than 50 ge­net­ic de­fects.

The drug, known chem­i­cal­ly as am­i­fam­pri­dine, was sanc­tioned for use in adult Lam­bert-Eaton myas­thenic syn­drome (LEMS) pa­tients in No­vem­ber 2018. The com­pa­ny is work­ing on ex­pand­ing the la­bel to in­clude pa­tients with CMS, MuSK-pos­i­tive myas­the­nia gravis (MuSK-MG) and spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy (SMA).

Cat­a­lyst es­ti­mates that there are be­tween 1,000 and 1,500 CMS pa­tients in the Unit­ed States — there are at least 600 fam­i­lies with af­fect­ed in­di­vid­u­als who have been rep­re­sent­ed in sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, ac­cord­ing to the NIH. Pa­tients with CMS car­ry mu­ta­tions in genes en­cod­ing pro­teins es­sen­tial for neu­ro­mus­cu­lar trans­mis­sion.

Cat­a­lyst’s late-stage study test­ed the drug against a place­bo in ge­net­i­cal­ly con­firmed CMS pa­tients. 20 pa­tients aged two and above were en­rolled in the tri­al, and 16 were ran­dom­ized. The drug failed to meet the main goal of sub­ject glob­al im­pres­sion (SGI) scale, a mea­sure used by clin­i­cians to rate the sever­i­ty of the ill­ness at the time of as­sess­ment, rel­a­tive to the clin­i­cian’s past ex­pe­ri­ence with pa­tients with the same di­ag­no­sis.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $CPRX slipped about 12.3% to $5 in pre­mar­ket trad­ing.

The sec­ondary end­point of mus­cle func­tion mea­sure (MFM) across all test­ed sub­types was al­so not met, al­though in­di­vid­ual pa­tient im­prove­ments were ob­served in some pa­tient sub-groups, the com­pa­ny said.

“Due to the small pa­tient preva­lence, the low num­ber of pa­tients test­ed, and het­ero­gene­ity of the dis­ease with a wide range of vari­a­tion in clin­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion across its more than 50 sub­types, it was chal­leng­ing to demon­strate a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit across mul­ti­ple sub­types,” Steven Miller, Cat­a­lyst’s COO and CSO said in a state­ment.

The com­pa­ny will meet the FDA be­fore the end of 2019 to fig­ure out the next steps for the CMA pro­gram. Mean­while, the Cat­a­lyst ex­pects to re­port da­ta from the MuSK-MG tri­al as well as re­sults from its SMA proof of con­cept study in the first half of next year.

Hav­ing launched in Jan­u­ary, Fir­dapse gen­er­at­ed about $41.3 mil­lion in sales in the first half of this year. Be­fore the drug (which car­ries an av­er­age an­nu­al list price of $375,000) was ap­proved by the FDA, hun­dreds of pa­tients had been able to ac­cess a sim­i­lar drug from com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies for a frac­tion of the cost, or Ja­cobus’ for free, as part of an FDA-rat­i­fied com­pas­sion­ate use pro­gram.

But the ap­proval of the Cat­a­lyst drug — ac­com­pa­nied by mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty span­ning sev­en years — ef­fec­tive­ly pre­clud­ed Ja­cobus and com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies from sell­ing their ver­sions.

Then, in an un­ex­pect­ed twist, the FDA en­dorsed New Jer­sey-based Ja­cobus’ ver­sion in pe­di­atric pa­tients, on the ba­sis of adult da­ta — a move that could spark off-la­bel pre­scrip­tion in adults (As far as the FDA is con­cerned, doc­tors can pre­scribe drugs for off-la­bel use when they judge that it is med­ical­ly ap­pro­pri­ate for their pa­tient). Adding fu­el to the fire, Ja­cobus’s drug, Ruzur­gi, car­ries a list price that is less than half of Fir­dapse’s. Cat­a­lyst main­tains that typ­i­cal­ly, cov­ered pa­tients pay less than $10 per month out-of-pock­et.

In an in­ter­view with End­points News ahead of Cat­a­lyst’s third-quar­ter re­sults ex­pect­ed mid-No­vem­ber, chief Patrick McE­nany said that the Ruzur­gi ap­proval has trig­gered a “trick­le of ero­sion” on its LEMS pa­tient base. “It was not un­ex­pect­ed,” he said.

In June, Cat­a­lyst filed a law­suit against the health reg­u­la­tor — ef­fec­tive­ly ac­cus­ing the agency of bow­ing to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure sur­round­ing sky­rock­et­ing drug prices. Un­der fed­er­al law, the agency is meant to treat all com­pa­nies in the same man­ner. Cat­a­lyst has as­sert­ed the agency un­der­mined its or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty, and vi­o­lat­ed fed­er­al law by play­ing fa­vorites in the con­text of a hy­per­vig­i­lant pric­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Am­gen, years be­hind ri­vals, says PhI obe­si­ty drug shows dura­bil­i­ty signs

While NBC ran “The Biggest Loser” for 17 seasons, deemed toxic by critics for the reality show’s punishing exercise and diet upheavals, researchers in pharmaceutical labs have been attempting to create prescription drugs that induce weight loss — and one pharma betting it can require less frequent dosing is out with a new crop of data.

Amgen was relatively late to the game compared to its approved competitor Novo Nordisk and green light-approaching rival Eli Lilly. But early data suggested Amgen’s AMG 133 led to a 14.5% weight reduction in the first few months of dosing, buoying shares earlier this fall, and now the California pharma is out with its first batch of durability data showing that figure fell slightly to 11.2% about 150 days after the last dose. Amgen presented at the 20th World Congress on Insulin Resistance, Diabetes & Cardiovascular Disease on Saturday afternoon.

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Big week for Alzheimer’s da­ta; As­traZeneca buys cell ther­a­py start­up; Dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics hits a pay­er wall; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may start to notice more stories exclusively available to Premium subscribers. This week alone, paid subscribers can read our in-depth reporting on Alzheimer’s data, digital therapeutics and Allogene’s cell therapy for solid tumors, as well as scoops on Twitter ads and Catalent. With your support, we can keep growing our team and spend more time on quality work. We have both individual and company plans available — check them out to unlock the full Endpoints experience.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls



Talk therapy didn’t help Lily with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But a video game did.

As the 10-year-old zooms through icy waters and targets flying creatures on the snow-capped planet Frigidus, she builds attention skills, thanks to Akili Interactive Labs’ video game EndeavorRx. She’s now less anxious and scattered, allowing her to stay on a low dose of ADHD medication, according to her mom Violet Vu.

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Eli Lil­ly’s Alzheimer’s drug clears more amy­loid ear­ly than Aduhelm in first-ever head-to-head. Will it mat­ter?

Ahead of the FDA’s decision on Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in February, the Big Pharma is dropping a first cut of data from one of the more interesting trials — but less important in a regulatory sense — at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

In the unblinded 148-person study, Eli Lilly pitted its drug against Aduhelm, Biogen’s drug that won FDA approval but lost Medicare coverage outside of clinical trials. Notably, the study didn’t look at clinical outcomes, but rather the clearance of amyloid, a protein whose buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

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US month­ly costs for biosim­i­lars 'sub­stan­tial­ly high­er' than Ger­many or Switzer­land, JA­MA re­search finds

As the global biologics market is expected to hit nearly the half-trillion-dollar mark this year, new JAMA research points to the importance of timely biosimilar entry, particularly as fewer biosimilars are entering the US than in Europe, and as monthly treatment costs for biosimilars were “substantially higher” in the US compared with Germany and Switzerland.

Among the three countries, biosimilar market share at launch was highest in Germany, but increased at the fastest rate in the US, the authors from the University of Zurich’s Institute of Law wrote in JAMA Network Open today.

Kirk Myers is shown in a still image from a new film series showcasing the efforts of HIV advocates funded by Gilead.

Gilead spot­lights HIV projects and the com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers dri­ving them in new mi­ni-doc­u­men­tary films

Gilead is going behind the scenes of some of the HIV initiatives it funds through grants in a new film series narrated by the people helming the projects.

The first four films and leaders come from across the US — Arianna Lint in Florida and Puerto Rico, Cleve Jones in San Francisco, June Gipson in Mississippi and Kirk Myers in Texas. Their HIV-focused efforts range from addressing unmet needs of the transgender community to delivering social services and high-quality health care in underserved communities.

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EMA pulls an opi­oid from the 1950s used to treat dry cough

The European Medicines Agency said Friday that it’s pulling from all European markets pholcodine-containing medicines, which are an opioid used in adults and children for the treatment of dry cough and in combo with other drugs as a treatment for cold and flu.

The decision to pull the medicines comes as the EMA points to the results from the recent ALPHO study, which show that use of pholcodine during the 12 months preceding anesthesia is linked to a risk of an anaphylactic reaction related to the neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs) used (with an adjusted OR of 4.2, and a 95% confidence interval of 2.5 to 6.9).

Roche HQ in Basel, Switzerland. (Image credit: Kyle LaHucik/Endpoints News)

As com­peti­tors near FDA goal­post, Roche spells out its re­peat Alzheimer's set­back

Before Roche can turn all eyes on a new version of its more-than-once-failed Alzheimer’s drug gantenerumab, the Big Pharma had to flesh out data on the November topline failure at an annual conference buzzier than in years past thanks to hotly watched rivals in the field: Eisai and Biogen’s lecanemab, and Eli Lilly’s donanemab.

There was less than a 10% difference between Roche’s drug and placebo at slowing cognitive decline across two Phase III trials, which combined enrolled nearly 2,000 Alzheimer’s patients. In its presentation at the conference Wednesday, Roche said it saw less sweeping away of toxic proteins than it had anticipated. For years, researchers and investors have put their resources behind the idea that more amyloid removal would equate to reduced cognitive decline.

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