Catch­ing Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma by sur­prise, FDA ap­proves Ja­cobus LEMS drug for pe­di­atric pa­tients — based on adult da­ta

When Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals’ drug for Lam­bert-Eaton myas­thenic syn­drome (LEMS) — a rare, au­toim­mune dis­or­der that af­fects the con­nec­tion be­tween nerves and mus­cles — was ap­proved last year, car­ry­ing a $375,000 an­nu­al price tag, some pa­tients were not ex­act­ly thrilled. Hun­dreds of pa­tients had been able to ac­cess a sim­i­lar drug from com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies for a frac­tion of the cost, or from a small, fam­i­ly-run New Jer­sey-based com­pa­ny called Ja­cobus Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals for free, as part of an FDA-rat­i­fied com­pas­sion­ate use pro­gram.

Once the Cat­a­lyst treat­ment, Fir­dapse, won ap­proval for adult LEMS pa­tients, it al­so won mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty span­ning sev­en years — ef­fec­tive­ly pre­clud­ing Ja­cobus and com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies from sell­ing their ver­sions.

On Mon­day, how­ev­er, the FDA may have dis­rupt­ed that sta­tus quo by ap­prov­ing the Ja­cobus ver­sion for pa­tients aged 6 to 17, based on da­ta from a 32 adult pa­tient-study. The agency said it had used adult LEMS da­ta to de­duce a safe dos­ing reg­i­men for pe­di­atric pa­tients. As far as the FDA is con­cerned, doc­tors can pre­scribe drugs for un­ap­proved use, when they judge that it is med­ical­ly ap­pro­pri­ate for their pa­tient.

Shares of Coral Gables, Flori­da-based Cat­a­lyst $CPRX cratered af­ter-mar­ket on Mon­day. On Tues­day, the stock was down 36.5% at $3.88 be­fore the bell.

“The ap­proval of Ja­cobus’ Ruzur­gi for the treat­ment of pe­di­atric pa­tients with LEMS comes as a sur­prise, as in­vestors had all but writ­ten off this ver­sion of 3,4-DAP fol­low­ing Fir­dapse’s ap­proval (for adults, who com­prise near­ly all of the LEMS pop­u­la­tion) un­der the pre­sump­tion that oth­er forms would be blocked by or­phan ex­clu­siv­i­ty. With CPRX shares -43% af­ter Mon­day’s close, the mar­ket ap­pears to be fac­tor­ing sig­nif­i­cant im­pact to Fir­dapse’s com­mer­cial prospects from off-la­bel use of a (pre­sum­ably cheap­er) agent,” Op­pen­heimer an­a­lysts wrote in a note on Tues­day.

End­points News has con­tact­ed Ja­cobus for com­ment. De­pend­ing on how Ja­cobus prices its drug, Ruzur­gi — in­sur­ers could be per­suad­ed to fa­vor it over Cat­a­lyst’s prod­uct, de­spite the fact that it is of­fi­cial­ly ap­proved for on­ly pe­di­atric use.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by STAT, while Ja­cobus has not so far made a de­ci­sion on pric­ing, the own­er has sug­gest­ed that the com­pa­ny had spent $60 mil­lion on R&D and man­u­fac­tur­ing, and that post-ap­proval oblig­a­tions will like­ly cost the com­pa­ny an­oth­er $10 mil­lion to $20 mil­lion.

The Ruzur­gi for­mu­la­tion re­quires re­frig­er­a­tion — while the Fir­dapse for­mu­la­tion is sta­ble at room tem­per­a­ture, which gives Cat­a­lyst a slight ad­van­tage over Ja­cobus, Sun­Trust Robin­son Humphrey an­a­lyst Ed­ward Nash wrote in a note on Tues­day. “How­ev­er, the com­mer­cial po­ten­tial for Fir­dapse now would be de­pen­dent on rel­a­tive pric­ing as well as re­im­burse­ment cov­er­age”

In LEMS pa­tients, the body’s own im­mune sys­tem launch­es an at­tack on the neu­ro­mus­cu­lar junc­tion — which con­nects nerves and mus­cles. The con­di­tion can as­so­ci­at­ed with oth­er au­toim­mune dis­eases, but tends to oc­curs in pa­tients with can­cer. It’s preva­lence in pe­di­atric pa­tients is not known, but glob­al­ly it is es­ti­mat­ed to af­fect three per mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als, ac­cord­ing to the FDA.

Fir­dapse land­ed on the US mar­ket this Jan­u­ary, and in its fourth-quar­ter earn­ings call, Cat­a­lyst said the launch was off to a strong start, with man­age­ment not­ing min­i­mal push­back from pay­ers, and in­di­cat­ing that cov­ered pa­tients pay less than $10 per month out of pock­et.

Patrick McE­nany

But the com­pa­ny’s list price had al­ready trig­gered a tem­pest of crit­i­cism in pa­tient cir­cles and in Wash­ing­ton. Ver­mont Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders — ahead of his an­nounce­ment to make a sec­ond at­tempt at the pres­i­den­cy — spot­light­ed Cat­a­lyst for “fleec­ing” tax­pay­ers and the “im­moral ex­ploita­tion of pa­tients,” un­der­scor­ing the is­sue as yet an­oth­er in­stance of a drug com­pa­ny’s “cor­po­rate greed.”

The FDA’s de­ci­sion on Ruzur­gi was like­ly in­flu­enced by pres­sure from Sanders, Sun­Trust’s Nash not­ed.

Cat­a­lyst chief Patrick McE­nany re­butted Sander’s as­ser­tions by say­ing the biotech had spent “mil­lions” test­ing the drug; that the com­pa­ny’s pric­ing pol­i­cy is in line with ul­tra-or­phan dis­eases of sim­i­lar sever­i­ty — and the firm is do­ing its ut­most to lim­it pa­tients’ out of pock­et cost; as well as down­played Ja­cobus’ free sup­ply, say­ing it was ben­e­fit­ting not more than a few hun­dred US pa­tients.

The com­pa­ny de­clined to com­ment on the Ja­cobus ap­proval.

NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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Marty Duvall, Oncopeptides CEO

On­copep­tides stock craters as it pulls can­cer drug Pepax­to from the mar­ket

Shares of Oncopeptides crashed more than 70% in early Friday trading after the company said it’s pulling its multiple myeloma drug Pepaxto (melphalan flufenamide) from the US market after failing a confirmatory trial. The move will force the company to close its US and EU business units and enact significant layoffs.

The FDA had scheduled an adcomm meeting next Thursday to discuss Pepaxto, which first won accelerated approval in February and costs about $19,000 per course of treatment. The committee was to weigh in on whether the confirmatory trial demonstrated a worse overall survival in the treatment arm compared to the control arm.

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How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data are messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data are exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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Sanofi, Re­gen­eron etch out an­oth­er PhI­II vic­to­ry for Dupix­ent, eas­ing se­vere itch and clear­ing le­sions

Sanofi and Regeneron can boast of another inflammatory disease where Dupixent has proven effective.

The best-selling drug, which targets both IL-4 and IL-13, has delivered a clean sweep in a Phase III trial for prurigo nodularis, a chronic disease characterized by itch so intense that it can affect patients’ sleep and psychology. Thick skin lesions can cover most of the body.

On the primary endpoint, 37% of patients taking Dupixent saw a clinically meaningful reduction in itch compared to 22% of those on placebo (p=0.0216) at week 12. All secondary endpoints were also met, including clearance of skin lesions and improvement in quality of life.

No­vo CEO Lars Fruer­gaard Jør­gensen on R&D risk, the deal strat­e­gy and tar­gets for gen­der di­ver­si­ty

 

I kicked off our European R&D summit last week with a conversation involving Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen. Novo is aiming to launch a new era of obesity management with a new approval for semaglutide. And Jørgensen had a lot to say about what comes next in R&D, how they manage risk and gender diversity targets at the trendsetting European pharma giant.

John Carroll: I’m here with Lars Jørgensen, the CEO of Novo Nordisk. Lars, it’s been a really interesting year so far with Novo Nordisk, right? You’ve projected a new era of growing sales. You’ve been able to expand on the GLP-1 franchise that was already well established in diabetes now going into obesity. And I think a tremendous number of people are really interested in how that’s working out. You have forecast a growing amount of sales. We don’t know specifically how that might play out. I know a lot of the analysts have different ideas, how those numbers might play out, but that we are in fact embarking on a new era for Novo Nordisk in terms of what the company’s capable of doing and what it’s able to do and what it wants to do. And I wanted to start off by asking you about obesity in particular. Semaglutide has been approved in the United States for obesity. It’s an area of R&D that’s been very troubled for decades. There have been weight loss drugs that have come along. They’ve attracted a lot of attention, but they haven’t actually ever gained traction in the market. My first question is what’s different this time about obesity? What is different about this drug and why do you expect it to work now whereas previous drugs haven’t?

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Oc­u­lar Ther­a­peu­tix ham­mered by a PhII fail­ure in dry eye dis­ease — shares tank

Ocular Therapeutix $OCUL has had its ups and downs in the 7 years since it went public. Friday was one of those down days.

The Bedford, MA-based biotech reported that its lead experimental eye drug, OTX-CSI (cyclosporine intracanalicular insert), failed a Phase II trial for dry eye disease. And the stock experienced one of its periodic meltdowns, dropping more than 30% ahead of the bell.

The therapy flat failed the primary endpoint: increased tear production at 12 weeks as measured by the Schirmer’s Test compared to the vehicle control group. And while investigators called out an improvement from baseline in “signs of dry eye disease as measured by total corneal fluorescein staining (CFS) and symptoms of dry eye disease as measured by the visual analogue scale (VAS) eye dryness in subjects treated with the OTX-CSI insert,” it wasn’t statistically significant.

Pfiz­er pitch­es its Covid-19 vac­cine for younger chil­dren ahead of ad­comm next week

Pfizer will present its case to the FDA’s vaccine adcomm next week, seeking authorization for a lower-dose version of its Covid-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 through 12, which the Biden administration said will likely begin rolling out early next month.

Two primary doses of the 10 µg vaccine (the dose for those ages 12 and up is 30 μg) given 3 weeks apart in this group of children “have shown a favorable safety and tolerability profile, robust immune responses against all variants of concern including Delta, and vaccine efficacy of 90.7% against laboratory-confirmed symptomatic COVID-19,” the company said in briefing documents ahead of next Tuesday’s meeting of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.