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.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.


ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology


ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development


CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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SEC calls out lit­tle Ther­a­peu­tic­sMD for its in­sid­er con­tacts with an­a­lysts to boost share price, then halt rout

Back in May 2017, following an FDA rejection, TherapeuticsMD saw its share price plummet to the lowest levels in two years. The little Florida biotech eventually found its way back to the good side of regulators, scoring a curious OK a year later for its therapy preventing vaginal pain during sex. But the SEC is now accusing it of selectively disclosing nonpublic information in attempts to manipulate its stock.

In two instances in June and July of 2017, TherapeuticsMD allegedly violated the Regulation Fair Disclosure rule by sharing material information with certain sell-side analysts and not the public, resulting in a more favorable stock move than otherwise would be expected.

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Therapists Marcela Ot'alora and Bruce Poulter are trained to conduct MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. In this reenactment, they demonstrate how they help guide and watch over a patient who is revisiting traumatic memories while under the influence of MDMA. (Photo: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)

MD­MA, now in Phase III, shows promise as a PTSD treat­ment

The first time Lori Tipton tried MDMA, she was skeptical it would make a difference.

“I really was, at the beginning, very nervous,” Tipton said.

MDMA is the main ingredient in the club drug known as ecstasy or molly. But Tipton wasn’t taking pills sold on the street to get high. She was trying to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder by participating in a clinical trial.

After taking a dose of pure MDMA, Tipton lay in a quiet room with two specially trained psychotherapists. They sat next to her as she recalled some of her deepest traumas, such as discovering her mother’s body after Tipton’s mother killed two people and then herself in a murder-suicide.

Ted Ashburn. Oncorus

Cowen, Per­cep­tive lead $79.5M Se­ries B for 's­tand­out' biotech shep­herd­ing on­colyt­ic virus to clin­ic

As several Big Pharma players secure biotech partners in the oncolytic virus space for new immuno-oncology combos, Cowen and Perceptive Advisors have come out with their own bet on a startup that promises to shine.

The marquee investors are joining MPM, Deerfield, Celgene, Astellas, Arkin Bio Ventures and UBS Oncology Impact Fund in backing the drug developer, Oncorus, which will now deploy the $79.5 million in Series B cash toward clinical development of its lead program. Other new investors include Surveyor Capital, Sphera Funds, IMM Investment, QUAD Investment Management, UTC Investment, SV Investment Corp and Shinhan Investment-Private Equity, the last five of which are Korean-based funds.

Fu­til­i­ty analy­sis au­gurs de­feat in piv­otal tri­al test­ing of Nu­Cana's lead drug in metasta­t­ic pan­cre­at­ic can­cer

Nearly two years after making its public debut, UK-based NuCana’s mission to make chemotherapies more potent and safer was dealt a blow, after a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug halted enrollment in a hard-to-treat advanced form of cancer, following a futility analysis.

The drug, Acelarin, is being evaluated for use in metastatic pancreatic cancer patients who were not considered suitable for combination chemotherapy. In the late-stage ACELARATE study — which compared the experimental drug against the chemotherapy gemcitabine — 200 patients had been enrolled by the sponsor, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, before an analysis from an independent safety and data monitoring panel suggested the study’s main goal would not be met.