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.

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Bris­tol-My­ers star Op­di­vo fails sur­vival test in a matchup with Nex­avar aimed at shak­ing up the big HCC mar­ket

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has suf­fered an­oth­er painful set­back in its years-long quest to ex­pand the reach of Op­di­vo. The phar­ma gi­ant this morn­ing not­ed that their Check­mate-459 study com­par­ing Op­di­vo with Bay­er’s Nex­avar in front­line cas­es of he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma — the most com­mon form of liv­er can­cer — failed to hit the pri­ma­ry end­point on over­all sur­vival.

This was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in Bris­tol-My­ers’ tal­ly of PD-1 cat­a­lysts this year. Nex­avar (so­rafenib) has been the stan­dard of care in front­line HCC for the past decade, though Op­di­vo has been mak­ing head­way in sec­ond-line HCC cas­es, where it’s go­ing toe-to-toe with Bay­er’s Sti­var­ga (re­go­rafenib) af­ter re­cent ap­provals shook up the mar­ket.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.

Ab­b­Vie gets a green light to re­sume re­cruit­ing pa­tients for one myelo­ma study — but Ven­clex­ta re­mains un­der a cloud

Three months af­ter reg­u­la­tors at the FDA forced Ab­b­Vie to halt en­rolling pa­tients in its tri­als of a com­bi­na­tion us­ing Ven­clex­ta (vene­to­clax) to treat drug-re­sis­tant cas­es of mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, the agency has green-light­ed the re­sump­tion of one of those stud­ies, while keep­ing the rest on the side­lines.

The CANO­VA (M13-494) study can now get back in busi­ness re­cruit­ing pa­tients to test the drug for a pop­u­la­tion that shares a par­tic­u­lar ge­net­ic bio­mark­er. To get that per­mis­sion, Ab­b­Vie — which is part­nered with Roche on this pro­gram — was forced to re­vise the pro­to­col, mak­ing un­spec­i­fied changes in­volv­ing risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, pro­to­col-spec­i­fied guide­lines and an up­dat­ed fu­til­i­ty cri­te­ria.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes more than a week af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.