FDA opi­oid ad­comm chair blasts agency for 'will­ful blind­ness that bor­ders on the crim­i­nal'

In scathing re­marks di­rect­ed at the FDA’s han­dling of opi­oid ap­provals, the head of the agency’s ad­vi­so­ry pan­el has lam­bast­ed its “cozy, cozy re­la­tion­ships” with the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try and called for a halt in con­sid­er­ing any new opi­oids for ap­proval.

Rae­ford Brown

Rae­ford Brown, chair of the FDA’s anes­thet­ic and anal­gesic drug prod­ucts ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee, did not pull any punch­es in his in­ter­view with the Guardian:

I think that the FDA has learned noth­ing. The modus operan­di of the agency is that they talk a good game and then noth­ing hap­pens. Work­ing di­rect­ly with the agency for the last five years, as I sit and lis­ten to them in meet­ings, all I can think about is the clock tick­ing and how many peo­ple are dy­ing every mo­ment that they’re not do­ing any­thing. The lack of in­sight that con­tin­ues to be ex­hib­it­ed by the agency is in many ways a will­ful blind­ness that bor­ders on the crim­i­nal.

The FDA’s ten­den­cy to put the in­ter­est of drug­mak­ers ahead of pub­lic health was most re­cent­ly man­i­fest­ed in the con­tro­ver­sial ap­proval of Acel­Rx’s Dsu­via, ac­cord­ing to Brown, an anes­the­si­ol­o­gist, who called it a “ter­ri­ble drug.”

Dsu­via was ap­proved fol­low­ing a 10-3 vote by the pan­el of out­side ex­perts in fa­vor of a green light, one year af­ter it was first re­ject­ed by the FDA. Brown was ab­sent from the ad­vi­so­ry pan­el meet­ing as he was away at a pro­fes­sion­al con­fer­ence.

“There’s no ques­tion in my mind right that they did that on pur­pose,” he told the Guardian. “The FDA has a lack of trans­paren­cy. They use the ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tees as cov­er.”

The OK drew flak de­spite the lop­sided pan­el re­view vote as crit­ics pounced on the in­tro­duc­tion of an­oth­er pow­er­ful pain med that could be ripe for abuse. In a state­ment, FDA chief Scott Got­tlieb coun­tered his crit­ics by not­ing the need for a non-IV opi­oid as well as the de­fense de­part­ment’s de­mand for a ther­a­py that would be ben­e­fi­cial on the bat­tle­field.

That did lit­tle to con­vince Brown, who ac­cused FDA of­fi­cials of be­ing out of touch with the con­se­quences of the opi­oid epi­dem­ic, which has claimed hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives the in the US and con­tin­ues to be re­spon­si­ble for about 130 deaths every day.

“Noth­ing is fun­da­men­tal­ly be­ing done to ef­fect change in the reg­u­la­tion of opi­oids,” he said. “If the FDA con­tin­ues to en­cour­age the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try to turn out opi­oid af­ter opi­oid af­ter opi­oid, and the reg­u­la­tion of those opi­oids is no bet­ter than it was in 1995, then we’ll be clean­ing this up for a long time.”

In­vestors pony up $476M for the lat­est round of biotech IPOs to hit the Street

Three biotechs — and a genome se­quenc­ing play­er — have caught the lat­est tide to the Gold Coast of IPOs, round­ing out the first half of 2019 with 23 new drug de­vel­op­ers mak­ing it on Nas­daq.

Most of these com­pa­nies filed their IPOs al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, though we’re still wait­ing on word of fel­low class­mate Bridge­Bio’s pric­ing af­ter CEO Neil Ku­mar set the terms at $14 to $16 a share on Mon­day in search of a $240 mil­lion (or so) wind­fall. If he’s suc­cess­ful, that would take the one-week haul past the $700 mil­lion mark, a fresh sign that in­vestors’ en­thu­si­asm for new­ly coined pub­lic biotechs hasn’t cooled.

How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

Robert Forrester, Verastem

Ve­rastem CEO For­rester steps to the ex­it as the board hunts com­mer­cial-savvy ex­ec for the be­lea­guered biotech

Robert For­rester is step­ping down as CEO of Ve­rastem On­col­o­gy $VSTM just 8 months af­ter the com­pa­ny nabbed an ap­proval for du­velis­ib, a PI3K drug with a sto­ried past — and what ap­pears as not much of a fu­ture.

The biotech put out word this morn­ing that For­rester will take an ad­vi­so­ry role with Ve­rastem while COO Dan Pa­ter­son steps up to take charge of the lead­er­ship team and the board looks around for a new CEO.

In starved an­tibi­ot­ic field, Melin­ta soars as FDA grants speedy drug re­view

Such is the state of af­fairs in an­tibi­ot­ic land that the FDA agree­ing to pri­or­i­ty re­view an ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­pand the use of an an­tibi­ot­ic can rock­et up a stock more than two-fold.

On Wednes­day, Melin­ta Ther­a­peu­tics said its ap­proved an­tibi­ot­ic Baxdela had been grant­ed pri­or­i­ty re­view for use in com­mu­ni­ty-ac­quired bac­te­r­i­al pneu­mo­nia (CAPB). The FDA is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by Oc­to­ber 24. Shares of the Con­necti­cut drug­mak­er $ML­NT cat­a­pult­ed, clos­ing up near­ly 224% at $6.41.

Brent Saunders at an Endpoints News event in 2017 — File photo

An­a­lyst call with Al­ler­gan ex­ecs stokes an­tic­i­pa­tion of a plan to split the com­pa­ny in ‘a month or two’

So what’s up at Al­ler­gan?

Ear­li­er this week the ubiq­ui­tous Ever­core ISI an­a­lyst Umer Raf­fat was on the line with com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives to probe in­to the lat­est on the num­bers as well as CEO Brent Saun­ders’ re­cent de­c­la­ra­tion that he’d be do­ing some­thing de­fin­i­tive to help long-suf­fer­ing in­vestors who have watched their shares dwin­dle in val­ue.

He came away with the im­pres­sion that a sig­nif­i­cant com­pa­ny split is on the way. And not on some dis­tant time hori­zon.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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UP­DAT­ED: Chica­go biotech ar­gues blue­bird, Third Rock 'killed' its ri­val, pi­o­neer­ing tha­lassemia gene ther­a­py in law­suit

Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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Ken Frazier appears before the Senate Committee on Finance for a hearing on prescription drug pricing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 26, 2019. Chris Kleponis for CNP via AP Images

Who’s next in line to suc­ceed Ken Fra­zier as CEO of the Keytru­da-blessed Mer­ck?

When Merck waved off a looming forced retirement for Ken Frazier last September, the board cited flexibility in CEO transition as a key factor in the decision. Having Frazier — who’s also chairman of the company — around beyond his 65th birthday in 2019 would ensure they install the best person at the best time, they said.

The board has evidently begun that process with a clear preference for internal candidates, sources told Bloomberg. CFO Robert Davis, chief marketing officer Michael Nally, and chief commercial officer Frank Clyburn are all in the running, according to an insider.

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