FDA rushed to ap­prove new drugs in 2019, some­times way ahead of sched­ule. Could that be dan­ger­ous?

While the ros­ter of 48 drugs (plus 4 no­table bi­o­log­ics) the FDA ap­proved in 2019 didn’t break any records with the sheer num­ber it was re­mark­able in one as­pect: The agency reached deep in­to a group of ther­a­pies they didn’t need to make a de­ci­sion on un­til lat­er this year, in some cas­es speed­ing drugs up by months ahead of even pri­or­i­ty re­view dead­lines.

On the sur­face, that’s great news for drug­mak­ers and the pa­tients they hope to help. But ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study on rushed ap­provals, it could al­so spell safe­ty trou­bles down the road.

Lau­ren Co­hen

Back in Ju­ly, a trio of econ­o­mists at NBER crunched the da­ta on drugs OK’d be­fore sup­posed dead­lines such as the end of months, years or be­fore hol­i­days and found that treat­ments ap­proved un­der these ap­par­ent “desk-clear­ing” ef­forts — in which reg­u­la­tors felt the pres­sure of in­for­mal per­for­mance bench­marks — are more like­ly to be as­so­ci­at­ed with post­mar­ket safe­ty is­sues.

“We see about twice as many ad­verse ef­fects,” Lau­ren Co­hen, a pro­fes­sor of fi­nance and en­tre­pre­neur­ial man­age­ment at Har­vard Busi­ness School and one of the au­thors, told the Wall Street Jour­nal.

Co­hen and his col­leagues, Umit Gu­run of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Dal­las and Danielle Li of MIT, con­sid­ered on­ly the surge of ap­provals in De­cem­ber, at the end of each month and be­fore hol­i­days such as Thanks­giv­ing.

In 2019 sev­en out of 48 nov­el chem­i­cal en­ti­ties were ap­proved in De­cem­ber, large­ly in line with the 15% pro­por­tion that the re­searchers not­ed in pre­vi­ous years. But no­tably, 21 OKs came through in Q4, ac­count­ing for 43% of the whole crop.

FDA spokesper­son Nathan Arnold ac­knowl­edged the De­cem­ber jump pat­tern but told the Jour­nal that its share has ac­tu­al­ly di­min­ished from the 1980s.

“While we can­not speak di­rect­ly to the re­sults on in­for­mal dead­lines high­light­ed in this study, FDA has—on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions—in­ves­ti­gat­ed a close­ly re­lat­ed is­sue, which is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween for­mal PDU­FA dead­lines and post­mar­ket safe­ty of drugs,” Arnold added. “We have not found ev­i­dence of such a re­la­tion­ship.”

Drugs that ap­peared to have been ap­proved with lit­tle heed of the PDU­FA dead­lines might be an­oth­er is­sue. Ver­tex’s Trikaf­ta (for cys­tic fi­bro­sis), BeiGene’s Brukin­sa (for man­tle cell lym­phoma), No­var­tis’ Adakveo and Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics’ Oxbry­ta (for sick­le cell dis­ease), as well as Al­ny­lam’s Givlaari (for acute he­pat­ic por­phyr­ia ) and As­traZeneca/Dai­ichi Sankyo’s En­her­tu (for HER+ breast can­cer) all be­longed to that group.

Co­hen, Gu­run and Li pre­scribed a so­lu­tion for the safe­ty con­cerns they spot­ted:

A po­ten­tial pol­i­cy re­sponse to the pat­terns we doc­u­ment is to more care­ful­ly scru­ti­nize drugs that are ap­proved dur­ing such out­put surges. Reg­u­la­tors could, for in­stance, re­view end-of-year de­ci­sions in the fol­low­ing year be­fore pro­vid­ing an ul­ti­mate ap­proval (or lack there­of).

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

The flu virus (CDC)

Roche tacks on an­oth­er Xofluza in­di­ca­tion as flu sea­son meets pan­dem­ic

Xofluza was heralded as the first new flu drug in 20 years when it got the FDA OK back in 2018. But even so, Roche saw tough competition from cheaper Tamiflu generics that appeared to be nearly as — if not just as — effective.

Now, the pharma says the drug also can be used to prevent influenza after exposure, snagging a new approval and adding to Xofluza’s appeal as flu season meets the pandemic.

Pur­due Phar­ma pleads guilty in fed­er­al Oxy­Con­tin probe, for­mal­ly rec­og­niz­ing it played a part in the opi­oid cri­sis

Purdue Pharma, the producer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, admitted Tuesday that, yes, it did contribute to America’s opioid epidemic.

The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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