For­get biosim­i­lars. Pe­ter Bach and Mark Trusheim be­lieve price con­trols are the bet­ter way to rein in bi­o­log­ics prices

The prover­bial so­cial con­tract that drug­mak­ers of­ten cite to de­fend pre­scrip­tion drug prices hinges on the im­age of a patent cliff: Af­ter a pe­ri­od of ex­clu­siv­i­ty that al­lows de­vel­op­ers to re­coup R&D costs, any treat­ment — even those with ex­or­bi­tant price tags — even­tu­al­ly suc­cumb to gener­ic com­pe­ti­tion that in­evitably brings down its cost, if not ren­der it ob­so­lete.

That mod­el has large­ly held true for small mol­e­cule drugs. But out­spo­ken pol­i­cy re­searchers Pe­ter Bach and Mark Trusheim, along with two of Bach’s as­so­ciates at the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter, are ar­gu­ing that the new gen­er­a­tion of bi­o­log­ics may need an ex­tra push down that cliff, and the force of biosim­i­lars won’t be enough.

Bi­o­log­ics, they write in a two-part blog­post in Health Af­fairs, are fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from small mol­e­cules, cre­at­ing nat­ur­al mo­nop­o­lies that are dif­fi­cult to over­come with com­pe­ti­tion-based price re­duc­tions:

While the mo­nop­oly held by in­no­va­tor small mol­e­cules is a prod­uct of gov­ern­ment poli­cies, in­no­v­a­tive bi­o­log­ic ther­a­pies pos­sess in­trin­sic sci­en­tif­ic un­cer­tain­ties that make cre­at­ing repli­cas dif­fi­cult, cost­ly, slow, and risky. Com­peti­tors to brand­ed bi­o­log­ics are called biosim­i­lars rather than “bio-iden­ti­cals” or gener­ics to re­flect this dif­fer­ence.

Mark Trusheim

Giv­ing up en­tire­ly on biosim­i­lars, Bach, Trusheim (of MIT Sloan), Pre­ston At­te­ber­ry and Jen­nifer Ohn pro­pose a reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proach to rein­ing in bi­o­log­ics costs that they say can gen­er­ate $250-$300 bil­lion of net sav­ings, while in­cur­ring one-time costs of $10-$20 bil­lion over five years. Their es­ti­mates for sav­ings are based on “the cur­rent 12-year ex­clu­siv­i­ty pe­ri­od and an as­sump­tion that dis­counts ap­proach the tra­di­tion­al gener­ic dis­counts of 70-90 per­cent,” while the one-time costs go to­ward com­pen­sat­ing biosim­i­lar firms.

The pol­i­cy would re­quire in­no­va­tor bi­o­log­ic man­u­fac­tur­ers to low­er their prices af­ter the pe­ri­od of mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty — a price set by an in­de­pen­dent body that takes in­to ac­count the re­port­ed cost, a markup, a de­fined prof­it mar­gin, re­turn on cap­i­tal and so on.

The au­thors an­tic­i­pat­ed some push­back. You can be sure that fresh­ly re­tired FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb was among the first to de­fend con­tin­ued pol­i­cy­mak­ing around biosim­i­lars.

A vo­cal cham­pi­on of biosim­i­lars as a means of low­er­ing drug prices, Got­tlieb has pre­vi­ous­ly lam­bast­ed a “rigged pay­ment scheme” on the in­sur­ance and phar­ma­cy ben­e­fit man­agers side that hin­der mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion for biosim­i­lars.

The Biosim­i­lar Coun­cil, a di­vi­sion of the gener­ic drug­mak­er coali­tion known as the As­so­ci­a­tion for Ac­ces­si­ble Med­i­cines, told Bio­Cen­tu­ry that “mar­ket­ed biosim­i­lars cur­rent­ly av­er­age 47% off the brand bi­o­log­ics’ price” and aban­don­ing it al­to­geth­er would be “toss­ing out the ba­by with the bath wa­ter.”

Some al­so took is­sue with the premis­es of the ar­gu­ment.

As a no­table talk­ing point of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s plan for low­er­ing drug prices — with big bio­phar­ma play­ers like Pfiz­er and Bio­gen dou­bling down on their in­vest­ments — biosim­i­lars are un­like­ly to go away any time soon. But Bach’s will be one of many ideas to come as politi­cians and com­pa­nies alike fran­ti­cal­ly search for ways to tam­per the roar­ing de­bate around high pre­scrip­tion drug prices, in which ex­pen­sive bi­o­log­ics play an ever en­larg­ing role.


Im­age: Pe­ter Bach at an End­points pan­el, Jan­u­ary 2019.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, oncology R&D, at EUBIO22 (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

Up­dat­ed: As­traZeneca jumps deep­er in­to cell ther­a­py 2.0 space with $320M biotech M&A

Right from the start, the execs at Neogene had some lofty goals in mind when they decided to try their hand at a cell therapy that could tackle solid tumors.

Its founders have helped hone a new approach that would pack in multiple neoantigen targets to create a personalized TCR treatment that would not just make the leap from blood to solid tumors, but do it with durability. And they managed to make their way rapidly to the clinic, unveiling their first Phase I program for advanced tumors just last May.

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Ei­sai’s ex­pand­ed Alzheimer’s da­ta leave open ques­tions about safe­ty and clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Researchers still have key questions about Eisai’s investigational Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab following the publication of more Phase III data in the New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday night.

In the paper, which was released in conjunction with presentations at an Alzheimer’s conference, trial investigators write that a definition of clinical meaningfulness “has not been established.” And the relative lack of new information, following topline data unveiled in September, left experts asking for more — setting up a potential showdown to precisely define how big a difference the drug makes in patients’ lives.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

Twit­ter dis­ar­ray con­tin­ues as phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ers ex­tend paus­es and look around for op­tions, but keep tweet­ing

Pharma advertisers on Twitter are done — at least for now. Ad spending among the previous top spenders flattened even further last week, according to the latest data from ad tracker Pathmatics, amid ongoing turmoil after billionaire boss Elon Musk’s takeover now one month ago.

Among 18 top advertisers tracked for Endpoints News, only two are spending: GSK and Bayer. GSK spending for the full week through Sunday was minimal at just under $1,900. Meanwhile, German drugmaker Bayer remains the industry outlier upping its spending to $499,000 last week from $480,000 the previous week. Bayer’s spending also marks a big increase from a month ago and before the Musk takeover, when it spent $16,000 per week.

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Vi­a­tris with­draws ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for top­i­cal an­timi­cro­bial 24 years lat­er

After 24 years without confirming clinical benefit, the FDA announced Tuesday morning that Viatris (formed via Mylan and Pfizer’s Upjohn) has decided to withdraw a topical antimicrobial agent, Sulfamylon (mafenide acetate), after the company said conducting a confirmatory study was not feasible.

Sulfamylon first won FDA’s accelerated nod in 1998 as a topical burn treatment, with the FDA noting that last December, Mylan told the agency that it wasn’t running the trial.

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Catal­ent to cut about 200 jobs in Mary­land and Texas

Contract manufacturing company Catalent is cutting about 200 jobs in Maryland and Texas, according to WARN notices, trimming back some of its pandemic-era expansion.

The company will cut 77 jobs by Jan. 15 of next year at a cell therapy facility in Webster, TX, just outside of Houston. In Maryland, the company is reducing staff at two locations, with 82 jobs being eliminated at Catalent’s facility in Gaithersburg, and 53 in Rockville. The layoffs go into effect at those locations on Jan. 14.

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Sana, Codex­is lay off staff, reshuf­fle pipeline in bid to fo­cus cell ther­a­py, en­zyme en­gi­neer­ing work

As its market cap shrinks to a fraction of its heyday, flashy cell therapy startup Sana Biotechnology is laying off 15% of its staffers in a move to rejig the pipeline and restructure the company.

Sana is among a growing group of biotechs that, feeling the weight of a broader market downturn and seeing their shares tumble steadily, are tightening the purse strings and adjusting their focus. Also on Tuesday, Codexis, an enzyme engineering company based in California and now helmed by former Sierra Oncology CEO Stephen Dilly, announced it will reduce the workforce by 18%.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er, BioN­Tech re-up iHeartRa­dio hol­i­day spon­sor­ship; WHO re­names mon­key­pox to 'm­pox'

It’s that time of year again for pop music fans with the return of the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball tour — and Pfizer and BioNTech’s sponsorship. For the second year, the Covid-19 vaccine collaborators are the pharma national sponsors among consumer brand partners, including ESPN, Dunkin, M&Ms, Mercedes and Pepsi.

Pfizer and BioNTech are also sponsoring the official Jingle Ball Radio streaming station on iHeart’s network, programmed with music from past and present concert performers. This year they include Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Dove Cameron and Charlie Puth. Pfizer-sponsored radio ads and online video and digital banner ads encourage listeners to get updated Covid-19 booster shots.

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Mark Schneider, Nestlé CEO (AP Images)

Nestlé re­con­sid­ers peanut al­ler­gy pro­gram two years af­ter $2.6B buy­out

It seems Nestlé is experiencing some buyer’s remorse two years after throwing down $2.6 billion for Aimmune Therapeutics and its peanut allergy pill Palforzia.

CEO Mark Schneider announced on Tuesday that Nestlé is “exploring strategic options” for Palforzia following lower-than-expected demand. A company spokesperson declined to confirm whether a potential sale is in consideration.

“The review is expected to be completed in the first half of 2023. Going forward, Nestlé Health Science will sharpen its focus on Consumer Care and Medical Nutrition,” the company said in a news release.

iECURE CEO Joe Truitt and founder Jim Wilson

Jim Wil­son biotech iECURE gets fresh $65M to push pe­di­atric liv­er dis­ease gene ther­a­py in­to the clin­ic

Jim Wilson-founded biotech iECURE has wrapped a $65M Series A extension round to get its lead candidate — a gene replacement therapy for a rare inherited liver disease known as ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, or OTC — into the clinic.

This round was co-led by Novo Holdings and LYFE Capital, followed by initial investors Versant and OrbiMed as well. In September 2021, iECURE raised a $50 million Series A led by the latter two. The new cash infusion will get iECURE through an initial in-human trial, which CEO Joe Truitt told Endpoints News iECURE hopes to read out in 2024.

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