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.

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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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.

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.

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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Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.

A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.

Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”