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.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: Com­mit­tee votes 22-0 to rec­om­mend an FDA OK for the J&J vac­cine, set­ting up 3rd US Covid-19 jab

The US could have a third authorized Covid-19 vaccine within hours.

The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously — 22-0 — to recommend the agency issue an emergency use authorization for J&J’s vaccine. If they follow the precedent of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine,  the FDA will likely authorize the vaccine by Saturday, immediately adding a few million doses to the US supply and adding a 100 million by June. An authorization would give the world its first single-dose vaccine, a major weapon in the effort to vaccinate the world and bring the virus to heel, particularly in rural and developing areas.