Gung ho: Al­ny­lam lands his­toric FDA OK on patisir­an, revving up the first glob­al roll­out for an RNAi break­through

“A lot of peo­ple think it’s win­ter out there for RNAi. But I think it’s spring­time.” — Al­ny­lam CEO John Maraganore, NYT, Feb­ru­ary 7, 2011.


Mar­ket­ing sea­son has of­fi­cial­ly ar­rived for RNAi, just two decades in the mak­ing.

On Fri­day, the FDA ap­proved Al­ny­lam’s patisir­an, of­fer­ing a his­toric green light for a drug that is break­ing the waves in ther­a­peu­tic in­no­va­tion.

Over the past 16 years since Al­ny­lam $AL­NY was found­ed, John Maraganore has seen every­thing when it comes to RNAi. He ben­e­fit­ed from the ear­ly promise and rush of Big Phar­mas look­ing to get a foot in the door, lured in by tech that promised to switch genes on and off. 

Then he watched most of the ma­jors leave dur­ing the sea­son of dis­con­tent he ref­er­enced above — in a 2011 in­ter­view with An­drew Pol­lack at The New York Times — usu­al­ly shrug­ging off some heavy loss­es on their way out the ex­it. Maraganore came back with the 5X15 pledge at the be­gin­ning of 2011, promis­ing to hus­tle 5 RNAi drugs in­to late-stage de­vel­op­ment by 2015. And now he’s sur­vived it all to turn the switch on the first com­mer­cial ma­chine built to han­dle a glob­al RNAi roll­out, as the sole own­er of the in­no­va­tion. And it should be big.

Patisir­an — de­signed to si­lence mes­sen­ger RNA and block the pro­duc­tion of TTR pro­tein be­fore it is made — is num­ber 6 on Clar­i­vate’s list of block­busters set to launch this year, with a 2022 sales fore­cast of $1.22 bil­lion. Some of the peak sales es­ti­mates range sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er as an­a­lysts crunch the num­bers on a dis­ease that af­flicts on­ly about 30,000 peo­ple world­wide.

“What a feel­ing,” Maraganore tells me. “Hav­ing been for al­most two decades fight­ing the good days and the bad days, with lots of chal­lenges and near-death mo­ments. It’s all about work­ing hard to get some­thing done.”

The writ­ing on this land­mark achieve­ment has been on the reg­u­la­to­ry wall since last Sep­tem­ber, when re­searchers scored a pos­i­tive hit for the pri­ma­ry as well as all sec­ondary end­points in treat­ing rare cas­es of hered­i­tary AT­TR amy­loi­do­sis with polyneu­ropa­thy.

Over the past 10 months, Al­ny­lam has cruised along, pick­ing up an ac­cel­er­at­ed pri­or­i­ty re­view and break­through sta­tus at the FDA, a pos­i­tive, ear­ly thumbs-up from Eu­ro­pean reg­u­la­tors and fast ac­cess in the UK. 

Be­hind the scenes, a gung-ho Maraganore has been set­ting the stage for a rapid glob­al roll­out, with new hires as the biotech plans to hus­tle it out ahead of a ri­val ther­a­py at Io­n­is’ younger sis­ter biotech Akcea — wide­ly ex­pect­ed to play the role of dis­tant sec­ond to patisir­an. Maraganore re­worked his col­lab­o­ra­tion deal with Sanofi to get full com­mer­cial rights to patisir­an. Sanofi, in turn, took over com­mer­cial rights for fi­tusir­an — an RNAi pro­gram for he­mo­phil­ia, where it is now in­vest­ing heav­i­ly.

With 700 staffers last year, the staff has now grown to 950, says Maraganore. It will be 1100 by the end of this year.

“Ten are in Tokyo,” he adds. “We’re build­ing out Latin Amer­i­ca and oth­er coun­tries. This is now go­ing to be a glob­al ef­fort for Al­ny­lam.”

Al­ny­lam Pres­i­dent Bar­ry Greene is in charge of the com­mer­cial roll­out for a drug that will now be known as On­pat­tro. And he’s al­ready been out sell­ing a val­ue-based pay­ment plan to US health in­sur­ers, look­ing to hit the ground run­ning on the mar­ket­ing cam­paign.

The list price was set at $450,000 per year for the some 3,000 pa­tients di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease in the US, mak­ing it one of the most ex­pen­sive new drugs in the coun­try. That would trans­late to about $345,000 af­ter re­bates.

The CEO still keeps a clip of that Andy Pol­lack sto­ry by his desk. The newsprint is yel­lowed now, but it’s an ever-present re­minder of the work that had to be done to sur­vive the dark days that fol­lowed a pe­ri­od of ex­u­ber­ance as ex­perts hailed the ar­rival of RNAi and its rev­o­lu­tion­ary, “cure-all” ap­proach to dis­ease.

The re­al­i­ty, as al­ways, was much dif­fer­ent.

Five by ’15 has now be­come 20 by ’20 — a mix of pipeline and mar­ket­ed prod­ucts with strate­gic fo­cus­es on top — as Al­ny­lam looks to build up a port­fo­lio of ap­proved drugs that it can mar­ket it­self. Maraganore wants to fol­low the ex­am­ples of Genen­tech and Gilead to build a much big­ger biotech that will have a last­ing im­pact.

Al­ny­lam’s suc­cess this year of­fers a chance to high­light the lengthy time­lines re­quired for birthing a ma­jor new ther­a­peu­tic class of drugs. Watch­ing one start­up sur­vive the en­tire pi­o­neer-through-play­er process to emerge as the leader in the in­dus­try is a rare event. But in the past 2 years we’ve seen Spark Ther­a­peu­tics land the first gene ther­a­py OK in the US, while Kite and No­var­tis vault­ed to the mar­ket with CAR-T.

And now Al­ny­lam de­liv­ers for pa­tients in RNAi. Maraganore says their new drug will hit the mar­ket in 48 hours.


Im­age: Al­ny­lam CEO John Maraganore.Lane Turn­er/The Boston Globe via Get­ty Im­ages

RWE chal­lenges for to­day's bio­phar­ma

The rapid development of technology — and the resulting avalanche of data — are catalysts for significant change in the biopharmaceutical industry. This translates into urgent pressures for today’s biopharma, including a need to quickly and affordably develop products with proven therapeutic efficacy and value. This urgency is expedited by the growth of value-based contracting, where access to reimbursement and profit depends on these abilities.

UP­DAT­ED: In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — but da­ta min­ing in­cites con­tro­ver­sy and ques­tions

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company and its partners at Eisai say that a new analysis of a larger dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over with the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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As shares suf­fer from a lin­ger­ing slump, a bruised Alk­er­mes slash­es 160 jobs in R&D re­struc­tur­ing

With its share price in a deep slump after suffering through a regulatory debacle over their depression drug ALKS 5461, Alkermes CEO Richard Pops is taking the ax to its R&D organization in a restructuring aimed at cutting costs ahead of its next attempt at a rollout in a tough field.

Richard Pops, Endpoints via Youtube

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Acor­da's Ron Co­hen brings the ax back out as new drug sales on­ly trick­le in while cash cow is led to the slaugh­ter

With its new drug earning meager sums and its one-time cash cow reduced to a bony shadow of its former self, Acorda Therapeutics today is rolling out a new restructuring aimed at slashing the staff and cutting costs to get through the hard times ahead.

The biotech is chopping a quarter of its staff today, carving back R&D as well as SG&A expenses. And CEO Ron Cohen is cutting deep.

Under the new austerity budget, Acorda’s R&D expenses for the full year 2019 are expected to be $55 – $60 million, reduced from $70 – $80 million. SG&A expenses for the full year 2019 are expected to be $185 – $190 million, reduced from $200 – $210 million. R&D expenses for the full year 2020 are expected to be $20 – $25 million and SG&A
expenses for the full year 2020 are expected to be $160 – $165 million.

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RAPT Ther­a­peu­tics re­turns to Wall Street to re­vive IPO bid

On May 24, FLX Bio, a small cancer and inflammation biotech with backing from GV, changed its name to RAPT Therapeutics and filed confidentially for an IPO. On July 5th, they filed to raise up to $86 million. On July 22, they announced the IPO with a $75 million goal.  And on August 1, they abruptly and without explanation called it all off.

Now, without explanation, they’re reviving the bid, filing again for a $75 million IPO, this time with a new bookrunner and a new drug candidate in the clinic. The terms will be the same: 5 million shares at $14-$16 per share. It would give them a diluted market value of $351 million.

EY vet set to re­place re­tir­ing Am­gen CFO Meline

Ahead of its third-quarter results next week, Amgen on Tuesday disclosed the planned retirement of David Meline, who has served as the company’s chief financial officer since 2014.

Meline will be replaced by Ernst & Young vet, Peter Griffith, as CFO come January 1, 2020 — but until then Griffith will serve as executive vice president, finance.

“Over the last 5 years at Amgen, Meline instituted many major changes that led to operational efficiencies and margin expansion while successfully returning cash to shareholders. Now that Amgen is on solid footing, it was a good time to step away,” Cowen’s Yaron Werber wrote in a note. “We do not anticipate any major changes to strategy or operations immediately due to this transition as Amgen is on solid footing.”

Eli Lil­ly’s USA, di­a­betes chief En­rique Con­ter­no is head­ing out af­ter 27 years, and he’s be­ing re­placed by a com­pa­ny in­sid­er

Close to 3 years after Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks added the title of president of the US operations to Enrique Conterno’s resume, which included his helmsmanship of the diabetes franchise, the Peruvian born exec is set to retire after a 27-year run at the pharma giant.

Lilly put out the news just as it was posting Q3 results, with a mix of upbeat and downbeat results in the latest set of numbers from Lilly.
Conterno — a grizzled, deeply experienced and sometimes gruff veteran of the pharma world — was a high-profile figure at Lilly, stepping up to expanded duties as the company was forced to deal with intense pricing pressure on the diabetes side of the business. He had replaced outgoing US president Alex Azar, who later popped up as head of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration.
As head of the diabetes unit, Conterno had to deal with an extraordinarily competitive field as payers demanded bigger discounts. Trulicity’s success helped generate new revenue for the company, but Q3’s miss on revenue had a lot to do with the need for discounting the drug ahead of Novo Nordisk’s rival therapy, Rybelsus, which was priced on the wholesale level at an almost identical rate.

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No­var­tis hands off $80M in cash to part­ner up with a top biotech play­er in the fi­bro­sis sec­tor

Never underestimate the power of a good showing at a scientific conference.
In a presentation late last year, the researchers at Pliant Therapeutics launched a series of discussions about the preclinical data they were pulling together around their work on their small-molecule integrin inhibitor aimed at transforming growth factor beta, or TGF-β, a key pathway involved in fibrosis.
And they got some serious attention for the work.
“We got interest from pharma partners and at the end Novartis basically made it,” says Pliant CEO Bernard Coulie.

Is there a recipe for M&A suc­cess? The best and worst buy­out deals in the past decade of­fer some keys to suc­cess — and fail­ure

It’s not easy achieving a solid win in M&A in this industry. But if you follow a few simple guidelines, you may be able to increase your odds of success.
Geoffrey Porges and the team at SVB Leerink went about the “notoriously difficult” task of scoring the biopharma buyout of 2009 to 2019. Sizing up current and expected revenue from the products that were gained, they came up with the 5 winners:
Merck/Schering Plough
Bristol/Medarex
Gilead/Pharmasset
Sanofi/Genzyme
AstraZeneca/Acerta
It says a lot about the field that it’s much easier sorting out the 5 worst deals, though there’s also a lot more competition for that title, notes Porges. As picked by the analysts:
J&J/Actelion
Merck/Cubist
Alexion/Synageva
AbbVie/Stemcentrx
Gilead/Kite

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