Heart at­tack while on Repatha? Am­gen will give you your mon­ey back

Wash­ing­ton, DC —Am­gen has over­come one of the tough­est chal­lenges in car­dio re­search, out­lin­ing a clear health ben­e­fit for its PC­SK9 cho­les­terol drug Repatha. But be­fore pay­ers get a chance to gnaw at the num­bers be­ing put on dis­play to­day, look­ing for holes or find­ing fault with the lev­el of ben­e­fit, the phar­ma gi­ant wants to send them a sim­ple mes­sage: it’s ready to of­fer a ne­go­ti­at­ed truce to get them to drop their de­fens­es and pull out of the trench­es.

Af­ter find­ing ac­cess to Repatha blocked and locked by blan­ket pay­er re­jec­tions, cor­ralling this drug far from the main­stream, Am­gen $AMGN wants to par­lay.

If pay­ers will just con­sid­er the ben­e­fits Am­gen is demon­strat­ing to­day and take down their elab­o­rate bar­ri­ers, com­pa­ny ex­ecs say they are not on­ly will­ing to of­fer a re­fund when the drug fails, they’ll al­so ne­go­ti­ate an­nu­al pay­ment caps and risk shar­ing deals with in­sur­ers so pay­ers can be sure to keep con­trol of their bud­gets.

Sean Harp­er, EVP Re­search and De­vel­op­ment

Drug re­funds have be­gun to make their way in­to the sys­tem, but they’re still rare enough to make this a stand­out pro­pos­al for a man­u­fac­tur­er try­ing to es­tab­lish a big drug.

“We will work with pay­ers if they’re will­ing to just stop block­ing pa­tients from get­ting the drug,” Sean Harp­er, head of R&D at Am­gen, tells me.

Harp­er and his team showed up at Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­o­gy con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton DC on Fri­day to lay their case out with some pi­o­neer­ing da­ta. Study­ing this drug in 27,564 pa­tients over two years, re­searchers say, Repatha was able to low­er a com­pos­ite of car­dio risks by an av­er­age of 20%. And the im­prove­ment in­creased with time, grow­ing from a 16% risk ad­van­tage in year one to 25% af­ter 12 months.

That’s large enough to hit key end­points, but it’s al­so small enough to leave many an­a­lysts won­der­ing if this drug can ever make it to big block­buster sta­tus, which Am­gen is cer­tain it de­serves.

Break­ing down the da­ta, which every­one will do, re­searchers not­ed a 27% re­duc­tion in the risk of heart at­tacks, a 21% risk re­duc­tion for stroke and a 22% re­duc­tion on coro­nary revas­cu­lar­iza­tion. But sig­nif­i­cant­ly there was no im­pact on mor­tal­i­ty or un­sta­ble angi­na.

This was the first time that a tri­al has shown a clear car­dio ben­e­fit from PC­SK9 in­hi­bi­tion.

Sums up Harp­er: “This is huge that we can do this.”

In­vestors, though, were clear­ly not im­pressed. Am­gen’s shares were down 6% af­ter the head­lines hit. And this Tweet should give you a fla­vor for what’s dri­ving the skep­ti­cism:

Umer Raf­fat at Ever­cor­eISI not­ed that most of in­vestors were look­ing for a mor­tal­i­ty ben­e­fit and were clear­ly dis­ap­point­ed in not see­ing one. Am­gen’s bull­ish­ness on the da­ta ahead of the de­tails al­so in­flat­ed ex­pec­ta­tions. And the same bit­ter taste al­so ex­tend­ed to the rest of the play­ers in the field, in­clud­ing Re­gen­eron $REGN and Sanofi $SNY, which both got hit, as well as The Med­i­cines Com­pa­ny {$MD­CO -20%} which has a next-gen ther­a­py in the clin­ic it’s been see­ing suc­cess with.

Baird’s Bri­an Sko­r­ney called it a let down. He added:

The pri­ma­ry end­point just hit stat sig with a HR of 0.85 (be­low ex­pec­ta­tions), while the MACE sec­ondary end­point saw a 20% risk re­duc­tion (in-line). Even more dis­ap­point­ing, CV death failed to sep­a­rate from place­bo. Though we do think that to­day’s da­ta is ev­i­dence that PC­SK9 in­hi­bi­tion works, the ben­e­fit isn’t as pro­found as in­vestors were look­ing for and pay­ers are like­ly to lever­age this dis­ap­point­ment.

Am­gen has bet big on Repatha, bankrolling sev­er­al huge stud­ies to demon­strate the drug’s abil­i­ty to dra­mat­i­cal­ly slash LDL lev­els, which its in­ves­ti­ga­tors say is clear­ly a tox­in. Now it has a win on car­dio out­comes to make its point to physi­cians and a large po­ten­tial pa­tient pop­u­la­tion. But the tri­al suc­cess is not big enough by it­self to get pay­ers to stop re­ject­ing pre­scrip­tions “over and over and over again,” as Harp­er de­scribes the treat­ment to date.

Joshua J. Of­man, Am­gen

“The process on uti­liza­tion man­age­ment has been bro­ken,” says Am­gen val­ue man­age­ment chief Joshua J. Of­man. Ever since 2013’s in­tro­duc­tion of So­val­di pay­ers have been up­ping their game, fig­ur­ing out new ways to stop their mem­bers from get­ting ac­cess to new drugs like this. And in Repatha’s case, pay­ers are in over­drive, forc­ing physi­cians to go back and file over and over again.

The num­bers Am­gen is re­port­ing to­day are al­so be­ing pitched as far more con­ser­v­a­tive than what pa­tients see in the re­al world. All the pa­tients in the study got the best stan­dard of care, which is some­thing you won’t see in the re­al world. And Am­gen is hap­py to ne­go­ti­ate its next round of con­tracts based on re­al-world ex­pec­ta­tions.

So now Am­gen says they’ll guar­an­tee a low­er risk of heart at­tack and re­fund the cost of the drug for any pa­tient who has a heart at­tack. They’ll still come out well ahead if they can reach the at-risk pop­u­la­tion whose LDL lev­els can­not be con­trolled by cheap statins.

Am­gen’s full court press on Repatha has in­clud­ed a co­or­di­nat­ed at­tack on its big ri­val Pralu­ent from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. At one point re­cent­ly a judge’s rul­ing threat­ened to push the com­pet­ing drug off the mar­ket as Am­gen — a ma­jor league lit­i­ga­tor — pressed its ar­gu­ment that Pralu­ent vi­o­lat­ed its PC­SK9 patents. But the part­ners man­aged to block that, for now.

Next up: Car­dio da­ta from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. So far, these drugs have ap­peared very sim­i­lar, and it wouldn’t sur­prise many ob­servers if their com­peti­tor comes on around the same score. But every da­ta point will get care­ful scruti­ny as the gi­ants block and tack­le in search of every small ad­van­tage, while hop­ing to achieve a break­through on mar­ket­ing that can fi­nal­ly gen­er­ate some big num­bers.

So far, it’s not look­ing good.

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In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

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Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

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José Baselga, AstraZeneca cancer chief (Brent N. Clarke/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

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