Richard Gonzalez, AbbVie CEO (Chris Kleponis/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

House com­mit­tee to grill Ab­b­Vie CEO next month on sup­press­ing Hu­mi­ra com­pe­ti­tion

Ab­b­Vie CEO Richard Gon­za­lez will be in the hot seat on May 18, again de­fend­ing the com­pa­ny’s mam­moth block­buster drug Hu­mi­ra be­fore the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee as com­pe­ti­tion for the world’s best-sell­ing drug isn’t like­ly to hit Amer­i­can shores for about two years.

Over­sight Com­mit­tee Chair­woman Car­olyn Mal­oney (D-NY) has been ze­ro­ing in on Ab­b­Vie for months now, even threat­en­ing to is­sue a sub­poe­na last Sep­tem­ber for doc­u­ments as part of her com­mit­tee’s on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to drug pric­ing prac­tices.

And with good rea­son. Ab­b­Vie’s cash cow Hu­mi­ra, which has brought in more than $90 bil­lion over the last five years, al­ready faces biosim­i­lar com­pe­ti­tion in the EU, but will not face such com­pe­ti­tion in the US un­til 2023.

In re­sults from the most re­cent quar­ter re­port­ed on Fri­day, Ab­b­Vie not­ed an al­most 7% in­crease in net rev­enues for Hu­mi­ra, de­spite a more than 8% de­cline in rev­enues in­ter­na­tion­al­ly.

Six Hu­mi­ra biosim­i­lars in the EU have made their mark, cap­tur­ing more than 50% mar­ket share in about two years, ac­cord­ing to a March re­port from Bern­stein biotech an­a­lyst Ron­ny Gal. The price for Hu­mi­ra in the EU has al­so dropped by more than 50% over that same time pe­ri­od, ac­cord­ing to Gal.

What re­mains to be seen is what this lat­est com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion will ac­tu­al­ly do. Gon­za­lez pre­vi­ous­ly tes­ti­fied in 2019 be­fore the Sen­ate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, not­ing, “We think we have struck a rea­son­able bal­ance” on Hu­mi­ra with the 2023 launch dates for biosim­i­lars, and say­ing the patent thick­ets to pro­tect the com­pa­ny’s mo­nop­oly were jus­ti­fied. “Well, re­mem­ber Hu­mi­ra is like nine dif­fer­ent drugs, 10 dif­fer­ent drugs,” he said.

Mal­oney tes­ti­fied be­fore a dif­fer­ent House sub­com­mit­tee on Thurs­day, not­ing that her com­mit­tee now has pre­vi­ous­ly non­pub­lic in­ter­nal doc­u­ments that show how Ab­b­Vie’s tac­tics sup­pressed com­pe­ti­tion for Hu­mi­ra and oth­er drugs and main­tained mo­nop­oly pric­ing in the US.

But ex­perts who spoke anony­mous­ly with End­points News didn’t think there was a good chance that any­thing would change be­fore 2023, un­less the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion took on Ab­b­Vie or if Ab­b­Vie ex­ec­u­tives were in­dict­ed.

Cit­i­zen Pe­ti­tion

Sep­a­rate­ly, Boehringer In­gel­heim, one of the com­pa­nies ex­pect­ing to bring a Hu­mi­ra biosim­i­lar to mar­ket in 2023, held a meet­ing last month to dis­cuss a cit­i­zen pe­ti­tion that rais­es con­cerns with the FDA about its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the biosim­i­lars law with re­gard to in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars.

Boehringer is one of the few com­pa­nies to pub­licly dis­close that it’s work­ing on an in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lar for Hu­mi­ra.

“BI main­tained that FDA’s cur­rent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the statu­to­ry term ‘strength’ pro­vides an op­por­tu­ni­ty for ref­er­ence prod­uct ap­pli­ca­tion hold­ers to game the sys­tem through ‘prod­uct-hop­ping,’ which BI de­scribed as con­vert­ing pa­tients to a new con­cen­tra­tion of the brand­ed prod­uct and with­draw­ing the ex­ist­ing con­cen­tra­tion pri­or to the en­try of com­pet­ing biosim­i­lars,” ac­cord­ing to a sum­ma­ry of the meet­ing.

The com­pa­ny al­so said that FDA’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “strength” fa­cil­i­tates an­ti­com­pet­i­tive ever­green­ing tac­tics, and as­sert­ed that such types of ever­green­ing tac­tics would not be pos­si­ble if strength is in­ter­pret­ed in the law to mean to­tal drug con­tent with­out re­gard to con­cen­tra­tion.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of face plants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.

Blue­bird sends blood dis­or­der drug to FDA for ap­proval; CG On­col­o­gy en­ters col­lab­o­ra­tion with Roche for Tecen­triq

Bluebird bio announced it completed the rolling submission of its BLA to the FDA for betibeglogene autotemcel gene therapy.

The therapy, designed for patients with beta-thalassemia who require regular red blood cell transfusions, was previously granted breakthrough therapy designation for treating transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia (TDT). If approved, beti-cel will be the first hematopoietic stem cell ex-vivo gene therapy for patients in the US.