House lines up biotech lol­lipops as sup­port grows for an epic 21st Cen­tu­ry Cures Act

Now that Don­ald Trump is head­ed to the White House with plans to gut Oba­maCare, the House has field­ed a new ver­sion of the 21st Cen­tu­ry Cures Act in a bid to push through a bill now that in­cludes fresh promis­es of an even speed­i­er and more re­spon­sive FDA. And now that the De­moc­rats and Re­pub­li­cans have reached an agree­ment on how to fund the mea­sure, pluck­ing cash from the car­cass of the Af­ford­able Care Act, there are good odds that the House and Sen­ate could reach an agree­ment on a fi­nal bill in the not too dis­tant fu­ture.

Ac­cord­ing to Kaiser Health News, more than 1,400 lob­by­ists have tak­en a crack — for and against — var­i­ous sec­tions of this bill. And that helps ex­plain why this com­pro­mise bill weighs in at an epic 944 pages.

Rachel Sachs, a pro­fes­sor at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty who’s been fol­low­ing this bill close­ly, notes that some of the orig­i­nal good­ies for drug and de­vice mak­ers have been re­moved, in­clud­ing one sec­tion that would have al­lowed de­vel­op­ers to cir­cum­vent the FDA’s ap­proval process.

So what’s in? A spe­cial man­date for the NIH to sup­port young sci­en­tists look­ing for first-time grants; the pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er pro­gram that the FDA hates; an ex­tra $500 mil­lion in fund­ing for the FDA to move drugs and de­vices along faster over the next 10 years, and so on.

Here’s a 44-page sum­ma­ry to help di­gest what’s com­ing. You’ll find this in the sec­tion on speed­ed drug de­vel­op­ment, a promise that Trump made in his post-elec­tion game plan. The bill:

• Es­tab­lish­es a re­view path­way at FDA for bio­mark­ers and oth­er drug de­vel­op­ment tools that can be used to help short­en drug de­vel­op­ment time and re­duce the fail­ure rate in drug de­vel­op­ment.

• Al­lows spon­sors of ge­net­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed or vari­ant pro­tein tar­get­ed drugs to re­ly on da­ta for the same or sim­i­lar tech­nol­o­gy from pre­vi­ous­ly ap­proved ap­pli­ca­tions by the same spon­sor.

• Does not al­ter the ex­ist­ing ap­proval stan­dards for drugs.

There have been some high-pro­file scan­dals this year to sug­gest that the FDA may have act­ed hasti­ly in ap­prov­ing drugs or get­ting them back in­to the clin­ic af­ter a safe­ty mishap, most re­cent­ly with Juno’s new clin­i­cal hold in the wake of more pa­tient deaths. Far from slow­ing down the march at the FDA to low­er the bar for bio­phar­ma, Con­gress is in­tent on hit­ting the gas and forc­ing reg­u­la­tors to go even faster.

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.

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 faceplants 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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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.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

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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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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