ICER chas­tis­es J&J for over­pric­ing de­pres­sion drug es­ke­t­a­mine ‘where there is such need for treat­ment’

Cog­nizant of the myr­i­ad of ap­proved an­ti­de­pres­sants that of­ten don’t work, reg­u­la­tors en­dorsed J&J’s $JNJ phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ver­sion of the hal­lu­cino­genic anes­thet­ic ke­t­a­mine — es­ke­t­a­mine — in March for treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion, well aware that the orig­i­nal cat tran­quil­iz­er is fre­quent­ly used off-la­bel for se­vere de­pres­sion. On Thurs­day, ICER con­clud­ed that while the drug, sold as Spra­va­to, does con­fer a “promis­ing” clin­i­cal ben­e­fit, its cur­rent list price ex­ceeds a com­mon cost-ef­fec­tive­ness thresh­old by a mod­est mar­gin.

In 2017, an es­ti­mat­ed 17.3 mil­lion adults in the Unit­ed States — rough­ly 7% of all US adults — had at least one ma­jor de­pres­sive episode, ac­cord­ing to the NIH. Most an­ti­de­pres­sants usu­al­ly take a few weeks to work – and half of the pa­tients fail to ful­ly re­spond. The par­ty drug (some­times re­ferred to as Kit Kat or Vi­t­a­min K) and anes­thet­ic ke­t­a­mine which can lift de­pres­sion in many pa­tients with­in hours, must be ad­min­is­tered through in­fu­sion but can have pro­found dis­so­cia­tive side-ef­fects, and pa­tients typ­i­cal­ly re­lapse af­ter treat­ment ends.

Es­ke­t­a­mine is a low-dose, nasal-spray for­mu­la­tion of ke­t­a­mine — but due to its side-ef­fect pro­file, the J&J treat­ment is de­signed to be ad­min­is­tered in the pres­ence of a health­care prac­ti­tion­er.  It was ap­proved on the ba­sis of five piv­otal Phase III stud­ies in pa­tients with treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion.

The da­ta used to ap­prove the drug sug­gests it is clin­i­cal­ly ef­fec­tive — but with the ab­sence of long-term safe­ty da­ta, the ev­i­dence is “promis­ing but in­con­clu­sive,” ICER re­searchers said. Since there are no head-to-head tri­als com­par­ing es­ke­t­a­mine with any com­para­tors — such as ke­t­a­mine, elec­tro­con­vul­sive ther­a­py, tran­scra­nial mag­net­ic stim­u­la­tion, oral an­ti­de­pres­sants, or aug­men­ta­tion with an­tipsy­chotics (e.g., olan­za­p­ine) — its rel­a­tive ben­e­fit is al­so hard to judge, they added.

Akin to NICE in the UK, ICER is an in­de­pen­dent body that an­a­lyzes the cost-ef­fec­tive­ness of drugs and oth­er med­ical ser­vices in the Unit­ed States. Un­like NICE, though, ICER is not gov­ern­ment-af­fil­i­at­ed, but its de­ter­mi­na­tions are in­creas­ing­ly be­com­ing in­flu­en­tial with pay­ers.

ICER con­duct­ed its analy­ses us­ing two mea­sures: 1) QALYs, or qual­i­ty-ad­just­ed life-years, a mea­sure of the state of health of a per­son or group in which the ben­e­fits — in terms of length of life — are ad­just­ed to re­flect the qual­i­ty of life. Es­sen­tial­ly, one QALY is equal to one year of life in per­fect health. 2) Life years gained (LYG), which ex­press­es the ad­di­tion­al num­ber of years of life that a per­son lives as a re­sult of re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.

Com­pared with no ad­di­tion­al treat­ment be­yond a back­ground an­ti­de­pres­sant, treat­ment with es­ke­t­a­mine plus a back­ground an­ti­de­pres­sant re­sult­ed in im­por­tant QALY gains in pa­tients with treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion (TRD), ICER said.

Us­ing the es­ke­t­a­mine list price of $295 per 28 mg in­tranasal de­vice, the treat­ment’s use re­sults in an in­cre­men­tal cost-ef­fec­tive­ness ra­tio of ap­prox­i­mate­ly $198,000 per QALY com­pared to no ad­di­tion­al treat­ment, ex­ceed­ing the com­mon­ly cit­ed cost-ef­fec­tive­ness thresh­olds of be­tween $50,000-$150,000 per QALY. Mean­while, es­ke­t­a­mine is es­ti­mat­ed to cost ap­prox­i­mate­ly $2.6 mil­lion per life year gained, ICER found.

Es­ke­t­a­mine’s ap­proval was al­so meant to en­hance ac­cess to treat­ment — since ke­t­a­mine is not cov­ered by health in­sur­ers — al­though there is a con­cern that there may still be high out-of-pock­et ex­pens­es through de­ductibles or non-cov­er­age poli­cies.

David Rind

“Es­ke­t­a­mine shows some ben­e­fits for such pa­tients and pro­vides an FDA-ap­proved treat­ment for TRD that may be cov­ered by pay­ers; how­ev­er, it is con­cern­ing to have an over­priced ther­a­py where there is such need for treat­ment. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, the sim­i­lar­i­ty of ke­t­a­mine to es­ke­t­a­mine rais­es is­sues for all stake­hold­ers about how to con­sid­er off-la­bel pre­scrip­tion and cov­er­age of a treat­ment that has not been as well stud­ied but is be­ing in­creas­ing­ly used for TRD,” said ICER’s CMO David Rind in a state­ment.

The ICER re­port was pub­lished on Thurs­day hav­ing in­cor­po­rat­ed the feed­back from pa­tient groups, clin­i­cians, drug man­u­fac­tur­ers, and oth­er stake­hold­ers to the draft ver­sion orig­i­nal­ly un­veiled in March. A fi­nal re­port is ex­pect­ed to be pub­lished in June, fol­low­ing a vote lat­er this month.

J&J dis­agrees with this re­port, a Janssen spokesper­son told End­points News. “It un­der­es­ti­mates the proven short- and long-term ben­e­fits that this treat­ment…brings to TRD pa­tients in need. The in­ac­cu­rate as­sump­tions in the draft re­port re­lat­ed to the pos­i­tive ben­e­fit risk pro­file of Spra­va­to and the com­par­i­son be­tween this FDA ap­proved treat­ment and ke­t­a­mine, a treat­ment be­ing used off-la­bel that has not been ad­e­quate­ly stud­ied and is viewed as ex­per­i­men­tal for TRD, are reck­less.”

Due to a lack of com­par­a­tive da­ta be­tween es­ke­t­a­mine and ke­t­a­mine, ICER was not able to ex­am­ine rel­a­tive cost-ef­fec­tive­ness be­tween the two ther­a­pies. In­stead, the in­sti­tute com­pared the in­di­vid­ual one-year costs and found that es­ke­t­a­mine was ten times more ex­pen­sive than ke­t­a­mine in the first year of use — de­spite the ad­min­is­tra­tion costs as­so­ci­at­ed with pro­vid­ing ke­t­a­mine in­tra­venous­ly.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

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.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

One of the most am­bi­tious start­up teams in biotech just out­lined plans for a $400M IPO and a val­u­a­tion of about $4B

The executive team at Sana Biotechnology has sketched out more details about the full scope of its ambitions as the new unicorn to watch. They amended their S-1 today to include a price range of $20 to $23 a share — which puts them in reach of pulling in around $400 million on the high end with a market value starting right around $4 billion.

That’s not bad for a preclinical biotech with no drugs yet in human studies, but it squares with its ambitions to remake the cell therapy field with a slate of in-house platforms. The biotech raised $705 million — primarily from ARCH (44 million shares) and Flagship (34.2 million shares) — to get to this stage.

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Lil­ly at­tempts to re­vive an old idea for tack­ling pain, li­cens­ing PhI pro­gram from Japan’s Asahi Ka­sei Phar­ma

Eli Lilly is fronting some new cash in a space they’re quite familiar with.

The company is partnering with Japan’s Asahi Kasei Pharma on an experimental drug for chronic pain, acquiring the rights for the P2X7 receptor antagonist program dubbed AK1780. Lilly will shell out a pretty penny for the program, promising up to $410 million total should each milestone payment come to pass.

Asahi Kasei will receive an upfront sum of $20 million for the candidate. In addition, Lilly is on the hook for up to $210 million in development and regulatory milestones and another potential $180 million in sales milestones. Asahi Kasei can also obtain royalties ranging from the mid-single to low-double digits should an approved product come out of the deal.

Ther­mo Fish­er plat­form seeks to ex­pe­dite donor cell cul­ti­va­tion for al­lo­gene­ic cell ther­a­pies

One of the world’s leading CDMOs has launched a new technology it says will expedite a quickly-growing sect of biotech drug development: off-the-shelf, allogeneic cell therapies.

It’s been nearly a decade since the FDA approved the first use of the method that uses healthy donor cells to create a master cell bank, which is then used for specific therapies — a cord blood allogeneic treatment called Hemacord. In the years since, the use of allogeneic cells has taken off in research circles, most notably in the use of T cell therapies to target solid tumor cancers.

Top gene ther­a­py deals, M&A pacts in 2020 high­light an­oth­er big year in one of the hottest fields in bio­phar­ma

Chris Dokomajilar at DealForma has been crunching the numbers on gene therapy deals over the last 2 years and came away with a few key observations.

Both the upfront cash and deal totals last year backed off a bit from the record high hit in 2019, but the totals are still running well ahead of anything we’ve seen in the years prior to 2019/2020.
2020 R&D partnerships came in at 23 deals, with $1.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $8.5 billion in total deal value. Looking at 2019-2020 M&A, Dokomajilar found: 9 Acquisitions, with over $11.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $13.4 billion in total M&A value.

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Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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Bob Nelsen (Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH an­nounces largest fund yet, rais­ing $1.85B to back men­tal health, cell and gene edit­ing ap­proach­es

Nearly a year ago, as the pandemic encroached and the stock market cratered, Flagship and ARCH Venture announced three mega-funds worth a combined $2.6 billion. They wanted, ARCH’s Bob Nelsen said, to restore confidence “that there was money out there and a lot of it” to invest in biotech.

Since then, the stock market has returned — almost frighteningly so — and Nelsen has kept raising and spending cash. On Thursday, he announced a new fund, worth $1.85 billion. It’s the largest pot yet for a VC famous for its deep pockets.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Ad­vo­ca­cy groups don't want Janet Wood­cock to head the FDA, blast­ing ‘reg­u­la­to­ry fail­ures’ in opi­oid cri­sis

It turns out the controversies around Janet Woodcock’s regulatory legacy weren’t limited to Sarepta’s eteplirsen.

A coalition of advocacy groups dedicated to the opioid crisis urged Norris Cochran and Xavier Becerra — the acting and designated HHS secretary, respectively — to keep her reign as interim FDA chief a “very short transition.” During her lengthy tenure as CDER, they add, Woodcock presided over “one of the worst regulatory agency failures in U.S. history.”

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