J&J hikes US prices for a bas­ket of drugs, in­clud­ing cer­tain top-sell­ers — Reuters

As De­mo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers of Con­gress pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to curb soar­ing drug prices on Thurs­day, the world’s biggest drug­mak­er by rev­enue John­son & John­son $JNJ raised prices for about two dozen of its pre­scrip­tion med­i­cines, adding to the hun­dreds of price hikes al­ready ini­ti­at­ed by var­i­ous drug­mak­ers in 2019.

Most of the in­creas­es on J&J’s drugs — in­clud­ing top-sell­ers pso­ri­a­sis drug Ste­lara, can­cer drug Zyti­ga and blood thin­ner Xarel­to — were be­tween 6% and 7%, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Reuters, cit­ing da­ta from Rx Sav­ings So­lu­tions, which helps health plans, em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees seek cheap­er pre­scrip­tion med­i­cines.

The Band-Aid mak­er is not plan­ning to raise the prices on any more of its drugs this year, J&J told Reuters. Among large bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies, J&J is one of the least de­pen­dent on drug price hikes for growth, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent analy­sis pub­lished by Leerink.

Al­ler­gan $AGN, Pfiz­er $PFE, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY, Bio­gen $BI­IB, Sanofi $SNY, No­vo Nordisk $NVO and oth­er top drug­mak­ers all greet­ed 2019 with price hikes, al­though da­ta sug­gest that in gen­er­al, drug­mak­ers are slow­ing the size and fre­quen­cy of price hikes as po­lit­i­cal, me­dia and pub­lic scruti­ny in­to pric­ing in­ten­si­fies.

Be­tween Jan­u­ary 2 and Jan­u­ary 10, the num­ber of drugs whose prices had been raised rose from more than 250 med­i­cines to close to 490, ac­cord­ing to Rx Sav­ings, as cit­ed by Reuters.

The Unit­ed States is by far the most lu­cra­tive mar­ket for drug­mak­ers — un­like many oth­er high-in­come na­tions — where the gov­ern­ment does not di­rect­ly in­flu­ence pric­ing pol­i­cy, re­ly­ing in­stead on com­pe­ti­tion.

In the UK for in­stance, NICE de­ter­mines whether a med­i­cine is cost-ef­fec­tive — if that thresh­old is not met, the drug is usu­al­ly not in­tro­duced in­to the na­tion­al health ser­vice. The phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try in the Unit­ed States is crit­i­cal of the UK mod­el, as­sert­ing the prac­tice sti­fles the pace of med­ical in­no­va­tion and pa­tients are robbed of ac­cess to im­por­tant med­i­cines. Aside from the high risk and cost of R&D, US drug­mak­ers al­so jus­ti­fy their pol­i­cy of high­er US prices be­cause they have to ne­go­ti­ate with mid­dle­men in the form of phar­ma­cy ben­e­fit man­agers.

In re­cent years, the spot­light on phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal price goug­ing has in­spired a num­ber of US law­mak­ers, as well as the cur­rent Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to pro­pose leg­is­la­tion to tem­per hikes, and in­crease the gov­ern­ment’s abil­i­ty to in­flu­ence drug prices.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Eli­jah Cum­mings, chair­man of the Con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee on over­sight and re­form, who rein­tro­duced some of bills tak­ing aim at “sky­rock­et­ing” drug prices as part of a leg­isla­tive pack­age on Thurs­day, an­nounced that a hear­ing on pre­scrip­tion drug prices was sched­uled to take place on Jan­u­ary 29.

Mer­ck is tak­ing the ax to its US op­er­a­tions, cut­ting 500 jobs in its lat­est re­or­ga­ni­za­tion

Merck is cutting 500 jobs in its US sales and headquarters commercial teams in its latest effort to find new ways to streamline the operation.

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Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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The FDA will hus­tle up an ex­pe­dit­ed re­view for As­traZeneca’s next shot at a block­buster can­cer drug fran­chise

AstraZeneca paid a hefty price to partner with Daiichi Sankyo on their experimental antibody drug conjugate for HER2 positive breast cancer. And they’ve been rewarded with a fast ride through the FDA, with a straight shot at creating another blockbuster oncology franchise.

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Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.

Ronald Herb­st fol­lows Med­Im­mune ex­o­dus to Pyx­is CSO post; Jeff God­dard to suc­ceed CEO of AIT Bio­science

→ The outflow of top execs from MedImmune continues to fill the leadership ranks of smaller biotechs. The latest to take off is Ronald Herbst, the head of oncology research, who’s assuming the CSO post at Pyxis Oncology.  

Herbst was part of the old MedImmune organization AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot restructured earlier this year, reorganizing the company and eliminating the storied subsidiary as a separate organization.

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UP­DAT­ED: J&J's Xarel­to, Amar­in's Vas­cepa are cost-ef­fec­tive, not bud­get friend­ly — ICER

ICER, an increasingly influential cost-effectiveness watchdog in the United States, has concluded in its review of treatments for cardiovascular disease that while the cost of J&J’s Xarelto and Amarin’s Vascepa meet its benchmark for value pricing — the two treatments will not likely treat as many patients as hoped without surpassing the annual budget threshold calculated by ICER for each therapy.