Mallinck­rodt just got its hand slapped for il­le­gal­ly pro­tect­ing an 85,000% price hike

Bioreg­num
The view from End­points

More than three years ago, Quest­cor paid No­var­tis $135 mil­lion to gain US rights to a ther­a­py that posed a di­rect threat to its Ac­thar drug fran­chise. It was the deal of the decade, block­ing a com­peti­tor that could have carved in­to a block­buster fran­chise. An­drew Pol­lack at The New York Times laid it all out in sim­ple terms in a venue that no one who cared about drug pric­ing could have missed.

There was al­so no doubt what the deal on Syn­ac­then De­pot — a syn­thet­ic ver­sion of Ac­thar — meant to Quest­cor, which had been jack­ing up the price of Ac­thar by an as­tro­nom­i­cal amount that helped jus­ti­fy Mallinck­rodt’s $5.6 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion a year lat­er. Its stock jumped 15% when the news came down.

“We be­lieve the ac­qui­si­tion re­moves a key over­hang as a po­ten­tial com­peti­tor to Ac­thar is re­moved,” not­ed an­a­lyst Biren Amin at the time.

Over 15 years the price on Ac­thar has gone up 85,000%, ac­cord­ing to the FTC, which just won a $100 mil­lion set­tle­ment from Mallinck­rodt for il­le­gal­ly main­tain­ing a drug mo­nop­oly. To put that set­tle­ment in per­spec­tive, it’s the about same amount as the an­nu­al in­crease of Ac­thar net sales in fis­cal 2016, when the drug earned $1.16 bil­lion — mak­ing it eas­i­ly the biggest drug in their port­fo­lio.

When Mallinck­rodt bought Quest­cor, Ac­thar cost $28,000 a vial. To­day, a lit­tle more than two years lat­er, the FTC says it’s $34,000 a vial.

Mallinck­rodt, for its part, has been scram­bling to shed a rep as a price grout­ing bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny, joined the pric­ing pledge that Al­ler­gan’s Brent Saun­ders start­ed, vow­ing to keep an­nu­al price hikes to sin­gle dig­its.

That would still al­low a price hike on Ac­thar that would equal what the FTC is get­ting in the set­tle­ment.

The com­pa­ny is al­so swear­ing to dou­ble its R&D bud­get, which hit $262 mil­lion in its last fis­cal year.

Per­haps the biggest penal­ty the com­pa­ny faces is an or­der to sell the li­cense on the com­pet­ing ther­a­py in a mat­ter of months. That su­per­vised trans­ac­tion will set up an even­tu­al com­peti­tor, but it will not nec­es­sar­i­ly do any­thing to sig­nif­i­cant­ly re­duce the price of the ther­a­py, as even a dis­count stick­er could still com­mand a price wild­ly high­er than the old list price for Ac­thar.

De­vel­op­ment al­so can take time, and the agree­ment does noth­ing im­me­di­ate to re­duce the cost of the drug.

Iron­i­cal­ly, Mar­tin Shkre­li is get­ting cred­it as the whis­tle blow­er in the case, which oc­curred when short sell­ers were try­ing every­thing to top­ple Quest­cor’s stock price. (Shkre­li’s Retrophin was out­bid on the No­var­tis drug, which he had his own plans for.) Shkre­li knows a thing or two about price goug­ing on old drugs, which he prac­ticed at Retrophin and Tur­ing. He’s now pri­mar­i­ly oc­cu­pied with a fed­er­al fraud case, which is com­ing up for tri­al this sum­mer.

But the fed­er­al case has noth­ing to do with price goug­ing Dara­prim or any oth­er drug. Shkre­li’s 5,000% price hike re­mains in force, as it was com­plete­ly le­gal. And he con­tin­ues to seek out high pro­file in­ter­views that al­low him to de­fend the price.

For now, goug­ing re­mains a lu­cra­tive and large­ly non-threat­en­ing en­deav­or which the feds have lit­tle pow­er to con­trol. It re­mains to be seen if new in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will change that. PEO­TUS fa­mous­ly ac­cused phar­ma com­pa­nies with “get­ting away with mur­der” on drug prices.

Mallinck­rodt and the FTC helped make that case for him.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

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And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

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That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

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I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

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