Michael Co­hen on No­var­tis ties: '(T)hey want­ed me to pro­vide ac­cess to gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing the pres­i­den­t'

Michael Co­hen tes­ti­fy­ing in front of Con­gress (CSPAN).

Michael Co­hen isn’t just call­ing Pres­i­dent — and for­mer client — Don­ald Trump a liar and a con man. He’s al­so claim­ing that phar­ma gi­ant No­var­tis had tried to set him up as a lob­by­ist for the com­pa­ny in an at­tempt to gain di­rect ac­cess to Trump and oth­er in­flu­en­tial gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

And that’s a far cry from the way that No­var­tis ex­ecs have char­ac­ter­ized their mo­ti­va­tion be­hind the $1.2 mil­lion con­tract, which they main­tained con­sis­tent­ly was a straight­for­ward but short-lived at­tempt to gain in­sights in­to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s thoughts on health­care pol­i­cy.

“No­var­tis sent me their con­tract, which stat­ed specif­i­cal­ly that they want­ed me to lob­by,” Co­hen told law­mak­ers in to­day’s high pro­file tes­ti­mo­ny on Capi­tol Hill. “That they want­ed me to pro­vide ac­cess to gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent.”

“That para­graph was crossed out by me, ini­tialed, and writ­ten in my own hand­writ­ing that says I will not lob­by or do gov­ern­ment re­la­tions work,” he con­tin­ued, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the re­marks pub­lished by Reuters. 

His re­marks came in re­sponse to ques­tions from Rep. Mark Mead­ows (R-NC), who want­ed to know more about Co­hen’s op­er­a­tions while he was still close to Trump. In the ex­change, Co­hen said he had di­rect­ly in­ter­act­ed with No­var­tis 6 times. And the dis­barred at­tor­ney con­test­ed No­var­tis’ po­si­tion — out­lined by com­pa­ny sources to var­i­ous me­dia out­lets at the time — that he had con­tact­ed the com­pa­ny. No­var­tis, he said, sought him out based “on my knowl­edge of the enig­ma” that Trump is.

Joe Jimenez

No­var­tis’ ex­pla­na­tion — echoed by the re­cent­ly re­tired CEO Joe Jimenez — was that their out­reach to the at­tor­ney was a sim­ple way to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to health­care poli­cies. Once it be­came ap­par­ent that he could pro­vide lit­tle help, they con­tin­ued, the con­nec­tion end­ed.

Then last year No­var­tis was shak­en to the core by a cor­po­rate cri­sis that erupt­ed around the news that their month­ly pay­ments to Co­hen went in­to the same ac­count that was used to pay off Stormy Daniels, the strip­per who claimed to have had an af­fair with Trump.

A few weeks af­ter the scan­dal broke last sum­mer, a group of De­moc­rats in the Sen­ate re­leased their own quick re­port, con­clud­ing that the com­pa­ny’s con­tention that top ex­ecs had on­ly a brief, in­con­se­quen­tial ex­change with Co­hen and were forced to pay out the con­tract mis­rep­re­sent­ed the nu­mer­ous con­tacts Jimenez had with Co­hen.

“What he was sell­ing was a line of ac­cess to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Sen. Ron Wyden in an in­ter­view with ABC News in Ju­ly. “That would be how I would char­ac­ter­ize it.” Wyden and his col­leagues out­lined nu­mer­ous con­tacts Jimenez had with Co­hen in his last year as CEO, be­fore Vas Narasimhan took the reins.

Vas Narasimhan

No­var­tis re­ject­ed that po­si­tion at the time and quick­ly shut­tered the win­dow on com­ments. It’s stay­ing shut to­day. A spokesper­son for the com­pa­ny told End­points News:

We have pre­vi­ous­ly ad­dressed all ques­tions re­gard­ing our re­la­tion­ship with Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants and we con­sid­er this mat­ter closed.

CEO Narasimhan has sought to put as much dis­tance as pos­si­ble be­tween him­self and the Co­hen sto­ry, but the com­pa­ny’s ex­pla­na­tions all took part on his watch. In the wake of the news that No­var­tis had paid Co­hen $1.2 mil­lion, the phar­ma gi­ant — which has been in­volved in a string of ethics scan­dals over the years — vowed that it had turned a new leaf. Part of that ef­fort in­volved bring­ing in a promi­nent Ger­man at­tor­ney to lead their ethics, risk and com­pli­ance ef­forts. 

Im­age: Michael Co­hen (Shut­ter­stock)

Lessons for biotech and phar­ma from a doc­tor who chased his own cure

After being struck by a rare disease as a healthy third year medical student, David Fajgenbaum began an arduous journey chasing his own cure. Amidst the hustle of this year’s JP Morgan conference, the digital trials platform Medable partnered with Endpoints Studio to share Dr. Fajgenbaum’s story with the drug development industry.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation between Medable CEO Dr. Michelle Longmire and Dr. Fajgenbaum, and it is full of lessons for biotech executives charged with bringing the next generation of medicines to patients.

As coro­n­avirus out­break reach­es 'tip­ping point,' GSK lends ad­ju­vant tech to Chi­nese part­ner armed with pre­clin­i­cal vac­cine

As the coronavirus originating out of Wuhan spreads to South Korea, Italy and Iran, stoking already intense fears of a pandemic, GlaxoSmithKline has found another pair of trusted hands to place its adjuvant system. China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals will add the adjuvant to its preclinical, protein-based vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2.

Clover, which is based in the inland city of Chengdu, boasts of a platform dubbed Trimer-Tag that produces covalently-trimerized fusion proteins. Its candidate, COVID-19 S-Trimer, resembles the viral spike (S)-protein found in the virus.

Kathy High (file photo)

Gene ther­a­py pi­o­neer Kathy High has left Spark af­ter com­plet­ing $4.3B union with Roche

Kathy High dedicated the past seven years of her life shepherding experimental gene therapies she’s developed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia toward the market as president and head of R&D at Spark Therapeutics. Now that the biotech startup is fully absorbed into Roche — with an FDA approval, a $4.3 billion buyout and a promising hemophilia program to boast — she’s ready to move on.

Roche confirmed her departure with Endpoints News and noted “she will take some well-deserved time off and then will begin a new chapter in a sabbatical at a university.”

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Deborah Dunsire

The fourth CGRP mi­graine drug is here. Time for Lund­beck to prove it's worth $2B

They may be late, but Lundbeck is now officially in the game for preventing migraine with CGRP drugs.

The FDA has OK’d eptinezumab, the prize in Lundbeck’s $2 billion acquisition of Alder. Like rival offerings from Amgen/Novartis, Eli Lilly and Teva, the antibody blocks the calcitonin gene-related peptide, which is believed to dilate blood vessels in the brain and cause pain.

It will now be sold as Vyepti. The company has yet to announce a price. Amgen and Novartis had set the wholesale acquisition cost of their pioneering Aimovig at $6,900 for a year’s supply before raising it slightly this year; Lilly and Teva had followed suit with Emgality and Ajovy.

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Tal Zaks (Moderna via YouTube)

For two decades, a new vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy has been slow­ly ap­proach­ing prime time. Now, can it stop a pan­dem­ic?

Two months before the outbreak, Moderna CMO Tal Zaks traveled from Cambridge, MA to Washington DC to meet with Anthony Fauci and the leaders of the National Institutes of Health.

For two years, Moderna had worked closely with NIH researchers to build a new kind of vaccine for MERS, one of the deadliest new viruses to emerge in the 21st century. The program was one test for a new technology designed to be faster, cheaper and more precise than the ways vaccines had been made for over a century. They had gathered evidence the technology could work in principle, and Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a longtime advocate for better epidemic preparedness, wanted to see if it, along with a couple of other approaches, could work in a worst-case scenario: A pandemic.

“[We were] trying to find a test case for how to demonstrate if our technology could rapidly prepare,” Zaks told Endpoints News.

Zaks and Fauci, of course, wouldn’t have to wait to develop a new test. By year’s end, an outbreak in China would short circuit the need for one and throw them into 24/7 work on a real-world emergency. They also weren’t the only ones with new technology who saw a chance to help in a crisis.

An ocean away, Lidia Oostvogels was still on vacation and relaxing at her mother’s house in Belgium when her Facebook started changing. It was days after Christmas and on most people’s feeds, the news that China had reported a novel virus to the World Health Organization blurred into the stream of holiday sweaters and fir trees. But on Oostvogels’s feed, full of vaccine researchers and virus experts, speculation boiled: There was a virus in China, something contained to the country, but “exotic,” “weird,” and maybe having to do with animals. Maybe a coronavirus.

Lidia Oostvogels

“I was immediately thinking like, ‘Hey, this is something that if needed, we can play a role,'” Oostvogels told Endpoints.

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Christos Kyratsous (via LinkedIn)

He built a MERS treat­ment in 6 months and then the best Ebo­la drug. Now Chris­tos Kyrat­sous turns his sights on Covid-19

TARRYTOWN, NY — In 2015, as the Ebola epidemic raged through swaths of West Africa, Kristen Pascal’s roommates sat her down on their couch and staged an intervention.

“Are you sure this is what you want to be doing with your life?” she recalls them asking her.

Special report

Pascal, a research associate for Regeneron, had been coming home at 2 am and leaving at 6 am. At one point, she didn’t see her roommate for a week. For months, that was life in Christos Kyratsous’ lab as the pair led a company-wide race to develop the first drug that could effectively treat Ebola before the outbreak ended. For Pascal, that was worth it.

“I’m ok, I don’t have Ebola,” Pascal told them. “I see that death toll rising and I can’t not do something about it.”

Last August, Regeneron learned they had succeeded: In a large trial across West Africa, their drug, REGN-EB3, was vastly more effective than the standard treatments. It was surprise news for the company, coming just 10 months into a trial they thought would take several years and a major victory in the global fight against a deadly virus that killed over 2,000 in 2019 and can carry a mortality rate of up to 90%.

For Kyratsous and Pascal, though, it brought only fleeting reprieve. Just four months after the NIH informed them REGN-EB3 worked, Kyratsous was back in his office reading the New York Times for updates on a new outbreak on another continent, and wondering alongside Pascal and senior management whether it was time to pull the trigger again.

In late January, as the death toll swelled and the first confirmed cases outside China broke double digits, they made a decision. Soon they were back on the phone with the multiple government agencies and their coronavirus partners at the University of Maryland’s Level 3 bio lab. The question was simple: Can Kyratsous and his team use a process honed over two previous outbreaks, and create a treatment before the newest epidemic ends? Or worse, if, as world health experts fear, it doesn’t vanish but becomes a recurrent virus like the flu?

“Christos likes things immediately,” Matt Frieman, Regeneron’s coronavirus collaborator at the University of Maryland, told Endpoints. “That’s what makes us good collaborators: We push each other to develop things faster and faster.”

Kristen Pascal (Regeneron)

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The first time Regeneron tried to respond to a global outbreak, it was something of a systems test, Kyratsous explains from his office at Regeneron’s Tarrytown headquarters. Kyratsous, newly promoted, has crammed it with photos of his family, sketches of viral vectors and a shark he drew for his 3-year-old son. He speaks rapidly – an idiosyncrasy his press person says has only been aggravated this afternoon by the contents of his “Regeneron Infectious Diseases”-minted espresso glass – and he gesticulates with similar fluidity, tumbling through antibodies, MERS, the novel coronavirus, Ebola-infected monkeys.

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Tim Mayleben (file photo)

Es­pe­ri­on's goldilocks cho­les­terol fight­er wins FDA ap­proval — will its 'tra­di­tion­al' pric­ing ap­proach spur adop­tion?

It’s more effective than decades-old statins but not as good as the injectable PCSK9 — the goldilocks treatment for cholesterol-lowering, bempedoic acid, has secured FDA approval.

Its maker, Esperion Therapeutics, is betting that their pricing strategy — a planned list price of between $10 to $11 a day — will help it skirt the pushback the PCSK9 cholesterol fighters, Repatha and Praluent, got from payers for their high sticker prices.

The sky-high expectations for the pair of PCSK9 drugs that were first approved in 2015 quickly simmered — and despite a 60% price cut, coupled with data showing the therapies also significantly cut cardiovascular risk, sales have not really perked up.

Esperion is convinced that by virtue of being a cheaper oral therapy, bempedoic acid will hit that sweet spot in terms of adoption.

“We’re kind of like the old comfortable shoe,” Esperion’s chief commercial officer Mark Glickman remarked in an interview with Endpoints News ahead of the decision date. “It’s an oral product, once-daily and nontitratable — these are things that just resonate so true with patients and physicians and I think we’ve kind of forgotten about that.”

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James Collins, Broad Institute via Youtube

UP­DAT­ED: A space odyssey for new an­tibi­otics: MIT's ma­chine learn­ing ap­proach

Drug development is complex, expensive and comes with lousy odds of success — but in most cases, if you make it across the finish line brandishing a product with an edge (and play your cards right) it can be a lucrative endeavor.

As it stands, the antibiotic market is cursed — it harbors the stink of multiple bankruptcies, a dearth of innovation, and is consequently barely whetting the voracious appetites of big pharma or venture capitalists. Enter artificial intelligence — the biopharma industry’s cure-all for the pesky process of making a therapeutic, including data mining, drug discovery, optimal drug delivery, and addressable patient population.

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Gilead los­es two more patent chal­lenges on HIV pill, set­ting up court­room fight in Delaware

Gilead sustained two more losses in their efforts to rid themselves of an activist-backed patent lawsuit from the US government over a best-selling HIV pill.

Urged on by activists seeking to divert a portion of Gilead’s revenue to clinics and prevention programs, the Department of Health and Human Services made a claim to some of the patents for the best-selling HIV prevention drug, Truvada, also known as PrEP. Gilead responded by arguing in court that HHS’s patents were invalid.

Today, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Gilead was likely to lose the last two of those challenges as well. The USPTO ruled against Gilead on the first two patents earlier this month.

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