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)

Bio­mark­er 'roadmap­s' and the fu­ture of can­cer R&D; Cur­tain rais­es on #AS­CO22; Pfiz­er, No­var­tis tack­le drug ac­cess; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

While this was not a week for earth-shattering news, there were certainly a lot of interesting tidbits. If you found this recap helpful, please recommend it to your friends and colleagues. We’ll see you on the other side of the long weekend.

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Keep­ing pres­sure on Am­gen, Mi­rati draws mixed re­views on lat­est cut of KRAS da­ta

As the close runner-up to Amgen’s Lumakras in the KRAS race, any data cut from Mirati’s adagrasib continues to draw scrutiny from analysts. And the latest batch of numbers from ASCO is a decidedly mixed bag.

While a quick comparison suggests that adagrasib spurred slightly more responses and led to a longer overall survival than Lumakras among a group of non-small cell lung cancer patients, its duration of response appears shorter and the safety profile continues to spark concern.

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Ann is one of ViiV Healthcare's newest spokespeople as the retired school administrator speaks up about her HIV status.

GSK's Vi­iV de­buts next evo­lu­tion in HIV med Dova­to cam­paign with new spokes­peo­ple and new mes­sage

When Ann saw the first TV commercials for HIV medicine Dovato, she didn’t see herself represented. So the 74-year-old retired school administrator who’s been living with HIV since 1998, reached out to GSK’s ViiV Healthcare and asked why not?

Now Ann is one of three people starring in ViiV’s latest Dovato campaign called “Detect This.” The next-step evolution in the branded campaign plays on the word “detect” — often used in describing HIV status under control as undetectable — but in this case, uses the word as a directive for people to understand they can use fewer medicines.

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Switzer­land to de­stroy over 600,000 ex­pired dos­es of Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine

As concerns related to uptake and distribution continue to linger, Switzerland is among the first countries that plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of expired and unused Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The European country said it plans to destroy more than 600,000 doses of Moderna’s Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine as the doses have reached their expiration date.

However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that he’s in the process of throwing 30 million doses in the garbage, exclaiming, “We have a big demand problem.”

Lina Khan, FTC chair (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP Images)

Pile-on over PBMs con­tin­ues with FTC com­ments and a new bi­par­ti­san Sen­ate bill

More than 500 stakeholders sent comments to the FTC on whether the commission should look further into pharma middlemen, known as PBMs, with many of the commenters calling for more federal oversight.

Similar to the critical open comment period in a deadlocked FTC session last February, pharmacies and pharmacy groups are continuing to call out the lack of transparency among the top 3 PBMs, which control about 80% of the market.

Pharma brands are losing their shine with US consumers who are now thinking about the economy and inflation instead of Covid. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Phar­ma brands fade in an­nu­al Har­ris con­sumer vis­i­bil­i­ty poll: Mod­er­na drops off and Pfiz­er dips

As Covid-19 concerns are fading in the US, so is biopharma visibility. The annual Axios Harris Poll survey to determine and rank the 100 most top-of-mind brands in the US finds Moderna, which was No. 3 last year, not on the list at all for 2022, and Pfizer sinking 37 spots.

However, it’s not that Moderna or Pfizer did anything wrong, it’s just that Americans have moved on to other worries beyond Covid.

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Images)

HHS fin­ish­es off Trump-era rule that would've erased ba­sic FDA regs with­out fre­quent re­views

HHS on Thursday finalized its decision to withdraw a rule, proposed just before former President Donald Trump left office, that would’ve caused thousands of HHS and FDA regulations to automatically expire if they weren’t reviewed within two years, and every 10 years thereafter.

The decision follows the filing of a lawsuit last March, in which several nonprofits alleged that the outgoing administration planted “a ticking timebomb” for HHS, essentially forcing it to devote an enormous amount of resources to the unprecedented and infeasible task of reviewing thousands of regulations regularly.

Tran­si­tion to new Eu­ro­pean clin­i­cal tri­als in­fo sys­tem starts slow­ly

At the end of January, the European Medicines Agency officially launched its new clinical trials info system (CTIS), although the migration to the new platform has only really just begun, and sponsors have until the end of January 2023 before all initial trial applications must be submitted through CTIS.

Overall, 56 clinical trial applications have been submitted in CTIS during the first 3 months since the launch of the system on Jan. 31, according to new data posted by the EMA. By comparison, about 4,000 new trials are authorized each year across Europe.

Vi­iV Health­care looks to make long-act­ing HIV pre­ven­tion shot ac­ces­si­ble in low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS set a lofty goal back in 2019 to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. But according to the World Health Organization, infection rates are not falling rapidly enough to meet that target.

GSK’s ViiV Healthcare thinks it can help change that.

On Friday, ViiV announced that it’s in talks with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) for patent rights to its cabotegravir long-acting HIV injectable for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in low- and middle-income countries.