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)

Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.