Ned Sharp­less is not play­ing with the FDA’s gold stan­dard — any more than Scott Got­tlieb did

Ned Sharp­less got a chance to out­line just what kind of act­ing FDA chief he’ll be in the wake of Scott Got­tlieb’s de­par­ture from the agency. And aside from a more con­ser­v­a­tive se­lec­tion of socks, he’s clear­ly plan­ning to adopt the ex­act same fash­ions laid down by his pre­de­ces­sor.

Ned Sharp­less. (DARR BEIS­ER/NA­TION­AL CAN­CER IN­STI­TUTE)

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion


In an all-hands-on-deck ad­dress to staffers, Sharp­less promised to fit the Got­tlieb mold per­fect­ly, vow­ing to main­tain the agency’s gold stan­dard on drug ap­provals while do­ing what he can to keep the copy­cats com­ing to help tamp down on drug costs.

So let me re­as­sure you, I am not plan­ning any rad­i­cal changes from what the FDA has been try­ing to ac­com­plish.

Bioreg­num Opin­ion Col­umn by John Car­roll

That’s a theme that will be mu­sic to the ears of the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try, which quick­ly swooned to Got­tlieb’s en­er­getic mes­sages on speed­ing ap­provals when­ev­er ap­pro­pri­ate while hold­ing the line on safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy stan­dards. The fu­ture of the FDA proved to be a huge is­sue at the start of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s term in of­fice, as Trump en­ter­tained some lib­er­tar­i­an no­tions that fright­ened the be­je­sus out of com­pa­nies that clear­ly want­ed a more re­cep­tive reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proach — with­out any reg­u­la­to­ry an­ar­chy that would de­stroy the val­ue of an FDA OK.

Sharp­less got right to it. His bot­tom line:

Nec­es­sar­i­ly, there will be course ad­just­ments as new facts emerge, but es­sen­tial­ly, I feel I am walk­ing in­to an or­ga­ni­za­tion on a good tra­jec­to­ry, and my main job is to fig­ure out how keep that go­ing.

Now how to do that:  let me sug­gest two guid­ing prin­ci­ples.

First, I be­lieve our ef­forts should re­ly on and be guid­ed by the sci­ence. As a re­searcher, I am used to let­ting da­ta dri­ve my de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and I know this has al­ways been the ap­proach at FDA.

Sec­ond, when wran­gling with the com­plex is­sues that face the agency, we will keep top of mind our mis­sion of pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing pub­lic health, and what that means to the Amer­i­can pub­lic.

So that’s what will steer my pri­or­i­ties as act­ing com­mis­sion­er: a com­mit­ment to sci­ence-based de­ci­sion-mak­ing and pri­or­i­tiz­ing our ef­forts for the ben­e­fit of the pub­lic health.

That mes­sage on con­ti­nu­ity ex­tends to the agency’s work hus­tling up less ex­pen­sive knock­offs.

I promise you, for ex­am­ple, that we’ll con­tin­ue our im­por­tant and suc­cess­ful work to in­crease com­pe­ti­tion and reign in pre­scrip­tion drug costs through ad­vances in our gener­ic drug and biosim­i­lars pro­grams

And we’ll con­tin­ue to do every­thing we can to make the de­vel­op­ment of new treat­ments and cures more ef­fi­cient across our med­ical prod­uct cen­ters, while en­sur­ing that we main­tain FDA’s gold stan­dard of safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy.

What could be more re­as­sur­ing to the in­dus­try, law­mak­ers and the pub­lic?

In­ter­est­ing­ly, Got­tlieb’s de­par­ture from the FDA was al­so marked by his in­sis­tence that the rank-and-file drug de­vel­op­ers of the world need­ed to do more to adopt the re­forms he had pushed, look­ing for faster, more ef­fi­cient ways to de­vel­op drugs. The chal­lenge for Sharp­less will be to see if he con­tin­ues that push as an in­dus­try train­er look­ing to get some out-of-shape de­vel­op­ers up to speed with the new or­der. And that means urg­ing reg­u­la­tors as well to get the lead out.

Scott Got­tlieb

Con­ti­nu­ity may sound like the ex­act right mes­sage here and now. But if that be­comes a con­ser­v­a­tive ap­proach to main­tain­ing stan­dards and tra­di­tions, plea­sure may soon be re­placed by an un­easy feel­ing that the FDA may once again be­come more of an ob­sta­cle and less of a part­ner. And that won’t be wel­come.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data are messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data are exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

David Livingston (Credit: Michael Sazel for CeMM)

Renowned Dana-Far­ber sci­en­tist, men­tor and bio­phar­ma ad­vi­sor David Liv­ingston has died

David Livingston, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Med scientist who helped shine a light on some of the key molecular drivers of breast and ovarian cancer, died unexpectedly last Sunday.

One of the senior leaders at Dana-Farber during his nearly half century of work there, Livingston was credited with shedding light on the genes that regulate cell growth, with insights into inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that helped lay the scientific foundation for targeted therapies and earlier detection that have transformed the field.

Marty Duvall, Oncopeptides CEO

On­copep­tides stock craters as it pulls can­cer drug Pepax­to from the mar­ket

Shares of Oncopeptides crashed more than 70% in early Friday trading after the company said it’s pulling its multiple myeloma drug Pepaxto (melphalan flufenamide) from the US market after failing a confirmatory trial. The move will force the company to close its US and EU business units and enact significant layoffs.

The FDA had scheduled an adcomm meeting next Thursday to discuss Pepaxto, which first won accelerated approval in February and costs about $19,000 per course of treatment. The committee was to weigh in on whether the confirmatory trial demonstrated a worse overall survival in the treatment arm compared to the control arm.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Pfiz­er pitch­es its Covid-19 vac­cine for younger chil­dren ahead of ad­comm next week

Pfizer will present its case to the FDA’s vaccine adcomm next week, seeking authorization for a lower-dose version of its Covid-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 through 12, which the Biden administration said will likely begin rolling out early next month.

Two primary doses of the 10 µg vaccine (the dose for those ages 12 and up is 30 μg) given 3 weeks apart in this group of children “have shown a favorable safety and tolerability profile, robust immune responses against all variants of concern including Delta, and vaccine efficacy of 90.7% against laboratory-confirmed symptomatic COVID-19,” the company said in briefing documents ahead of next Tuesday’s meeting of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

David Sabatini (MIT)

For­mer MIT sci­en­tist David Saba­ti­ni fires back at ac­cuser, White­head In­sti­tute for 'false' ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions

David Sabatini, the prominent biotech founder who was ousted by the Whitehead Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute this summer over sexual harassment allegations, has filed a lawsuit claiming he was falsely accused by a “former lover” looking to “exact revenge.”

In court documents filed Wednesday, Sabatini claimed he had a consensual sexual relationship with a fellow at the Whitehead Institute, which was “effectively over” by 2019. The suit, which refers to Sabatini as a “brilliant” and “world renowned” scientist, was filed against his accuser, the Whitehead Institute, and director Ruth Lehmann.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 120,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

Ex­clu­sive: Athi­ra CEO Leen Kawas re­signs af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds she ma­nip­u­lat­ed da­ta

Leen Kawas, CEO and founder of the Alzheimer’s upstart Athira Pharma, has resigned after an internal investigation found she altered images in her doctoral thesis and four other papers that were foundational to establishing the company.

Mark Litton, the company’s COO since June 2019 and a longtime biotech executive, has been named full-time CEO. Kawas, meanwhile, will no longer have ties to the company except for owning a few hundred thousand shares.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.