No­var­tis banks on the promise of dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics in the man­age­ment of chron­ic dis­or­ders

Dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics may not have yet earned cult sta­tus with­in the health­care in­dus­try, but their promise in non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases — that are of­ten caused or wors­ened by un­sa­vory be­hav­iors — is hard to de­ny, as Big Phar­ma makes a deep­er for­ay in­to clin­i­cal­ly-val­i­dat­ed dig­i­tal in­ter­ven­tions de­signed to en­cour­age sus­tain­able lifestyle changes to com­ple­ment tra­di­tion­al ther­a­peu­tics.

No­var­tis $NVS unit San­doz along with part­ner Pear Ther­a­peu­tics on Mon­day launched re­SET, an FDA-ap­proved dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tic de­signed to de­liv­er cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­a­py over 12 weeks to pa­tients with sub­stance abuse dis­or­der (SUD) who are in out­pa­tient treat­ment un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a doc­tor.

Richard Fran­ci

“Adding re­SET to out­pa­tient ther­a­py en­hances be­hav­iors as­so­ci­at­ed with re­cov­ery. It lever­ages new tech­nol­o­gy to help pa­tients im­prove ab­sti­nence in sub­stances of abuse and stay in treat­ment pro­grams longer than out­pa­tient ther­a­py alone,” said San­doz chief Richard Fran­cis in a state­ment.

Poor treat­ment out­comes are the norm for SUD — a chron­ic, re­laps­ing dis­ease caused by the per­sis­tent use of al­co­hol and/or drugs — as in­con­sis­tent ac­cess and qual­i­ty of treat­ment as well as dis­par­i­ties in pay­ment and in­sur­ance for be­hav­ioral health ser­vices have cul­mi­nat­ed in low rates of ab­sti­nence and high dropout rates for a type of ther­a­py that is usu­al­ly re­source-in­ten­sive and ne­ces­si­tates face-to-face clin­i­cian in­ter­ac­tions. In 2014, about 21.5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans aged 12 and old­er (8.1%) were clas­si­fied with a sub­stance use dis­or­der in the past year, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates from HHS’ Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The FDA ap­proved re­SET last year on the ba­sis of a NI­DA-spon­sored tri­al in­volv­ing 399 pa­tients with SUD. Pa­tients were ran­dom­ized to re­ceive stan­dard treat­ment — com­pris­ing in­ten­sive face-to-face coun­selling — or re­duced amount of face-to-face coun­selling plus the dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tic. Pa­tients on the dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tic more than dou­bled the rate of ab­sti­nence com­pared to stan­dard face-to-face coun­selling.

Dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics is an um­brel­la term that in­cludes tech­nol­o­gy such as wear­able de­vices, mo­bile apps and telemed­i­cine plat­forms — which is typ­i­cal­ly dri­ven by soft­ware to pre­vent, man­age, or treat dis­or­ders, in­de­pen­dent­ly or in con­cert with med­ica­tion and/or med­ical de­vices. These tools are large­ly de­signed to ad­dress chron­ic dis­eases such as di­a­betes, heart or res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­or­ders, by tar­get­ing be­hav­iors such as di­et, ex­er­cise and lifestyle that have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the in­ci­dence and man­age­ment of dis­ease. Pre­scrip­tion dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics — such as re­SET and Abil­i­fy Mycite, the first dig­i­tal pill that car­ries an em­bed­ded sen­sor to track if pa­tients are tak­ing their med­ica­tion prop­er­ly — are val­i­dat­ed in ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­als to demon­strate safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy.

Pear Ther­a­peu­tics is al­so de­vel­op­ing dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics for a host of oth­er dis­or­ders in­clud­ing schiz­o­phre­nia, PTSD and gen­er­al anx­i­ety dis­or­der. Al­though the rapid pen­e­tra­tion of smart­phones and tablets and low­er health­care costs have dri­ven the growth of the glob­al dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics mar­ket, pri­va­cy con­cerns could tem­per the pace of adop­tion. Still, ac­cord­ing to Al­lied Mar­ket Re­search the size of the mar­ket is set to grow to $7.83 bil­lion in 2025 from $1.75 bil­lion last year.

Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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Bax­ter con­tin­ues on-shoring push with $50M In­di­ana ex­pan­sion

It’s been a banner year for the once humdrum business of manufacturing drugs, particularly vaccines. Billions have been spent ramping up facilities for Covid-19 jabs, while individual CDMOs have expanded their facilities, apparently anticipating demand or responding to a government-led push to onshore drug manufacturing.

Now Baxter Biopharma Solutions, the CDMO wing of the many-armed healthcare giant Baxter, is getting in on the game. On Tuesday, they announced plans to spend $50 million to expand their flagship, 600,000 square-foot facility in Bloomington, IN.

Eu­ro­pean Union aims to es­tab­lish patent workaround in case of emer­gen­cies while try­ing to strength­en its own IP

The European Union is looking at ways to bypass patent protections and make it easier to make generic drugs in cases of emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, a new document says.

Normally, under WTO regulations, the practice known as “compulsory licensing” is allowed in exceptional circumstances and could be applied as a waiver to bypass patent holders. Wednesday’s document was published as part of the EU’s plan to shore up the intellectual property rights of its member states.

Pur­due Phar­ma pleads guilty in fed­er­al Oxy­Con­tin probe, for­mal­ly rec­og­niz­ing it played a part in the opi­oid cri­sis

Purdue Pharma, the producer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, admitted Tuesday that, yes, it did contribute to America’s opioid epidemic.

The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

News brief­ing: FDA re­quests new tri­al for Reata's Friedre­ich's atax­ia pro­gram; J&J's Trem­fya picks up ex­pand­ed la­bel in Eu­rope

Three months after Reata Pharmaceuticals suggested its Friedreich’s ataxia program omaveloxolone could be delayed, the company revealed that is indeed going to be the case.

Reata $RETA shares took a nosedive Wednesday after the biotech revealed that the FDA said supplemental data for its pivotal trial did not strengthen the case for approval. As a result, the drug is likely to need another study before the FDA takes up the case.