No­var­tis sac­ri­fices its top at­tor­ney in an at­tempt to quell clam­or over $1.2M in Co­hen pay­ments — while ex-CEO Jimenez strug­gles to ex­plain

BioReg­num — The view from John Car­roll


Faced with a grow­ing cri­sis over its $1.2 mil­lion in pay­ments to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s per­son­al at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen, No­var­tis an­nounced ear­ly Wednes­day that the com­pa­ny’s top lawyer has abrupt­ly re­signed in hopes of bring­ing the whole tawdry af­fair to an end.

“Al­though the con­tract (with Co­hen) was legal­ly in or­der, it was an er­ror,” said Fe­lix Ehrat, group gen­er­al coun­sel of No­var­tis, in a state­ment. “As a co-sig­na­to­ry with our for­mer CEO, I take per­son­al re­spon­si­bil­i­ty to bring the pub­lic de­bate on this mat­ter to an end.”

The chances of that hap­pen­ing, though, are ze­ro. If any­thing, this move will on­ly height­en pres­sure on No­var­tis to ful­ly ex­plain why it agreed to pay $1.2 mil­lion to an at­tor­ney whose on­ly rel­e­vant at­trac­tion to the phar­ma gi­ant was his close per­son­al tie to the pres­i­dent. That re­mains the bot­tom line af­ter ex-CEO Joe Jimenez gave an in­ter­view to Forbes’ Matthew Her­p­er, where he strug­gled to ex­plain why the com­pa­ny hired Co­hen.

“If we were the ex­perts on pol­i­cy, he was the ex­pert on the way that they think, to­geth­er as a team it could be a way for us to bet­ter nav­i­gate what was go­ing to be a pret­ty sticky Af­ford­able Care Act Re­peal-and-Re­place,” Jimenez told Her­p­er in the in­ter­view.

Jimenez al­so took “full re­spon­si­bil­i­ty,” say­ing that his re­place­ment, Vas Narasimhan, was not in­volved. And he re­peat­ed­ly em­pha­sized the un­cer­tain­ty around Trump’s elec­tion for the move to gain some clar­i­ty.

“He was one of the very few num­ber of peo­ple who knew peo­ple in the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Jimenez not­ed.

Ehrat’s sud­den ex­it — as well as the Jimenez in­ter­view — un­der­score how deeply the com­pa­ny has been bat­tered by the con­tro­ver­sy and the grow­ing list of ques­tions Narasimhan still faces. Com­pa­ny ex­ecs had pri­vate­ly been pin­ning the blame on Jimenez, who stepped down from the CEO’s job at the end of Jan­u­ary. Adding the gen­er­al coun­sel to the list of re­spon­si­ble play­ers — and send­ing him through the ex­its — does noth­ing to ad­dress the many ques­tions the com­pa­ny faces , while clum­sy at­tempts to apol­o­gize and re­fo­cus on the busi­ness un­der­score its in­abil­i­ty to man­age events.

The 41-year-old Narasimhan — who has nev­er ex­plained when he first heard about the Co­hen deal — is still fac­ing a drum­beat of omi­nous news.

We now hear that Switzer­land’s Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al has been dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of launch­ing their own probe in­to the pay­ments, though the of­fi­cials there say that no for­mal probe is now un­der­way. And two promi­nent De­mo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors, Eliz­a­beth War­ren and Richard Blu­men­thal, joined Ron Wyden and Pat­ty Mur­ray in scold­ing the com­pa­ny and ask­ing some point­ed ques­tions about ex­act­ly why it paid Co­hen that much and what it got in re­turn.

“Giv­en these on­go­ing mat­ters, the un­usu­al se­ries of pay­ments.by No­var­tis to the Pres­i­dent’s per­son­al at­tor­ney raise ob­vi­ous ques­tions about cor­rup­tion and whether No­var­tis and the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion were en­gaged in a pay-for-play op­er­a­tion,” War­ren and Blu­men­thal wrote, ahead of their list of queries.

Joe Jimenez

While the din of dis­ap­proval rose around the Basel head­quar­ters, Narasimhan him­self re­port­ed­ly took to the phone to tell thou­sands of the com­pa­ny’s man­agers that No­var­tis needs to clean up its act. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Bloomberg, Narasimhan told his man­agers by phone that the com­pa­ny had to move to re­think its re­la­tion­ship with lob­by­ists and re­gain the pub­lic’s trust.

Com­pa­ny ex­ecs knew back in No­vem­ber that they could face a hue and cry, when Robert Mueller’s team came in to ask ques­tions about the re­la­tion­ship. Co­hen him­self has been at the cen­ter of a me­dia cir­cus sur­round­ing the rev­e­la­tion that he had paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep qui­et about an al­leged af­fair with Trump — writ­ing a check from the same shell com­pa­ny that No­var­tis paid in­to. But No­var­tis nev­er dis­closed any­thing about the fed­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tion in pub­lic fil­ings.

Ex­act­ly how Narasimhan plans to re­spond while re­main­ing hun­kered down in­side the com­pa­ny’s walls, though, re­mains to be seen. Does the CEO — now stout­ly de­fend­ed by a pha­lanx of me­dia con­tacts who in­sist the com­pa­ny will co­op­er­ate with all in­ves­ti­ga­tions — sub­mit to a Q&A with a friend­ly or per­haps high­ly rep­utable me­dia out­let? Does he start to pub­licly ad­dress the per­sis­tent ques­tions sur­round­ing No­var­tis pay­ments? Does some­one else get the ax?

No­var­tis rec­og­nizes it faces a cri­sis. But for now, there’s still no clear plan to deal with it in any kind of pub­lic way.


Im­age: Vas Narasimhan. GET­TY IM­AGES

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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