Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis gets the green light to start mar­ket­ing its next prospec­tive block­buster. And they're charg­ing a pre­mi­um for con­ve­nience

A last-minute holdup at the FDA has been cleared up as reg­u­la­tors stamped their ap­proval on No­var­tis’ new mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug ofa­tu­mum­ab.

The FDA had de­layed the de­ci­sion a cou­ple of months ago — large­ly elim­i­nat­ing the ad­van­tage that No­var­tis had paid for with a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er — rais­ing some ques­tions about what kind of last-minute hic­cups may have been in­volved. But the phar­ma gi­ant has avoid­ed the fate of Gilead and Bio­Marin, an­nounc­ing the ap­proval on Thurs­day and sound­ing the open­ing shot on what will be a block­buster chase for $1 bil­lion-plus in an­nu­al sales.

No­var­tis $NVS got this drug from Glax­o­SmithK­line in their big vac­cines-for-can­cer ther­a­pies swap some years back. But No­var­tis nev­er had much suc­cess sell­ing it as a leukemia ther­a­py.

They’ve whet­ted an­a­lysts’ ap­petites, though, with a B-cell blaster that can be ad­min­is­tered at home, cut­ting ahead of the line of the ri­vals in the mar­ket that re­quire a trip to an in­fu­sion cen­ter. And they’re charg­ing for the con­ve­nience.

A spokesper­son for No­var­tis tells me that the whole­sale price of the drug — to be mar­ket­ed as Kes­imp­ta — is $83,000, more in line with Rebif ($86,000) than Roche’s hot ri­val Ocre­vus, which hit the mar­ket at a dis­count­ed price of $65,000. The price of in­fu­sion, No­var­tis notes, dri­ves up the over­all cost of drugs like Ocre­vus.

Cowen’s Steve Scala picked up on the pric­ing ar­gu­ment in a note out Thurs­day af­ter­noon. Fac­tor­ing in the in­fu­sion costs, he writes:

No­var­tis notes that the to­tal an­nu­al cost of Ocre­vus is es­ti­mat­ed to be on av­er­age $100,500, and can vary sig­nif­i­cant­ly de­pend­ing on where the in­fu­sion is ad­min­is­tered. Rel­a­tive to this com­par­i­son, Kes­imp­ta is priced at a dis­count, and it will be re­im­bursed through a phar­ma­cy ben­e­fits mod­el.

That’s in­spired es­ti­mates av­er­ag­ing around $1.3 bil­lion in peak sales for MS, mak­ing it a top-10 late-stage drug when ranked by prospec­tive sales. CEO Vas Narasimhan al­so hasn’t been shy about en­cour­ag­ing am­bi­tious goals.  Roche, mean­while, re­port­ed sales of $2.2 bil­lion for the first half of this year, mak­ing it one of their fastest-grow­ing fran­chis­es.

Here’s the Phase III da­ta that won over reg­u­la­tors:

Kes­imp­ta demon­strat­ed a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in ARR (an­nu­al­ized re­lapse rate) by 51% (0.11 vs 0.22) and 59% (0.10 vs 0.25) com­pared with ter­i­fluno­mide (Sanofi’s ag­ing Auba­gio)  (P<.001 in both stud­ies) in AS­CLE­PIOS I and II, re­spec­tive­ly (pri­ma­ry end­point). Kes­imp­ta al­so showed a rel­a­tive risk re­duc­tion of 34.4% (P=.002) in 3-month CDP com­pared with ter­i­fluno­mide in pre-spec­i­fied meta-analy­sis, as de­fined in AS­CLE­PIOS1.

Adap­tive De­sign Meth­ods Of­fer Rapid, Seam­less Tran­si­tion Be­tween Study Phas­es in Rare Can­cer Tri­als

Rare cancers account for 22 percent of cancer diagnoses worldwide, yet there is no universally accepted definition for a “rare” cancer. Moreover, with the evolution of genomics and associated changes in categorizing tumors, some common cancers are now characterized into groups of rare cancers, each with a unique implication for patient management and therapy.

Adaptive designs, which allow for prospectively planned modifications to study design based on accumulating data from subjects in the trial, can be used to optimize rare oncology trials (see Figure 1). Adaptive design studies may include multiple cohorts and multiple tumor types. In addition, numerous adaptation methods may be used in a single trial and may facilitate a more rapid, seamless transition between study phases.

UK re-in­ves­ti­gates Pfiz­er's eye-pop­ping price goug­ing on an epilep­sy drug

When a drugmaker raises the price of a drug in the US by more than 2,000% overnight, and without any particular reason for that increase, nothing typically happens to the company. No fines, no court orders, just business as usual.

Martin Shkreli’s decades-old anti-parasitic drug Daraprim was the perfect example — massive price spike on an old drug, lots of media attention, public outcry, Congressional committees dragging his former company through multiple hearings, and at the end of it? Nothing happened to the price or the company (until generic competition came).

Thomas Lingelbach, Valneva CEO

A small vac­cine de­vel­op­er fa­vored by the UK gov­ern­ment in Covid-19 touts a PhI­II first in chikun­gun­ya

Before Valneva garnered the favor of the UK government as a potential supplier of Covid-19 vaccines, the French biotech prided itself on being the first company to bring a chikungunya vaccine into Phase III.

It now has positive pivotal results to back up the breakthrough therapy designation the FDA granted just weeks ago.

There are currently no approved jabs to prevent chikungunya virus infection despite decades of R&D efforts, a fact that underscores just how arduous traditional vaccine development can be, particularly for neglected tropical disease. In a absence of a major commercial market, the US government and NGOs such as CEPI have deployed various grants and incentives to spur on a small crew of academics and industry players, with Merck, via its acquisition of Themis, claiming a spot in that race.

Marianne De Backer (L) and Jeff Hatfield

Bay­er nabs star biotech Vi­vid­ion with a $2B buy­out and an ‘arms-length’ pact, pulling a part­ner out of the IPO con­ga line

Vividion is canceling that IPO it filed. Instead of following the industry-wide migration to Nasdaq, the biotech that has captured considerable attention for its still-preclinical work finding cryptic pockets to bind to on proteins is going to work for Bayer now.

The pharma giant is putting out word today that it has bought out Vividion for $1.5 billion in cash and another half-billion dollars in milestones.

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Josh Hoffman, outgoing Zymergen CEO (Zymergen)

UP­DAT­ED: Syn­bio uni­corn Zymer­gen jet­ti­sons found­ing CEO, cuts guid­ance as cus­tomers re­port lead prod­uct does­n't work

Zymergen, just months off a $500 million IPO that put the synthetic bio firm in rarified air, has now ejected its founding CEO and downgraded its revenue forecasts after customers reported its lead film product doesn’t work as advertised, the company said Tuesday afternoon.

CEO Josh Hoffman will leave his role and sacrifice his board seat immediately in favor of Jay Flatley, the former CEO of Illumina who will take the lead role on an interim basis as the company conducts a search for its next leader.

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Tadataka Yamada (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sci­ence pi­o­neer, phar­ma re­search chief, glob­al health ad­vo­cate and biotech en­tre­pre­neur Tadata­ka ‘Tachi’ Ya­ma­da has died

Tadataka Yamada, a towering physician-scientist who made his name in academia before transforming drug development at GlaxoSmithKline and developing vaccines for malaria and meningitis at the Gates Foundation, died unexpectedly of natural causes at his home in Seattle Wednesday morning.

He was 76. Frazier Healthcare Partners’ David Socks confirmed his death.

Known widely by the mononym “Tachi,” Yamada had a globetrotting career and arrived in industry relatively late in life. A 2004 Independent article noted GSK had asked Yamada to stay on beyond his approaching 60th birthday, the company’s usual retirement age. Yamada would continue working for the next 17 years, steering the Gates Foundation’s global health division for 6 years, funding Jim Wilson’s gene therapy work when few would touch it, launching Takeda Vaccines and co-founding a series of high-profile biotechs.

Bio­gen, Ei­sai are push­ing for an­oth­er ac­cel­er­at­ed Alzheimer's OK — this time for BAN2401

Now that the door at the FDA has been opened wide for Alzheimer’s drugs that can demonstrate a reduction in amyloid, Biogen and its partners at Eisai are pushing for a quick OK on the next drug to follow in the controversial path of aducanumab.

In a presentation to analysts, Eisai neurology chief Ivan Cheung outlined some bullish expectations for their newly-approved treatment and set the stage for what he believes will be a fast follow for BAN2401 (lecanemab) — after a dry spell in new drug development that’s lasted close to 20 years.

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Zymergen co-founders Zach Serber, Josh Hoffman, and Jed Dean (Zymergen via website)

Zymer­gen's sud­den im­plo­sion shocked biotech. A lin­ger­ing loan could make things even worse

As former synbio unicorn Zymergen picks up the pieces from its spectacular implosion Tuesday, an outstanding loan from Perceptive Advisors — the only blue-chip biotech crossover investor to touch Zymergen’s fundraising efforts — could make the situation worse, according to public documents.

In December 2019, more than a year before Zymergen filed for what would eventually become a $500 million IPO, the “biofacturing” firm signed a $100 million credit facility with Perceptive to help supplement the nearly $700 million the company had raised across four VC rounds.

Janet Woodcock (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

HHS ex­tends Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval path­way, wad­ing in­to a brew­ing con­tro­ver­sy

The government investigation into how the FDA approved Aduhelm appears to point well beyond the agency’s ties with Biogen in the leadup to its approval of their controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm.

The HHS Office of Inspector General posted a notice Wednesday that officials will review the accelerated approval pathway, the regulatory mechanism the agency used to approve the drug in the face of conflicting data over whether it could actually slow Alzheimer’s patients’ mental decline. Now the Aduhelm OK is just one branch of an investigation called for last month by acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock.

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