No­var­tis now says that it paid Trump's at­tor­ney $1.2M — and then throws ex-CEO Joe Jimenez un­der the bus

BioReg­num — The view from John Car­roll


John Car­roll, Ed­i­tor

With No­var­tis stuck square­ly in the mid­dle of a me­dia fren­zy cen­tered on pay­ments it made to a shell com­pa­ny con­trolled by Michael Co­hen, the per­son­al at­tor­ney for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the phar­ma gi­ant of­fered a few more de­tails Wednes­day about their re­la­tion­ship. It starts with an ad­mis­sion that No­var­tis ac­tu­al­ly paid Co­hen more than a mil­lion dol­lars, and it was fol­lowed by an ex­tra­or­di­nary pri­vate ad­mis­sion that then CEO Joe Jimenez was sold on the no­tion that Co­hen could pri­vate ac­cess to the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In their new state­ment you can see in its en­tire­ty be­low, No­var­tis says it en­gaged with Co­hen in ear­ly 2017, agree­ing to pay the pres­i­dent’s at­tor­ney $100,000 a month for 12 months to pro­vide guid­ance on “health­care pol­i­cy mat­ters.” Af­ter their first meet­ing, No­var­tis said, the phar­ma gi­ant de­ter­mined that Co­hen “would be un­able to pro­vide the ser­vices that No­var­tis had an­tic­i­pat­ed,” and de­cid­ed to call a halt to any fu­ture meet­ings. The pay­ments, how­ev­er, had to con­tin­ue un­der the con­tract.

No­var­tis then ve­he­ment­ly de­nied a sug­ges­tion by Stormy Daniels’ at­tor­ney Michael Ave­nat­ti — who re­vealed a few of the $99,980 pay­ments from No­var­tis as well as more cor­po­rate con­tri­bu­tions and a $500,000 pay­out from Russ­ian oli­garch Vik­tor Vek­sel­berg — that the pay­ments could have been tied to a high-pro­file din­ner soon-to-be No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan at­tend­ed in Davos with Trump at the end of Jan­u­ary. He wasn’t in­volved in any way, No­var­tis in­sists in­dig­nant­ly.

Sug­ges­tions to the con­trary clear­ly mis­rep­re­sent the facts and can on­ly be in­tend­ed to fur­ther per­son­al or po­lit­i­cal agen­das as to which No­var­tis should not be a part.

No­var­tis then re­peat­ed its as­ser­tion that it had been in con­tact with the spe­cial coun­sel’s of­fice un­der Robert Mueller and now con­sid­ers the mat­ter with the pres­i­dent’s chief fix­er closed.

But not quite.

Deeply em­bar­rassed at be­ing caught up in the Michael Co­hen/Stormy Daniels scan­dal, se­nior ex­ecs at No­var­tis fol­lowed up with some re­porters to throw Jimenez un­der the bus by ac­knowl­edg­ing that the com­pa­ny was pay­ing for ac­cess to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, on the ex-CEO’s or­ders.

Co­hen “con­tact­ed us af­ter the new ad­min­is­tra­tion was in place,” the of­fi­cial told NBC News. “He was promis­ing ac­cess to the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

That’s old fash­ioned in­flu­ence ped­dling, if true.

Cit­ing a com­pa­ny in­sid­er, Stat News’ Ed Sil­ver­man re­ports that Co­hen reached out to Jimenez di­rect­ly, and that the CEO then di­rect­ed the com­pa­ny to make the deal. And even though the arrange­ment quick­ly de­railed, the com­pa­ny claims, Co­hen lat­er went back to new CEO Vas Narasimhan for a new deal, who re­ject­ed the over­ture.

The in­sid­er told Stat:

“With a new ad­min­is­tra­tion com­ing in, ba­si­cal­ly, all the tra­di­tion­al con­tacts dis­ap­peared and they were all new play­ers. We were try­ing to find an in­road in­to the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Co­hen promised ac­cess to not just Trump, but al­so the cir­cle around him. It was al­most as if we were hir­ing him as a lob­by­ist.”

That nar­ra­tive un­der­scores the com­pa­ny’s laser fo­cus on pro­tect­ing Narasimhan, at the ex­pense of Jimenez, who left at the be­gin­ning of Feb­ru­ary af­ter a long run at the top.

I’ve been try­ing to reach Jimenez di­rect­ly, but with­out suc­cess. A com­pa­ny spokesper­son told me he didn’t know how to con­tact the ex-CEO.

The Co­hen fi­as­co adds to No­var­tis’ grow­ing list of eth­i­cal woes, in­clud­ing is­sues with the way it re­ward­ed doc­tors in Chi­na. And it faces even big­ger ques­tions with its ap­proach to US pol­i­cy, which will be the sub­ject of a much an­tic­i­pat­ed speech by Trump on Fri­day.

You can ex­pect more ques­tions on No­var­tis’ role in the scan­dal af­ter that ap­pear­ance, par­tic­u­lar­ly if the ad­min­is­tra­tion goes easy on Big Phar­ma in try­ing to keep Trump’s re­peat­ed promise to “slash” drug prices.

Here’s the state­ment:

In Feb­ru­ary 2017, short­ly af­ter the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump, No­var­tis en­tered in­to a one year agree­ment with Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants.  With the re­cent change in ad­min­is­tra­tion, No­var­tis be­lieved that Michael Co­hen could ad­vise the com­pa­ny as to how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion might ap­proach cer­tain US health­care pol­i­cy mat­ters, in­clud­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act.   The agree­ment was for a term of one year, and paid Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants 100,000 USD per month.  In March 2017, No­var­tis had its first meet­ing with Michael Co­hen un­der this agree­ment.  Fol­low­ing this ini­tial meet­ing, No­var­tis de­ter­mined that Michael Co­hen and Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants would be un­able to pro­vide the ser­vices that No­var­tis had an­tic­i­pat­ed re­lat­ed to US health­care pol­i­cy mat­ters and the de­ci­sion was tak­en not to en­gage fur­ther.  As the con­tract un­for­tu­nate­ly could on­ly be ter­mi­nat­ed for cause, pay­ments con­tin­ued to be made un­til the con­tract ex­pired by its own terms in Feb­ru­ary 2018.

The en­gage­ment of Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants pre­dat­ed Vas Narasimhan be­com­ing No­var­tis CEO and he was in no way in­volved with this agree­ment.  Con­trary to re­cent me­dia re­ports, this agree­ment was al­so in no way re­lat­ed to the group din­ner Dr. Narasimhan had at the World Eco­nom­ic Fo­rum in Davos with Pres­i­dent Trump and 15 Eu­rope based in­dus­try lead­ers.  Sug­ges­tions to the con­trary clear­ly mis­rep­re­sent the facts and can on­ly be in­tend­ed to fur­ther per­son­al or po­lit­i­cal agen­das as to which No­var­tis should not be a part.

In terms of the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s of­fice, No­var­tis was con­tact­ed in No­vem­ber 2017 re­gard­ing the com­pa­ny’s agree­ment with Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants. No­var­tis co­op­er­at­ed ful­ly with the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s of­fice and pro­vid­ed all the in­for­ma­tion re­quest­ed.  No­var­tis con­sid­ers this mat­ter closed as to it­self and is not aware of any out­stand­ing ques­tions re­gard­ing the agree­ment.

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Mer­ck flesh­es out Keytru­da win in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, adding more fire­pow­er to its ear­ly can­cer push

Merck has worked hard to bring its I/O blockbuster Keytruda into earlier and earlier lines of therapy, and now the wonder drug appears poised to make a quick entry into early advanced cervical cancer.

A combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy with or without Roche’s Avastin cut the risk of death by 33% over chemo with or without Avastin (p=<0.001) in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Skin tu­mors in mice force Pro­tag­o­nist to halt lead pro­gram, crush­ing stock

Protagonist Therapeutics just can’t catch a break.

Six months after the Newark, CA-based biotech unveiled grand plans to launch its lead candidate for blood disorders into a Phase III trial, the FDA has slapped the program with a clinical hold. The halt — which applies to all trials involving the candidate, rusfertide — comes after skin tumors were discovered in mice treated with the drug, according to Protagonist.

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Chi­nese biotech Ever­est signs $550M+ li­cens­ing deal for BTK in­hibitors on heels of Covid-19 pact

Everest Medicines is on a roll with two licensing deals in one week.

The Shanghai-based biotech has paid Sinovent and SinoMab $12 million upfront for the rights to a BTK inhibitor for renal diseases, the company announced Thursday. The deal comes just days after Everest came away with rights to a Covid-19 vaccine in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

Everest will pay Sinovent and SinoMab up to $549 million in milestone payments and royalties. The agreement includes tech transfer of Sinovent and SinoMab’s manufacturing process for the candidate, named XNW1011.