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.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (Biogen via YouTube)

Damn the crit­ics, Bio­gen CEO Vounatsos or­ders full speed ahead on prep­ping a con­tro­ver­sial ad­u­canum­ab launch as FDA de­ci­sion looms

Right now one of the most interesting parlor games on Wall Street is offering odds on Biogen’s chances of getting an FDA OK on their controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab.

For most objective players, it looks about like a coin toss, maybe a little worse than 50/50, as the Street balances the bull case of a full, mega blockbuster approval, a restricted approval or a disastrous order to go back to the clinic and mount a new Phase III. That last option was clearly the guidance most of the outside experts in the panel review offered the agency, as the industry is still puzzling out the question of whether or not the FDA is getting tougher in its oversight of drug development.

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