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.

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during the Nevada Democrats' "First in the West" event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada (Getty Images)

Eliz­a­beth War­ren pro­pos­es us­ing com­pul­so­ry li­cens­ing, an­titrust ac­tions to break bio­phar­ma’s con­trol of drug pric­ing — and here are the block­busters she’s tar­get­ing first

Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing bill may have sparked some industrial strength headaches on the money side of biopharma, but Elizabeth Warren seems determined to become biopharma’s Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Warren, one of the top-ranked candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination backing Medicare for all, is circulating a new plan that promises to break the industry’s grip on drug prices — and she has some very specific examples of how she would do it.
The Warren plan would rely on the federal government’s compulsory licensing powers to seize the IP of blockbuster drugs like Truvada and Harvoni to provide them at a fraction of what Gilead sells them for in the US. And she would throw some antitrust actions in as needed to rein in the price of Humira, AbbVie’s cash cow that continues to dominate the list of the most profitable therapeutics on the market.
Notably, she plans to rely on the powers already vested in the federal government, rather than suggest remedies that would require the assent of a deeply divided Congress.
In addition to the blockbusters on the list, Warren sends a clear signal that the same tactics would be used to beef up the supply of cheap antibiotics, as needed. And the same action could befall any other therapy patients can’t afford.

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Mer­ck’s $1B cash gam­ble pays off with a sur­pris­ing PhI­II car­dio suc­cess for Bay­er’s heart drug veri­ciguat

More than 3 years after Merck stepped up and paid $1 billion in cold, hard cash to gain the US commercial rights to Bayer’s high-risk heart drug vericiguat in a broad-ranging cardio alliance, the partners say their Phase III study has come through with promising data and a date with regulators.
We don’t have the data, and won’t until they put it out at an upcoming scientific session, but Merck touted the results, saying that their big Phase III VICTORIA study hit the primary endpoint  — with vericiguat combined with available therapies reducing “the risk of the composite endpoint of heart failure hospitalization or cardiovascular death in patients with worsening chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) compared to placebo when given in combination with available heart failure therapies.”
Depending on the hard data, and how it breaks out with the combinations used, this drug could pose a threat to Novartis’ blockbuster drug Entresto, currently at $1.6 billion while analysts expect peak sales to hit $4 billion.
The drug is a soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) stimulator, which Bayer and Merck have had high hopes for. Evidently, so did cardiologists. Cowen’s last analysis set potential sales at $400 million in 2024, but that number could go up significantly now.
Cowen’s Steve Scala noted this morning:
Vericiguat could be a lucrative product for Merck, and one with potentially under-appreciated value. At Cowen’s Therapeutics Conference in September 2019, 80% of specialists anticipated a positive result from VICTORIA whereas only 51% of investors shared this optimism.
Investigators recruited more than 5,000 patients at more than 600 centers in 42 countries for this study — one of the most expensive propositions in R&D. Millions of people in the US suffer from heart failure with reduced ejection fraction when the failing heart fails to contract properly to eject blood into the system. Bayer holds ex-US rights to the drug and also stands to earn cash from the $1.1 billion in milestones Merck agreed on for their collaboration.
Remarkably, the drug was pushed into Phase III despite failing the mid-stage trial — though investigators flagged a success at the high dose of 10 mg. In VICTORIA, researchers started patients at 2.5 mg and then titrated up to 5 and then 10 mg.

Alk­er­mes forges $950M biotech buy­out deal in a bold bet on an ear­ly-stage CNS drug plat­form

Alkermes $ALKS is investing $100 million cash and committing up to $850 million more in milestones in a big wager on a very early-stage CNS discovery platform. And the biotech is adding $20 million more to fund next year’s new research work on the platform it’s acquiring in today’s buyout with an eye to expanding the research work in oncology.

The biotech, helmed by Richard Pops, is buying Rodin Therapeutics, which had focused early on Alzheimer’s disease. Pops’ buyout, though, isn’t focused solely on the most troublesome sector in pharma R&D.

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Left to right: Arthur Pappas, Robert Nelsen, Peter Kolchinsky Doug Cole and David Beier

In rare po­lit­i­cal for­ay, top biotech in­vestors urge Con­gress to re­ject drug pric­ing bill

Thirteen of the top biotech venture capitalists in the country wrote a letter last week warning lawmakers that if Congress passes a drug pricing bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put before lawmakers, they won’t be able to invest in biomedical research at their current rate, and patients will suffer.

“If policies such as those included within H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, are passed, our ability to continue to invest in future biomedical innovation will be severely constrained, thus crushing the hopes of millions of patient waiting for the next breakthroughs to treat or cure their cancers, rare genetic diseases, Alzheimer’s, or other serious and life-threatening conditions,” they wrote in a letter addressed to the highest-ranking Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate and acquired by Endpoints News. 

Dicer­na scores broad, 'rest of liv­er' deal with No­vo Nordisk, bag­ging $225M in cash to hit some 30 tar­gets with RNAi plat­form

Turns out Dicerna wasn’t done with deals yet after locking in $200 million upfront from Roche for a hepatitis B cocktail two weeks ago.

Novo Nordisk has signed on as the latest partner to its GalXC RNAi platform, handing over $175 million in cash to claim any and all targets of interest in liver-related cardio-metabolic diseases that are not already reserved in previous pacts. The Danish drugmaker — which has signaled its interest to expand considerably beyond its core diabetes franchise into areas like NASH — is also purchasing $50 million worth of Dicerna’s equity at a 25% premium of $21.93 per share. More research payments and milestones extending to the billions are on the line.

Gene ther­a­py wins the in­side track at EMA; PPD files for IPO

→ Gene therapy maker Orchard Therapeutics has been granted an accelerated assessment for OTL-200 by the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP). The gene therapy — in development in partnership with the San Raffaele-Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (SR-Tiget) in Milan, Italy — being used towards the treatment of metachromatic leukodystrophy.

→ Pharmaceutical Product Development has announced that its parent company, PPD, Inc has submitted a draft to the SEC relating to the proposal of an IPO of the parent company’s common stock. Number of shares and price range have not yet been determined.

Pfiz­er gets biosim­i­lar ap­proved for Hu­mi­ra, set­ting up com­pe­ti­tion — in 2023

In the story lawmakers and drug pricing reform advocates have told about the drug industry, there are perhaps few greater villains than Humira and its maker AbbVie.

Between 2012 and 2018, AbbVie upped the drug’s annual after-rebates cost from $19,000 to $38,000 in the US, with sticker prices now over $60,000 per year — increases that led to accusations of price gouging, most recently from Democratic presidential frontrunner Elizabeth Warren.