No­var­tis' SMA gene-ther­a­py, if priced at $2M, could be more cost-ef­fec­tive than Bio­gen's Spin­raza — ICER

Bio­gen’s Spin­raza was ap­proved by the FDA amidst much fan­fare in 2016 as the first and on­ly dis­ease-mod­i­fy­ing treat­ment for SMA, a rare and of­ten fa­tal ge­net­ic mus­cu­lar dis­or­der. But the price tag of $750,000 for the first year of ther­a­py (and a low­er price there­after) prompt­ed heavy crit­i­cism, al­though many pay­ers even­tu­al­ly agreed to re­im­burse the treat­ment. How­ev­er, a re­port by the In­sti­tute for Clin­i­cal and Eco­nom­ic Re­view (ICER) on Thurs­day has sug­gest­ed No­var­tis’ ex­per­i­men­tal SMA gene ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, could be more cost-ef­fec­tive in the long run ver­sus Spin­raza.

Zol­gens­ma is cur­rent­ly un­der FDA re­view and the agency is ex­pect­ed to an­nounce its de­ci­sion on the drug in May 2019. In its re­view, ICER has as­sumed Zol­gens­ma will car­ry a list price of $2 mil­lion, al­though the Swiss drug­mak­er has sug­gest­ed a price of $4 mil­lion for the cu­ra­tive ther­a­py, which it ac­quired via its $8.7 bil­lion takeover of AveX­is, may be jus­ti­fied.

De­spite the lack of long-term da­ta on ei­ther ther­a­py, the non-prof­it es­ti­mat­ed in­cre­men­tal cost-ef­fec­tive­ness of Spin­raza is $728,000 per QALY in presymp­to­matic SMA pa­tients, while Zol­gens­ma has an in­cre­men­tal cost-ef­fec­tive­ness of $247,000 per QALY in pa­tients with symp­to­matic Type I SMA (on the ba­sis of a place­hold­er price of $2 mil­lion).

QALYs, or qual­i­ty-ad­just­ed life-years, are a mea­sure of the state of health of a per­son or group in which the ben­e­fits — in terms of length of life — are ad­just­ed to re­flect the qual­i­ty of life. Es­sen­tial­ly, one QALY is equal to one year of life in per­fect health.

“No­var­tis has es­ti­mat­ed that Zol­gens­ma would yield 13.3 QALYs in SMA Type I pa­tients, and could be priced to $4-5 mil­lion based on the re­la­tion­ship of 10-year cost of ap­proved drugs for ul­tra-rare dis­eases and their cor­re­spond­ing in­cre­men­tal QALYs gained. ICER es­ti­mates Zol­gens­ma pro­vides 11.33 QALYs, and us­es a place­hold­er price of $2 mil­lion. While ICER un­der­cut both of No­var­tis’ es­ti­mates, the high cost/QALY of Spin­raza in Type I SMA pa­tients of­fers No­var­tis bar­gain­ing pow­er with pay­ers if the com­pa­ny can ar­gue Spin­raza use could be re­duced or elim­i­nat­ed to off­set to­tal costs,” Leerink an­a­lysts wrote in a note on Fri­day.

Cur­rent­ly avail­able da­ta on Spin­raza and Zol­gens­ma show pro­longed sur­vival and im­proved mo­tor func­tion com­pared with his­tor­i­cal con­trols or place­bo, but “there re­mains con­sid­er­able un­cer­tain­ty in the gen­er­al­iz­abil­i­ty of the re­sults and in the long-term dura­bil­i­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty of treat­ment. In par­tic­u­lar, for both in­ter­ven­tions, the nar­row el­i­gi­bil­i­ty cri­te­ria of tri­als and the lim­it­ed sam­ple size (es­pe­cial­ly for Zol­gens­ma) rais­es con­cerns about gen­er­al­iz­abil­i­ty of re­sults to the wider pop­u­la­tion of pa­tients with SMA,” the re­port added.

Bio­gen un­der­scored this dif­fer­ence in sam­ple size in its re­sponse to the re­port. “The draft ICER re­port is an in­com­plete rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Spin­raza’s val­ue to pa­tients and health care sys­tems. Fur­ther­more, to com­pare a treat­ment that has helped near­ly 6,000 pa­tients world­wide against an in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al treat­ment on da­ta from 15 pa­tients with an ar­ti­fi­cial­ly se­lect­ed price is mis­lead­ing and wrong,” a spokesper­son told End­points News.

The ICER re­port is not fi­nal and has been opened to the pub­lic for com­ment, which will be in­cor­po­rat­ed in­to an ev­i­dence re­port in Feb­ru­ary 2019. This re­port will be sub­ject to fur­ther de­lib­er­a­tion by one of ICER’s in­de­pen­dent ev­i­dence ap­praisal com­mit­tees in ear­ly March, af­ter which a fi­nal re­port will be re­leased by the end of the month.

“If con­firmed in a fi­nal re­port…these find­ings could of­fer sup­port for No­var­tis in pric­ing and ac­cess ne­go­ti­a­tions for Zol­gens­ma ahead of 2019 ap­proval,” Leerink an­a­lysts added.

In re­sponse to the re­port, No­var­tis said that the find­ings had af­firmed the com­pa­ny’s ini­tial as­sess­ment of the val­ue of their prod­uct. “While we have not yet de­ter­mined the price of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al prod­uct…once we de­ter­mine a price, we are com­mit­ted to flex­i­bly part­ner­ing with health­care stake­hold­ers to en­sure ac­cess,” a spokesper­son told End­points News. 

Like NICE in the UK, ICER an­a­lyzes the ev­i­dence on the ef­fec­tive­ness and val­ue of drugs and oth­er med­ical ser­vices in the Unit­ed States, how­ev­er un­like NICE, it is not a gov­ern­ment-af­fil­i­at­ed body.

In Au­gust, NICE re­fused to rec­om­mend the use of Spin­raza in the UK — de­spite Bio­gen dis­count­ing its price — on the ba­sis that the long-term im­pact of the drug was un­clear for pa­tients, some of whom die by the age of 2. With­out that da­ta, the price of the drug couldn’t be jus­ti­fied, they said.

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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San Diego cou­ple charged with steal­ing trade se­crets, open­ing Chi­nese biotech as DOJ crack­down con­tin­ues

A San Diego couple has been charged with stealing trade secrets from a US hospital and opening a business based off those secrets in China as the controversial industry-wide crackdown on alleged corporate espionage continues. On the same day, the Department of Justice announced they had arrested Beijing representative Zhongsan Liu for allegedly trying to obtain research visas for government recruiters.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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Tower Bridge in London [Shutterstock]

#UK­BIO19: Join GSK’s Hal Bar­ron and a group of top biotech ex­ecs for our 2nd an­nu­al biotech sum­mit in Lon­don

Over the past 10 years I’ve made a point of getting to know the Golden Triangle and the special role the UK biopharma industry plays there in drug development. The concentration of world class research institutes, some of the most accomplished scientists I’ve ever seen at work and a rising tide of global investment cash leaves an impression that there’s much, much more to come as biotech hubs are birthed and nurtured.

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen pulls the plug on prized IPF drug from $562M+ Stromedix buy­out

One of Biogen’s attempts to branch out has flopped as the biotech scraps a mid-stage program for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Warts for the win: Aclar­is' lead drug clears piv­otal study

Aclaris Therapeutics has found a way to get rid of the warts and all.

The company — which earlier this month decided to focus on its arsenal of kinase inhibitors — on Monday unveiled positive data from a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug for use in common warts.

The drug, A-101, was tested in a 502-patient study called THWART-2 — patients enrolled had one to six warts before qualifying for the trial. Patients either self-administered A-101 topical solution or a vehicle twice a week over a two-month period. A higher proportion of patients on the drug (a potent hydrogen peroxide topical solution) saw their warts disappear at day 60, versus the vehicle (p<0.0001) — meeting the main goal of the study.  Each secondary endpoint also emerged in favor of A-101, the company said.

Charles Nichols, LSU School of Medicine

Could psy­che­delics tack­le the obe­si­ty cri­sis? A long­time re­searcher in the field says his lat­est mouse study sug­gests po­ten­tial

Psychedelics have experienced a renaissance in recent years amid a torrent of preclinical and clinical research suggesting it might provide a path to treat mood disorders conventional remedies have only scraped at. Now a preclinical trial from a young biotech suggests at least one psychedelic compound has effects beyond the mind, and — if you believe the still very, very early hype — could provide the first single remedy for some of the main complications of obesity.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Ac­celeron drops a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram as #2 drug fails to spark func­tion­al ben­e­fits in pa­tients with a rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ail­ment

Acceleron is scrapping a muscular dystrophy development program underway for its number 2 drug in the pipeline after pouring over some failed mid-stage secondary data.

Gone is the ACE-083 project in patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. Their drug hit the primary endpoint on building muscle but flopped on key secondaries for functional improvements in patients, which execs felt was vital to the drug’s success.