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.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

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Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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Daniel O'Day, Gilead CEO (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A new study points to $6.5B in pub­lic sup­port build­ing the sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tion of Gilead­'s remde­sivir. Should that be re­flect­ed in the price?

By drug R&D standards, Gilead’s move to repurpose remdesivir for Covid-19 and grab an emergency use authorization was a remarkably easy, low-cost layup that required modest efficacy and a clean safety profile from just a small group of patients.

The drug OK also arrived after Gilead had paid much of the freight on getting it positioned to move fast.

In a study by Fred Ledley, director of the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, researchers concluded that the NIH had invested only $46.5 million in the research devoted to the drug ahead of the pandemic, a small sum compared to the more than $1 billion Gilead expected to spend getting it out this year, all on top of what it had already cost in R&D expenses.

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Noubar Afeyan, Flagship CEO and Tessera chairman (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Flag­ship ex­ecs take a les­son from na­ture to mas­ter ‘gene writ­ing,’ launch­ing a star-stud­ded biotech with big am­bi­tions to cure dis­ease

Flagship Pioneering has opened up its deep pockets to fund a biotech upstart out to revolutionize the whole gene therapy/gene editing field — before gene editing has even made it to the market. And they’ve surrounded themselves with some marquee scientists and execs who have crowded around to help shepherd the technology ahead.

The lead player here is Flagship general partner Geoff von Maltzahn, an MIT-trained synthetic biologist who set out in 2018 to do CRISPR — a widely used gene editing tool — and other rival technologies one or two better. Von Maltzahn has been working with Sana co-founder Jake Rubens, another synthetic biology player out of MIT who he describes as his “superstar,” who’s taken the CSO role.

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FDA bars the door — for now — against Mer­ck’s star can­cer drug af­ter Roche beat them to the punch

Merck has been handed a rare setback at the FDA.

After filing for the accelerated approval of a combination of their star PD-1 drug Keytruda with Eisai’s Lenvima as a first-line treatment for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma, the FDA nixed the move, handing out a CRL because Roche beat them to the punch on the same indication by a matter of weeks.

According to Merck:

Ahead of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act action dates of Merck’s and Eisai’s applications, another combination therapy was approved based on a randomized, controlled trial that demonstrated overall survival. Consequently, the CRL stated that Merck’s and Eisai’s applications do not provide evidence that Keytruda in combination with Lenvima represents a meaningful advantage over available therapies for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic HCC with no prior systemic therapy for advanced disease. Since the applications for KEYNOTE-524/Study 116 no longer meet the criteria for accelerated approval, both companies plan to work with the FDA to take appropriate next steps, which include conducting a well-controlled clinical trial that demonstrates substantial evidence of effectiveness and the clinical benefit of the combination.

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Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na sticks to Ju­ly for its Phase III as ru­mors swirl; Fol­low­ing US lead, EU buys up Covid-19 treat­ments

The Phase III might be delayed from its original early July goal, but Moderna says it will still kick off the pivotal study for what could ultimately be the first Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the month.

A day after Reuters reported that squabbling between the Cambridge biotech and government regulators had held up the trial by about two weeks, Moderna released a statement saying that they had completed enrollment of their 650-person Phase II trial and were on track to begin Phase III by the end of the month. The protocol for that study, which is meant to prove whether or not the vaccine can prevent people from becoming sick, has been finalized, they said.

Adrian Gottschalk, Foghorn CEO

Mer­ck dan­gles up to $425 mil­lion to team with Flag­ship’s Foghorn Ther­a­peu­tics on drug­ging the shape of DNA

Two years after it first emerged from stealth mode, Flagship’s Foghorn Therapeutics has nabbed its first Big Pharma partner as Merck signs on to the biotech’s vision of drugging the very shape of DNA.

The deal, worth up to $425 million but with the upfront cash undisclosed, comes as Foghorn nears a pivot to a clinical stage biotech. The Cambridge-based company has added nearly 60 staffers from the 25 it had when it first emerged out of Flagship and, CEO Adrian Gottschalk said, they have finally refined the screening technology at the heart of the company, with plans to file their first IND towards the end of the year.

John Reed, Sanofi R&D chief (Endpoints News)

John Reed brings NK cells in­to Sanofi's CD38 ri­val­ry with J&J — and of­fers thumbs up for Kiadis' new fo­cus

Sanofi doesn’t just want to be a challenger to J&J’s dominant Darzalex multiple myeloma franchise. It’s looking to pioneer a new approach by pairing its own — newly approved — anti-CD38 drug with an NK cell therapy it’s just picked up.

The French pharma giant has teed up $19.7 million (€17.5 million) upfront and close to a billion dollars (€857.5 million) in milestones for a license to Kiadis Pharma’s preclinical K-NK004 program, which consists of NK cells that have been genetically engineered not to express CD38.

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