Oh Cana­da! There is no San­ta Claus to the north giv­ing out cheap drugs to US pa­tients

Bioreg­num Opin­ion Col­umn by John Car­roll

This morn­ing HHS Sec­re­tary Alex Azar took an­oth­er step to­ward open­ing the door to drugs im­port­ed from Cana­da. The still-de­vel­op­ing pol­i­cy ini­tia­tives pave the way to get­ting states to set up pro­grams for im­port­ing less ex­pen­sive drugs, as well as set­ting up a path for drug­mak­ers to bring in ther­a­pies sold abroad.

With less than a year to go to the elec­tion, you could say Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has a vest­ed in­ter­est in cuff­ing the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try — as he promised from the start — be­fore he goes back to vot­ers sell­ing 4 more years in the White House.

But let’s get re­al here. Any­one who thinks you can out­source the drug pric­ing is­sue to Cana­da, and get them to act as a proxy for the Amer­i­can mar­ket, has got to be dream­ing.

I’m not go­ing in­to the safe­ty is­sue, the way lob­by­ists want to when it comes to drug im­por­ta­tion. If you stick with rep­utable dis­trib­u­tors in Cana­da, there won’t be a safe­ty is­sue. This ar­gu­ment is about mon­ey, and that’s where we need to fo­cus.

I’ve had se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions with se­nior phar­ma ex­ecs who ap­pear per­fect­ly will­ing to sac­ri­fice Eu­ro­pean rev­enue if nec­es­sary in or­der to safe­guard their all-im­por­tant US mar­kets. What do you think these phar­ma com­pa­nies would do with their small Cana­di­an mar­ket­ing ops if they threat­ened US prof­it mar­gins?

If a Cana­di­an ne­go­tia­tor is stand­ing in as a sub­sti­tute to rep­re­sent state mar­kets in the US, their drug prices are go­ing to go sky high or their sup­ply will be cur­tailed. And Cana­da is not go­ing to al­low that. Once the sup­ply of a sin­gle drug is crimped, the hue and cry in that coun­try would be im­mense. They want to pre­serve low­er prices and ac­cess for Cana­di­ans, not go on some cru­sade to ex­tend that to the US. And if glob­al phar­ma play­ers can’t rein in a rogue op­er­a­tion, what hap­pens to the con­tracts they re­ly on to do busi­ness?

Yeah.

In­ter­est­ing­ly, the New York Times re­port on the pol­i­cy de­vel­op­ment to­day says a 2003 law won’t even al­low for im­por­ta­tion of high-priced bi­o­log­ics like Hu­mi­ra — the thorn in the side of law­mak­ers. Ab­b­Vie jacked up that price year af­ter year to cre­ate a cash cow it re­lied on to get them to the next chap­ter — which turned out to be the Al­ler­gan buy­out. And Cana­da can’t help.

This is a non-starter. It al­ways has been for the 20 years it’s been de­bat­ed. Yet it re­mains a spot­light is­sue, un­der­scor­ing the pauci­ty of new ideas when it comes to the much-need­ed task of re­form­ing the pric­ing sys­tem in the US. Drug af­ford­abil­i­ty and ac­cess is a huge is­sue in the US, where large groups of pa­tients can’t af­ford their end of the bill. Let’s not triv­i­al­ize the cri­sis by promis­ing a so­lu­tion from Cana­da that will nev­er come.

So­cial im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.

VBL and its “gene ther­a­py” can­cer treat­ment are back — with a peek at PhI­II po­ten­tial

Three years after a brain cancer failure sent the company reeling, VBL Therapeutics is touting its first hint of positive Phase III results.

The Israeli biotech announced its lead drug, VB–111, met an interim efficacy benchmark in a trial testing it against standard-of-care alone in recurrent, chemotherapy-resistant ovarian cancer.  The patients in the treatment arm had a CA-125 response rate — a measure of cancer antigen often used as a proxy in ovarian cancer studies and in detecting ovarian cancer — at least 10% higher than those in the control, the independent review determined.