Opin­ion: Biden needs to step up and nom­i­nate an FDA com­mis­sion­er

Enough with the wait­ing. Pres­i­dent Joe Biden needs to em­brace the FDA dur­ing this pan­dem­ic and kick­start the Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion process for the next per­ma­nent com­mis­sion­er.

And this needs to hap­pen quick­ly. There are plen­ty of qual­i­fied can­di­dates for the role out­side of act­ing com­mis­sion­er Janet Wood­cock and Josh Sharf­stein. Biden needs to move fast not be­cause the bio­phar­ma world strug­gles with even the per­cep­tion of FDA un­cer­tain­ty (it does), but be­cause thou­sands of FDA em­ploy­ees have been deal­ing with four years of po­lit­i­cal smears while putting in over­time to re­view thou­sands of Covid-19 drug and vac­cine tri­als, and to au­tho­rize three safe vac­cines in record time.

Their hard work should be re­paid with some good news and longer-term di­rec­tion, and it’s time the pub­lic saw state­ments and com­ments from the FDA com­mis­sion­er, not the act­ing com­mis­sion­er.

The po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and name call­ing (Trump once re­ferred to the FDA as a “big, old, slow tur­tle,”) have come and gone. Now, the FDA must wait (com­ing up on three months, plus at least an­oth­er cou­ple for the con­fir­ma­tion process) be­fore they get an of­fi­cial leader and po­lit­i­cal staff they can look to for en­cour­age­ment rather than em­bar­rass­ment from for­mer FDA com­mis­sion­er Stephen Hahn’s ex­ag­ger­a­tion of the ben­e­fits of con­va­les­cent plas­ma and sub­se­quent apol­o­gy tour, and the fir­ing of a for­mer Wash­ing­ton Times ed­i­tor turned com­mu­ni­ca­tions leader just 11 days in­to the job.

As many at the agency have ex­plained in pub­lic and pri­vate, it doesn’t re­al­ly mat­ter who’s at the very top (un­less it’s Scott Got­tlieb, every­one at FDA adores Dr. Got­tlieb) be­cause the com­mis­sion­er’s job is most­ly about serv­ing as the pub­lic face of the agency, and less about dri­ving the dai­ly agen­da, most of which is set months and years in ad­vance.

But it does mat­ter that there’s some­one in that top slot who’s a cham­pi­on for pub­lic safe­ty, com­pe­tent and who un­der­stands how the agency works, and what that role can and can­not do. No one wants an FDA com­mis­sion­er who needs to learn the ropes over the first 3-6 months, on­ly to leave af­ter a year.

So what’s the hold up for Biden?

For a pres­i­dent who has made clear his in­ten­tion to re­move his pre­de­ces­sor’s po­lit­i­cal traps around pub­lic health, and to res­ur­rect the bat­tered CDC, Biden re­mained mum on FDA and his fail­ure to name FDA’s per­ma­nent com­mis­sion­er seems to be very much about pol­i­tics.

At least four Sen­ate De­moc­rats – Mag­gie Has­san of New Hamp­shire, Ed Markey of Mass­a­chu­setts, Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia and Cather­ine Cortez Mas­to of Neva­da – have pre-empt­ed Biden’s nom­i­na­tion and voiced their op­po­si­tion to the lead­ing con­tender for the job, Wood­cock.

The opi­oid epi­dem­ic re­mains at the fore­front of some of the sen­a­tors’ minds, and right­ly so, con­sid­er­ing the dev­as­ta­tion across the coun­try. Oth­ers have raised con­cerns on in­dus­try in­flu­ence, but Got­tlieb did a sol­id job of show­ing how pri­or in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence does not nec­es­sar­i­ly re­flect on life as a com­mis­sion­er.

What those sen­a­tors fail to ac­count for in their op­po­si­tion to Wood­cock is that the FDA is well past the days when a com­mis­sion­er is mak­ing uni­lat­er­al de­ci­sions for the en­tire agency, or when in­dus­try in­flu­ence might tip the scale. The bio­phar­ma in­dus­try owns the scale. Al­most 70% of the FDA’s bud­get for drugs is from in­dus­try user fees. Work­ing with in­dus­try isn’t just in the job de­scrip­tion, it’s a large part of the rea­son FDA ex­ists now. But it’s the oth­er, much more im­por­tant part of FDA’s role, the part where the FDA pro­tects the Amer­i­can pub­lic and Amer­i­cans can trust the voice of the com­mis­sion­er. That should push Biden to move for­ward with a per­ma­nent com­mis­sion­er.

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

FDA un­veils six ICH guide­lines ahead of meet­ing with Health Cana­da

A sign that the FDA’s non-Covid-related processes are beginning to normalize: The release of six guidelines from the International Council of Harmonisation.

Years in development, the ICH documents offer an international perspective on drug development, with these latest guidelines covering everything from recommendations to support the classification of drug substances, featured in the M9 guidance, to standards for nonclinical safety studies for pediatric medicines in the S11 guideline.

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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gink­go Bioworks re­sizes the de­f­i­n­i­tion of go­ing big in biotech, rais­ing $2.5B in a record SPAC deal that weighs in with a whop­ping $15B-plus val­u­a­tion

Ginkgo Bioworks execs always thought big. But today should redefine just how big an upstart biotech player can dream.

In the largest SPAC deal to clear the hurdles to Nasdaq, the biotech that envisioned everything from remaking synthetic meat to a whole new approach to developing drugs has joined forces with one of the biggest disruptors in biotech to slam the Richter scale on dealmaking.

Soon after becoming the darling of the VC crew and clearing the bar on a $4 billion valuation, Ginkgo — a synthetic biotech player out to reprogram cells with industrial efficiency — has now struck a deal to go public in the latest leviathan SPAC that sets its pre-money valuation at $15 billion. In one swift vault, Ginkgo will combine with Harry Sloan’s Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. and leap into the public markets.

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Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Boehringer ac­cused of play­ing games, de­stroy­ing emails re­lat­ed to law­suit over con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Zan­tac

A recent court filing raises new questions about how major pharma companies like Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim have dealt with a lawsuit related to recalls of certain over-the-counter heartburn drugs due to the presence of a potentially cancer-causing substance found in them.

More than 70,000 people who took Sanofi’s Zantac and other heartburn drugs containing ranitidine, which have been recalled over the past two years, have sued the manufacturers, including generic drugmakers, and other retailers and distributors as part of a consolidated suit before US District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg in Florida.

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UP­DAT­ED: Feds charge an­oth­er CRO staffer with fak­ing da­ta in a Glax­o­SmithK­line pe­di­atric asth­ma study

A Florida woman has been indicted as part of a clinical trial fraud scheme over a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study, the Justice Department announced Tuesday, the latest development in a case where three individuals have already pleaded guilty.

Jessica Palacio was charged with participating in a plot to falsify medical records, giving off the appearance that trial participants were making their scheduled visits to a Miami CRO and taking an experimental asthma medication as required. Palacio was also charged with lying to FDA investigators about her conduct.

A clos­er look at the FDA’s more than 700 pan­dem­ic-re­lat­ed record re­quests to re­place on­site in­spec­tions

As the pandemic constrained the FDA’s ability to travel for onsite manufacturing inspections, the agency increasingly turned to requesting records to fill the gap, even for hundreds of US-based facilities.

FDA explains in its guidance on manufacturing inspections during the pandemic that the agency can request records (not to be confused with the FDA’s remote interactive evaluations) directly from facilities “in advance of or in lieu of” certain onsite inspections. Companies are legally required to fulfill those requests because a denial may be considered limiting an inspection, which could lead to the FDA deeming a drug made at that site to be adulterated.

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Distribution of Moderna's Covid-19 Vaccine (Photo by Paul Sancya - Pool/Getty Images)

Opin­ion: Ado­les­cents can wait. The US needs to start do­nat­ing Covid-19 vac­cines to needy coun­tries now.

Now that the US is swimming in Covid-19 vaccines and the supply has officially eclipsed the demand, it’s time for America to lead the world and start shipping these excess doses to countries that desperately need them.

Unlike the IP waiver at the World Trade Organization, which Biden now supports and will likely take years to translate into actual shots in arms, the US could easily donate just a tiny fraction of the more than 60 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines sitting on American shelves right now.

Alvotech takes Ab­b­Vie to court over al­leged patent 'mine­field' sur­round­ing megablock­buster Hu­mi­ra

AbbVie has so far been successful in shooing away competition to its megablockbuster Humira, deploying a number of patents and settlements to keep biosimilars off the US market until 2023. But one Icelandic drugmaker doesn’t want to wait — and on Tuesday, it filed a lawsuit challenging what it called a patent “minefield.”

Alvotech has accused AbbVie of trying to “overwhelm” and “intimidate” it with “an outrageous number of patents of dubious validity,” according to court documents. The company is currently seeking approval for its Humira copycat AVT02, which AbbVie says would infringe upon 62 patents.

Sanofi, Cel­lec­tis team up to pair Lem­tra­da with al­lo­gene­ic CAR-Ts; Bris­tol My­ers joins Evotec's dri­ve to ad­vance UK sci­ence

Sanofi is partnering up with Cellectis on their allogeneic CAR-Ts.

Cellectis struck a deal to use the French pharma’s drug alemtuzumab (Lemtrada, an MS agent) as part of its lymphodepletion regimen — used to sideline host immune cells and improve CAR-T cell expansion and persistence.

The Sanofi drug is already used in some clinical trials, and now the pharma giant is on the hook for clinical studies as they engage in negotiations over a commercial pact. — John Carroll