Opin­ion: Con­gress needs to take a hard look at what went on at Trump's White House dur­ing the pan­dem­ic

Masks are com­ing off, restau­rants are fill­ing up again in­doors, and the US is, by all ac­counts, re­turn­ing to some sort of nor­mal-ish state.

But as the Covid-19 death toll slow­ly ticks up to the 600,000 mark, there’s a grow­ing con­sen­sus that at least some of those lives could’ve been saved. Where and how the past ad­min­is­tra­tion went wrong is easy to di­ag­nose as an arm­chair ex­pert, but Con­gress needs to be­gin what will like­ly be a gar­gan­tu­an and long process of ac­tu­al­ly sift­ing through the da­ta, in­ter­nal emails and de­ci­sion mak­ing to see what ex­act­ly hap­pened and what needs to be cor­rect­ed mov­ing for­ward.

With the help of the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, the pub­lic can now see a tiny glimpse of what some of the top health of­fi­cials in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion were do­ing at the height of the pan­dem­ic, and it isn’t pret­ty.

First and fore­most, the emails show how for­mer FDA com­mis­sion­er Steve Hahn lied to the pub­lic when he apol­o­gized for mis­s­peak­ing dur­ing a press con­fer­ence about how con­va­les­cent plas­ma would in­crease sur­vival. He didn’t mis­s­peak, his email shows he was plan­ning to note the 35% over­all in­crease in sur­vival all along.

And rather than of­fer­ing sup­port for what must’ve been a gru­el­ing sev­er­al months at the be­gin­ning of 2020 for those top ad­vi­sors like Deb­o­rah Birx and Hahn, se­nior Trump ap­pointees like Hope Hicks and Joe Gro­gan were in­stead push­ing their own agen­das, seek­ing fa­vors and mak­ing per­son­al ap­peals and de­mands — of­ten times for drugs like hy­drox­y­chloro­quine, which proved to be com­plete­ly in­ef­fec­tive.

And why was Katie Miller, the for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence with no pub­lic health or med­ical ex­pe­ri­ence, telling Hahn what to look in­to ther­a­peu­tic-wise in April 2020?

Emails from a month pri­or to the Miller de­mand al­so show how celebri­ties with ac­cess to the top of­fi­cials (like Dr. Oz and Lau­ra In­gra­ham) were not on­ly grant­ed an au­di­ence but al­so mak­ing de­mands on how to run tri­als for hy­drox­y­chloro­quine.

Aaron Kessel­heim

And this is just the tini­est sliv­er of the ice­berg that Con­gress needs to look in­to and re­lease pub­licly, not on­ly for those who died of Covid-19 and their fam­i­lies, but for the next ad­min­is­tra­tion that has to deal with a sim­i­lar­ly mas­sive, time-sen­si­tive is­sue like this.

Tax­pay­er dol­lars shouldn’t be wast­ed on what celebri­ties think, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing a pan­dem­ic.

Aaron Kessel­heim, pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at Har­vard Med­ical School, put it best when he told me re­cent­ly, “I was most hor­ri­fied by the at­tempts by mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion/Con­gress and celebri­ties to get fa­vors or make per­son­al ap­peals to the FDA Com­mis­sion­er, and to see such mi­nor, use­less stuff be el­e­vat­ed up to the high­est lev­els of the FDA.

“If com­mu­ni­ca­tions like this were more rou­tine­ly made pub­licly avail­able, then maybe such folks would feel less en­ti­tled to make them, and all of the peo­ple who re­ly on the FDA would bet­ter trust that cer­tain de­ci­sions were be­ing made on sci­en­tif­ic terms rather than po­lit­i­cal (or Dr. Oz’s!) in­ter­fer­ence,” he added.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.