Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (John Thys, Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Pfiz­er los­es close­ly watched court case on kick­backs and sub­si­diz­ing drugs

A New York dis­trict court on Thurs­day knocked back Pfiz­er’s plan to sub­si­dize the cost of one of its rare dis­ease drugs for some Medicare ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

Pfiz­er had at­tempt­ed to con­vince the court that it should be able to help pa­tients over­come a fi­nan­cial bar­ri­er to ob­tain ap­pro­pri­ate­ly pre­scribed med­ica­tion they des­per­ate­ly need, which in this case was the com­pa­ny’s rare dis­ease drug tafamidis, which comes with a $225,000 list price for a sin­gle year’s sup­ply.

“While there may be an ad­min­is­tra­tive or leg­isla­tive rem­e­dy to the prob­lems Pfiz­er seeks to cor­rect here, the rem­e­dy does not lie with the Court,” Mary Kay Vyskocil, a judge of the US Dis­trict Court for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York, wrote in her opin­ion. “Be­cause the stat­ed in­tent of the pay­ments Pfiz­er pro­pos­es here are to in­crease the num­ber of Medicare ben­e­fi­cia­ries who pur­chase the drug, the Court is un­able to is­sue the de­clara­to­ry judg­ment Pfiz­er seeks or to is­sue judg­ment in its fa­vor.”

She al­so makes clear the law gov­ern­ing kick­backs pro­hibits know­ing­ly and will­ful­ly pro­vid­ing re­mu­ner­a­tion which is in­tend­ed to in­duce a pur­chase of med­ical treat­ments or ser­vices.

“While the statute is broad, that alone does not man­date that the Court must en­dorse a nar­row­er read­ing,” Vyskocil wrote.

The case was close­ly watched as gov­ern­ment lawyers pre­vi­ous­ly warned of a “gold rush” of sim­i­lar sub­si­dies from bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies if the court had ruled in Pfiz­er’s fa­vor.

Since 2005, OIG has al­ways been clear that where a drug­mak­er pro­vides fi­nan­cial help, there’s a high risk for fraud and abuse, mean­ing the com­pa­nies could end up pay­ing peo­ple to take their drugs.

And Pfiz­er un­der­stands the sys­tem well. Back in 2018, the com­pa­ny agreed to pay $23.85 mil­lion to set­tle al­le­ga­tions that the com­pa­ny vi­o­lat­ed the False Claims Act by pay­ing kick­backs to Medicare pa­tients through a pur­port­ed­ly in­de­pen­dent char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion.

Jen­nifer Michael, a mem­ber of the law firm Bass, Berry and Sims with a fo­cus on the an­ti-kick­back statute, told End­points News that the end re­sult is not sur­pris­ing, and the court was very clear that they were not go­ing to adopt Pfiz­er’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the an­ti-kick­back statute. But she said the opin­ion left open some room for oth­er com­pa­nies to chal­lenge un­fa­vor­able HHS opin­ions in the fu­ture, al­though it’s un­like­ly that man­u­fac­tur­ers would move for­ward with new co­pay as­sis­tance pro­grams as a re­sult of this opin­ion.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Credit: Shutterstock

How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

No­var­tis dumps AveX­is pro­gram for Rett syn­drome af­ter fail­ing re­peat round of pre­clin­i­cal test­ing

Say goodbye to AVXS-201.

The Rett syndrome gene therapy drug made by AveXis — the biotech that was bought, kept separate, then renamed and finally absorbed by Novartis into its R&D division — has been dropped by the biopharma.

In Novartis’ third quarter financial report, the pharma had found that preclinical data did not support development of the gene therapy into IND-enabling trials and beyond. The announcement comes a year after Novartis told the Rett Society how excited it was by the drug — and its potential benefits and uses.

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Ugur Sahin, AP Images

As pres­sure to share tech­nol­o­gy mounts, BioN­Tech se­lects Rwan­da for lat­est vac­cine site

BioNTech’s first mRNA-based vaccine site in Africa will call Rwanda home, and construction is set to start in mid-2022, the company announced Tuesday at a public health forum.

The German company signed a memorandum of understanding, after a meeting between Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, Senegal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aïssata Tall Sall, and senior BioNTech officials. Construction plans have been finalized, and assets have been ordered. The agreement will help bring end-to-end manufacturing to Africa, and as many as several hundred million doses of vaccines per year, though initial production will be more modest.

Robert Spurr, President Salix Pharmaceuticals

Bausch Health’s Sal­ix pi­lots study to shine light on chron­ic liv­er dis­ease and push back on stereo­types

October is both breast cancer awareness and liver disease awareness month. While there’s no doubt which condition draws more attention during the month, Salix wants to change that.

Salix, Bausch Health’s gastroenterology arm, piloted its first chronic liver disease report and physician survey with results out this week aimed at raising awareness and dispelling stereotypes.

While 4.5 million people have chronic liver disease or cirrhosis – which is even more than 3.8 million women diagnosed with breast cancer – the research found chronic liver disease “has not received the attention or level of effort needed for adequate prevention, diagnosis, and standardization of its management.”

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Katie Fanning, Mozart Therapeutics CEO

Mozart Ther­a­peu­tics makes its of­fi­cial de­but, jump­ing in­to the hot Treg R&D field with some big-name in­vestors back­ing it

Treg cells have been getting more and more attention recently among autoimmune specialists. There’s been Jeff Bluestone’s Sonoma, the $157 million launch of GentiBio this summer and Egle Therapeutics — which launched just last week — to name a few.

Now, there’s a new Treg player jumping in that wants to distinguish itself in the market: Mozart Therapeutics. Today, the biotech is emerging from stealth in its official debut with a $55 million Series A — with a bunch of A-list Big Pharma names on board a syndicate led by ARCH.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With San­doz con­tin­u­ing to drag on No­var­tis, Vas Narasimhan says he may fi­nal­ly be ready for a sale or spin­off

After years of rehab work aimed at getting Sandoz in fighting trim to compete in a market overshadowed by declining prices, CEO Vas Narasimhan took a big step toward possibly selling or spinning off the giant generic drug player.

The pharma giant flagged plans to launch a strategic review of the business in its Q3 update, noting that “options range from retaining the business to separation.”

Analysts have been poking and prodding Novartis execs for years now as Narasimhan attempted to remodel a business that has been a drag on its performance during most of his reign in the CEO suite. The former R&D chief has made it well known that he’s devoted to the innovative meds side of the business, where they see the greatest potential for growth.

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FDA is much worse than its reg­u­la­to­ry peers at proac­tive­ly dis­clos­ing da­ta, re­searchers find

The European Medicines Agency and Health Canada continue to outpace the FDA when it comes to proactively releasing data on drugs and biologics the agency has reviewed, leading to further questions of why the American agency can’t be more transparent.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics, Yale and other academic lawyers and researchers found that between 2016 and April 2021, the EMA proactively released data for 123 unique medical products, while Health Canada proactively released data for 73 unique medical products between 2019 and April 2021. What’s more, the EMA and Health Canada didn’t proactively release the same data on the same drugs. In stark contrast, the FDA in 2018 only proactively disclosed data supporting one drug that was approved that year.

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