Pub­lic funds help late-stage de­vel­op­ment of about 25% of new drugs, study finds

One in four new drugs ap­proved in the US be­tween Jan­u­ary 2008 and De­cem­ber 2017 re­ceived di­rect fund­ing from pub­lic re­sources for late stage re­search or through spin-off com­pa­nies cre­at­ed from pub­lic re­search in­sti­tu­tions, a study pub­lished in the BMJ on Wednes­day found.

As the drug pric­ing de­bate has ac­cel­er­at­ed in re­cent months, the de­bate over whether pub­lic or pri­vate en­ti­ties do the ma­jor­i­ty of drug de­vel­op­ment work has con­tin­ued, with the gen­er­al as­sump­tion that the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health (NIH) funds much of the ear­ly-stage re­search (the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice ex­plained in April how NIH aids ba­sic re­search that trans­lates in­to phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal de­vel­op­ment) while bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies most of­ten fund the lat­er clin­i­cal stages that lead to the ap­proval and mar­ket­ing of new drugs.

Re­searchers at the Pro­gram On Reg­u­la­tion, Ther­a­peu­tics, And Law (POR­TAL) at Har­vard Med­ical School in­ves­ti­gat­ed 248 nov­el drugs in the 10-year win­dow and found that 62 (25%) had doc­u­ment­ed late-stage re­search con­tri­bu­tions from a pub­licly sup­port­ed re­search in­sti­tu­tion or spin-off com­pa­ny. Most of the drugs were iden­ti­fied as hav­ing pub­licly spon­sored re­search or spin-off con­tri­bu­tions through patent da­ta avail­able through the Or­ange Book.

In ad­di­tion, 48 of the drugs (19% of all new ap­provals) had ev­i­dence of di­rect pub­licly sup­port­ed re­search, and all but one re­ceived fund­ing re­lat­ed to the drug’s “ini­tial dis­cov­ery, syn­the­sis or oth­er key in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty lead­ing to a patentable in­ven­tion.” Of these 48 drugs, 38 (80%) had at least one patent held by a pub­licly sup­port­ed re­search in­sti­tu­tion or spin-off com­pa­ny.

“These pub­licly spon­sored drugs were more like­ly to re­ceive ex­pe­dit­ed reg­u­la­to­ry des­ig­na­tion and be first in class, sug­gest­ing high ther­a­peu­tic im­por­tance,” the re­searchers wrote.

And the oth­er 14 (6%) drugs de­vel­oped by spin-off com­pa­nies were based whol­ly or in part on pub­licly sup­port­ed re­search, ac­cord­ing to the study. For a spin-off ex­am­ple, the study dis­cuss­es Gilead’s he­pati­tis C treat­ment So­val­di (so­fos­bu­vir), which orig­i­nat­ed at Phar­mas­set (ac­quired lat­er by Gilead), but was orig­i­nal­ly a spin-off com­pa­ny based on fed­er­al­ly fund­ed re­search from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty in At­lanta.

“Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of drugs with late stage, pub­licly sup­port­ed re­search con­tri­bu­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly those for which such in­sti­tu­tions hold key patents, could rep­re­sent a use­ful pol­i­cy lever. Such drugs in­clude nusin­ersen (Spin­raza, for spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy; list price US$750,000 (£610,400; €685,000) in the first year of use), eliglu­s­tat (Cerdel­ga, for Gauch­er dis­ease; $310,250/year), and en­za­lu­tamide (Xtan­di, for prostate can­cer; $129,000/year). The prices of these drugs, each of which re­lied on sub­stan­tial aca­d­e­m­ic de­vel­op­ment, have been crit­i­cized in the US and all are sub­stan­tial­ly low­er in oth­er coun­tries,” the au­thors note.

They al­so ex­plain how us­ing so-called “march-in” rights, which could al­low the gov­ern­ment to use a patent­ed prod­uct for its own pur­pos­es and which pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Eliz­a­beth War­ren has said she would use, could help fight “crit­i­cal drug short­ages or ex­treme price hikes.”

The au­thors wrote in the con­clu­sion: “These find­ings pro­vide ad­di­tion­al da­ta for the on­go­ing de­bate on sup­port for pub­lic sec­tor bio­med­ical re­search, and the best ways to take these key con­tri­bu­tions in­to ac­count in de­ter­min­ing the own­er­ship of and fair prices for new drugs, es­pe­cial­ly those priced at very high lev­els.”


RAPS: First pub­lished in Reg­u­la­to­ry Fo­cus™ by the Reg­u­la­to­ry Af­fairs Pro­fes­sion­als So­ci­ety, the largest glob­al or­ga­ni­za­tion of and for those in­volved with the reg­u­la­tion of health­care prod­ucts. Click here for more in­for­ma­tion.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

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Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO20 (Jeff Rumans)

'Al­tos was re­al­ly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty': Hal Bar­ron re­flects on his big move

By all accounts, Hal Barron had one of the best jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He made more than $11 million in 2020, once again reaping more than his boss, Emma Walmsley, who always championed him at every opportunity. And he oversaw a global R&D effort that struck a variety of big-dollar deals for oncology, neurodegeneration and more.

Sure, the critics never let up about what they saw as a rather uninspiring late-stage pipeline, where the rubber hits the road in the Big Pharma world’s hunt for the next big near-term blockbuster, but the in-house reviews were stellar. And Barron was firmly focused on bringing up the success rate in clinical trials, holding out for the big rewards of moving the dial from an average 10% success rate to 20%.

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Kenneth Galbraith, incoming Zymeworks CEO

Zymeworks re­places half its C-suite, aims to lay off 25% of to­tal work­force as new CEO takes over

New Zymeworks CEO Kenneth Galbraith is aiming to hit the ground running when his tenure officially begins next month, but he’ll be doing so with a much different looking team.

In a lengthy press release outlining the biotech’s 2022 goals, Galbraith said Zymeworks will be laying off at least 25% of its staff over the course of the year. Half of its C-suite will also be replaced immediately as Galbraith looks to remake the company in his image after Ali Tehrani, Zymeworks’ founder and CEO since 2003, stepped down two weeks ago.

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FDA+ roundup: FDA's neu­ro­science deputy de­parts amid on­go­ing Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tions; Califf on the ropes?

Amid increased scrutiny into the close ties between FDA and Biogen prior to the controversial accelerated approval of Aduhelm, the deputy director of the FDA’s office of neuroscience has called it quits after more than two decades at the agency.

Eric Bastings will now take over as VP of development strategy at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the company said Wednesday, where he will provide senior clinical and regulatory leadership in support of Ionis’ pipeline.

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Hal Barron (GSK via YouTube)

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron jumps ship to run a $3B biotech start­up, Tony Wood tapped to re­place him

In a stunning switch, GlaxoSmithKline put out word early Wednesday that R&D chief Hal Barron is exiting the company after 4 years — a relatively brief run for the man chosen by CEO Emma Walmsley in late 2017 to turn around the slow-footed pharma giant.

Barron is being replaced by Tony Wood, a close associate of Barron’s who’s taking one of the top jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He’ll be closer to home, though, for GSK. Barron has been running a UK and Philadelphia-based research organization from his perch in San Francisco.

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CBO: Medicare ne­go­ti­a­tions will ham­per drug de­vel­op­ment more than pre­vi­ous­ly thought

As President Biden’s Build Back Better Act — and, with it, potentially the Democrats’ last shot at major drug pricing reforms in the foreseeable future — remains on life support, the Congressional Budget Office isn’t helping their case.

The CBO last week released a new slide deck, outlining an update to its model on how Medicare negotiations might take a bite out of new drugs making it to market. The new model estimates a 10% long-term reduction in the number of new drugs, whereas a previous CBO report from August estimated that 8% fewer new drugs will enter the market over 30 years.