Reimag­in­ing med­i­cine? No­var­tis wraps phar­ma’s first big glob­al pot deal

In a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for med­ical cannabis ad­vo­cates in the Unit­ed States, Swiss gi­ant No­var­tis’ $NVS San­doz AG unit has tied up with Cana­di­an med­ical cannabis pro­duc­er Tilray, mark­ing the first big en­dorse­ment of the con­tro­ver­sial plant by a large, multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny.

The deal ex­em­pli­fies chang­ing at­ti­tudes in the US, where more Amer­i­cans live in states that have le­gal­ized the sale of med­ical and/or recre­ation­al cannabis than in an­ti-cannabis ju­ris­dic­tions. Tilray, which sup­plies cannabis flower and ex­tract prod­ucts to pa­tients, physi­cians, health­care fa­cil­i­ties and re­searchers in 12 coun­tries, has an ex­ist­ing al­liance with San­doz Cana­da.

Un­der the so-called frame­work agree­ment, San­doz AG may sup­port Tilray in com­mer­cial­iz­ing and brand­ing the Nanaimo, British Co­lum­bia-based com­pa­ny’s non-smok­able/non-com­bustible prod­ucts; the Cana­di­an pot pro­duc­er may sup­ply and/or li­cense such prod­ucts to and from San­doz AG; and sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the two may col­lab­o­rate in de­vel­op­ing such prod­ucts.

“The (ex­pand­ed) part­ner­ship al­so helps le­git­imize cannabis in in­ter­na­tion­al mar­kets, which could im­pact preva­lence with­in ex­ist­ing mar­kets as well as help in­flu­ence coun­tries con­sid­er­ing med­ical cannabis le­gal­iza­tion,” Cowen’s Vivien Az­er wrote in a note.

The land­mark FDA ap­proval of GW Phar­ma’s $GW­PH cannabis-de­rived med­i­cine Epid­i­olex ear­li­er this year paved the way for a pletho­ra of small and mid-sized drug de­vel­op­ers — in­clud­ing In­sys Ther­a­peu­tics $IN­SY, Zyner­ba $ZYNE, In­Med Phar­ma, Kan­nal­ife and Ax­im Biotech $AX­IM — that are hop­ing to hitch their wag­on to the cannabis star, ei­ther by de­vel­op­ing syn­thet­ic or nat­ur­al cannabis-de­rived ther­a­peu­tics or de­vis­ing nov­el de­liv­ery mech­a­nisms for its ab­sorp­tion.

Two big deals over the course of this year have al­so un­der­scored the lu­cra­tive po­ten­tial of the plant, with al­co­hol gi­ant Con­stel­la­tion Brands $STZ spend­ing a mam­moth $4 bil­lion to se­cure a 38% stake in Cana­di­an cannabis com­pa­ny Canopy Growth $CGC, and cig­a­rette mak­er Al­tria $MO fork­ing out $1.8 bil­lion to take a 45% stake in an­oth­er Cana­di­an pot com­pa­ny Cronos $CRON.

Marc Feld­mann

Mean­while, the US fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to con­sid­er cannabis as a sched­ule 1 sub­stance — on par with LSD and hero­in — with no med­ical val­ue, in­fu­ri­at­ing re­searchers who con­tend the clas­si­fi­ca­tion has dra­mat­i­cal­ly slowed the sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the plant. Nev­er­the­less with House De­moc­rats tak­ing back seats this No­vem­ber, pro-mar­i­jua­na leg­is­la­tion is ex­pect­ed to heat up.

“There is am­ple ev­i­dence that the cannabis plant has nu­mer­ous use­ful ap­pli­ca­tions in med­i­cine and the law is ob­so­lete,” said Marc Feld­mann, an Ox­ford pro­fes­sor and im­mu­nol­o­gist whose work  led to the dis­cov­ery and sub­se­quent com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the world’s largest sell­ing drug class, an­ti-TNF. “This clas­si­fi­ca­tion is chang­ing around the world – it has al­ready hap­pened in Cana­da and will hap­pen in more states in the US in due course,” he said in a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view with End­points News. Feld­mann al­so serves as CEO of CannBioRex, a Cana­da-based com­pa­ny that is de­vel­op­ing syn­thet­ic cannabis-de­rived med­i­cines.

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Af­ter 4 years of furor, the FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. And this time they plan to squash it

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition.

J&J's Spra­va­to gets no love from NICE, jeop­ar­diz­ing its prospects in the UK

UK’s cost-effectiveness watchdog NICE is taking the same track laid out by ICER — J&J’s pharmaceutical version of the hallucinogenic anesthetic ketamine, Spravato, is low value for money. On Tuesday, the agency refused to endorse the therapy for inclusion as a reimbursable drug on the the UK’s National Health System.

Cognizant of the myriad of approved antidepressants that often don’t work, EU regulators endorsed J&J’s low-dose, nasal-spray formulation of ketamine last month for treatment-resistant depression.

Patrik Jonsson, the president of Lilly Bio-Medicines

Who knew? Der­mi­ra’s board kept watch as its stock price tracked Eli Lil­ly’s se­cret bid­ding on a $1.1B buy­out

In just 8 days, from December 6 to December 14, the stock jumped from $7.88 to $12.70 — just under the initial $13 bid. There was no hard news about the company that would explain a rise like that tracking closely to the bid offer, raising the obvious question of whether insider info has leaked out to traders.

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Short at­tack­er Sahm Ad­ran­gi draws crosshairs over a fa­vorite of Sanofi’s new CEO — with PhII da­ta loom­ing

Sahm Adrang Kerrisdale

Kerrisdale chief Sahm Adrangi took a lengthy break from his series of biotech short attacks after his chief analyst in the field pulled up stakes and went solo. But he’s making a return to drug development this morning, drawing crosshairs over a company that’s one of new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s favorite collaborators.

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UP­DAT­ED: Ac­celeron of­fers thumbs up on a PhII suc­cess for would-be block­buster drug — and shares rock­et up

There’s no public data yet, but Acceleron $XLRN says that its first major trial readout of 2020 is a success.

In a Phase II study of 106 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Acceleron’s experimental drug sotatercept hit its primary endpoint: a significant reduction in pulmonary vascular resistance. The drug also met three different secondary endpoints, including the 6-minute walking test.

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Civi­ca and Blue Cross Blue Shield launch new ven­ture to low­er gener­ic prices

Five years after Martin Shkreli put a smug face to the volatile prices companies can charge even for generic drugs, payers and governments are coming up with outside-the-box solutions.

The latest fix is a new venture from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 18 of its members and Civica, the generics company founded in 2018 by hospitals fed up with high prices for drugs that had long-since lost patent protection. While Civica focused on drugs that hospitals purchased, the new company will aim to lower prices on drugs that, like Shkreli’s Daraprim, are purchased by individuals.

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Merck Invests in State-Of-The-Art Biotech Development Facility in Switzerland

Mer­ck KGaA match­es lofty R&D goals with €250M in­vest­ment in­to a new clin­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Switzer­land

As Merck KGaA strives to prove itself as a capable biopharma R&D player, it has begun construction on a €250 million facility dedicated to developing and manufacturing drugs for use in clinical trials.

The German drugmaker chose a location at Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, where it already has a commercial manufacturing site, in order to “bridge together research and manufacturing.”

“This investment in the Merck Biotech Development Center reflects our commitment to speed up the availability of new medicines for patients in need, and confirms the importance of Switzerland as our prime hub for the manufacturing of biotech medicines,” CEO Stefan Oschmann said at the groundbreaking ceremony, according to a statement.

Breast can­cer ap­proval in tow, As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi armed an­ti­body scores in key gas­tric can­cer study

AstraZeneca kicked off Monday with a flurry of good news. Apart from unveiling positive results on its stroke trial testing its clot-fighter Brilinta, and welcoming its experimental IL-23 inhibitor brazikumab back from Allergan — the British drugmaker also disclosed some upbeat gastric cancer data on its HER2-positive oncology therapy it is collaborating on with Daiichi Sankyo.

Buoyed by the performance of its oncology drugs, last March AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot bet big to partner with Daiichi on the cancer drug, with $1.35 billion upfront in a deal worth up to roughly $7 billion. Roughly 8 months later, as 2019 drew to a close, the FDA swiftly approved the drug — trastuzumab deruxtecan — for use in breast cancer, months ahead of the expected decision date.