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.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

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Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Common performs onstage, December 2020 (Getty Images)

Com­mon, Jamie Foxx among celebs stand­ing up for clin­i­cal tri­als in star-stud­ded can­cer group's pan­dem­ic push

Healthcare screenings and clinical trial enrollment were battered by the pandemic. But the well-known celebrity-backed Stand Up To Cancer non-profit, along with pharma and advocacy partners, has been working to reverse that and make up lost ground, by stepping up awareness campaigns.

Twelve campaigns launched in 2020 and another five in 2021 amplify the need for cancer screening and care, especially for underserved communities. While pharma companies have long been donors to the cancer research group, Covid brought new support — and increased awareness efforts.

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Usama Malik

Ex-Im­munomedics CFO charged with in­sid­er trad­ing, faces up to 20 years in prison af­ter al­leged­ly tip­ping off girl­friend and rel­a­tives of a PhI­II suc­cess

The former CFO of Immunomedics, who helped steer the company to its $21 billion buyout by Gilead last year, has been charged with insider trading, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Usama Malik tipped off his then-girlfriend and four others that a Phase III study for Trodelvy would be stopped early four days before Immunomedics publicly announced the result in April 2020, DoJ alleged in its complaint. The individuals then purchased Immunomedics shares, selling them after the news broke and Immunomedics’ stock price doubled.

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Lisa Deschamps, AviadoBio CEO

Ex-No­var­tis busi­ness head hops over to a gene ther­a­py start­up — and she's reeled in $80M for a dash to the clin­ic

Neurologist and King’s College London professor Christopher Shaw has been researching neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and collaborating with drugmakers for the last 25 years in the hopes of pushing new therapies forward. But unfortunately, none of those efforts have come anywhere close to fruition.

“So, you know, after 20 years in the game, I said, ‘Let’s try and do it ourselves,’” he told Endpoints News. 

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen halts some drug dis­counts for safe­ty net hos­pi­tals as SCO­TUS takes on 340B case

Amgen will soon be the 10th biopharma company to pull back on offering drug discounts to contract pharmacies of safety-net hospitals under a federal program. Like its peers, Amgen argues that the growth of these contract pharmacies has ballooned in recent years and needs to be reigned in.

Beginning Jan. 3, 2022, Amgen’s policy will only allow 340B covered hospitals to designate a single pharmacy location, with the exception of federal grantees and contract pharmacies wholly owned by a 340B hospital, or that have common ownership with a health system.

In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

What's fair? New ICER re­port shows pay­ers gen­er­al­ly en­sur­ing fair ac­cess to drugs

The nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review on Wednesday released a new report highlighting the ways in which payers are generally ensuring fair access to prescription drugs, even when based on a set of criteria set by the nonprofit.

While noting the lack of transparency hindered the report’s results, ICER said that the “great majority” of payer policies in the formularies evaluated are structured in a way to support many key elements of how ICER defines “fair access.”