Sanders, Cum­mings prob­ing FDA’s han­dling of Marathon af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial OK of old steroid for Duchenne MD

Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings (D-MD)

Ver­mont Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders and Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings are tak­ing di­rect aim at the FDA to­day, crit­i­ciz­ing the agency for its red-car­pet treat­ment of Marathon Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals as the bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny wound its way through the reg­u­la­to­ry re­view process, pick­ing up a lu­cra­tive ap­proval to use a cheap, gener­ic steroid as a high-priced brand­ed ther­a­py specif­i­cal­ly for Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy af­ter repack­ag­ing da­ta more than 20 years old.

The FDA has said be­fore that they sim­ply fol­lowed the rules in the way it han­dled this drug, OK’d as Em­flaza. But Sanders and Cum­mings, who has been lead­ing the charge in Con­gress to push Medicare to start ne­go­ti­at­ing drug prices, want to know if the FDA has a plan in mind to guard against com­pa­nies that want to game the sys­tem in search of big and easy prof­its. And they’re ask­ing the FDA for records that could ex­plain Marathon’s treat­ment, while point­ed­ly push­ing reg­u­la­tors to avoid a re­peat.

In ad­di­tion, the let­ter sug­gests that Marathon isn’t done ma­nip­u­lat­ing the sys­tem. The com­pa­ny has al­so ob­tained an or­phan in­di­ca­tion for de­flaza­cort as a treat­ment for pe­di­atric arthri­tis, the law­mak­ers say, putting it on track to po­ten­tial­ly ex­tend its stretch of mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty and en­hance the drug’s fran­chise val­ue.

On Thurs­day morn­ing, though, Marathon an­nounced a sur­prise deal to sell de­flaza­cort to long­time Duchenne play­er PTC Ther­a­peu­tics for $140 mil­lion plus roy­al­ties. And the law­mak­ers may now have to shift their fo­cus as Marathon ex­ecs shun the spot­light. But the con­tro­ver­sy is un­like­ly to end, es­pe­cial­ly as PTC will now come up with a new price which is al­so like­ly to out­rage the Duchenne com­mu­ni­ty. And reg­u­la­tors will have to en­dure some ad­di­tion­al scruti­ny as well.

“A re­view of a num­ber of the doc­u­ments re­lat­ed to the orig­i­nal Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester ap­pli­ca­tion for or­phan drug sta­tus and ear­li­er clin­i­cal tri­als has raised se­ri­ous ques­tions about FDA’s de­ci­sion re­gard­ing Em­flaza….” they write in the let­ter. “The fact that FDA award­ed Marathon a PRV and or­phan drug sta­tus with­out the com­pa­ny con­duct­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­search of its own un­der­mines the goals of these in­cen­tives. What process­es does FDA have in place to en­sure pri­vate com­pa­nies are not ma­nip­u­lat­ing a sys­tem meant to in­cen­tivize re­search for treat­ments of ex­treme­ly vul­ner­a­ble pa­tient pop­u­la­tions?”

What fol­lows is a laun­dry list of ques­tions for act­ing com­mis­sion­er Stephen Os­troff, in­clud­ing:

— Is it stan­dard prac­tice for FDA to re­ly on 20-year-old ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta and, if so, how many times has this hap­pened in the last 15 years?  If this is not a stan­dard prac­tice, is Em­flaza’s ap­proval an ex­cep­tion?

— Did any FDA em­ploy­ees raise any con­cerns about grant­i­ng Marathon the ben­e­fits of or­phan drug sta­tus or a PRV (pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er) for Em­flaza? Please pro­vide copies of mem­os, e-mails, or records of any such cor­re­spon­dence or doc­u­men­ta­tion.

The law­mak­ers’ staff al­so tracked the own­er­ship of the de­flaza­cort da­ta, not­ing that the work was orig­i­nal­ly fund­ed by Mar­i­on Mer­rell Dow, which merged, merged again and even­tu­al­ly wound up un­der the con­trol of Sanofi. From the let­ter:

— Giv­en this lengthy chain, what ev­i­dence did Marathon present to FDA re­gard­ing the in­tegri­ty of the decades-old ef­fi­ca­cy tri­al da­ta?  What in­for­ma­tion does FDA have re­gard­ing how Marathon came to ob­tain the 1995 da­ta?  Did FDA take any steps to ver­i­fy the va­lid­i­ty or in­tegri­ty of the chain of cus­tody of this in­for­ma­tion or ver­i­fy the old da­ta?  Please ex­plain.

The law­mak­ers picked over a string of sto­ries on the is­sue, in­clud­ing ar­ti­cles I’ve writ­ten about the es­ti­mat­ed price of de­vel­op­ment and more.

So far, most of the heat gen­er­at­ed by the con­tro­ver­sy over Marathon’s de­flaza­cort ap­proval has been di­rect­ed at the com­pa­ny and its CEO, Jeff Aronin. Sanders, an out­spo­ken crit­ic of the phar­ma in­dus­try’s pric­ing prac­tices, is spear­head­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of at­tack to­day aimed at reg­u­la­tors who hand­ed Marathon every plum a de­vel­op­er could want. And he’s clear­ly wrapped it in the kind of barbed lan­guage that would make it less like­ly for reg­u­la­tors to do it again, for an­oth­er com­pa­ny.

The sto­ry about Marathon and its cam­paign on de­flaza­cort has trig­gered a hot-tem­pered re­sponse among a va­ri­ety of De­mo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers who see this as yet an­oth­er ex­am­ple of the kind of price goug­ing that a grow­ing list of bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies have en­gaged in. And this one is a stand­out.

De­flaza­cort is an old steroid that’s sold out­side the US for rheuma­toid arthri­tis and all the usu­al af­flic­tions as­so­ci­at­ed with steroid use. A num­ber of par­ents in the US have been buy­ing it from a UK sup­pli­er for about $1,000 a year, sat­is­fied that it’s the best choice for strength­en­ing chil­dren crip­pled and even­tu­al­ly killed by Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy, par­tic­u­lar­ly as it’s linked to less weight gain than ri­vals.

Marathon, though, priced de­flaza­cort at $89,000 a year af­ter the FDA ap­proved it, trig­ger­ing a tem­pest in the Duchenne com­mu­ni­ty. The com­pa­ny main­tained that it did the “heavy lift­ing” re­quired for a US ap­proval, cit­ing its re­search pro­gram and vow­ing that they would need years of sales to re­coup their in­vest­ment. But the tri­al ex­perts we talked to came up with de­vel­op­ment bud­gets that would make this drug quick­ly prof­itable, even with just a frac­tion of the mar­ket.

Along the way, the FDA re­ward­ed Marathon with some ma­jor ad­van­tages. There was an or­phan des­ig­na­tion, which comes with sev­en years of mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty. There was al­so a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er which can now be sold for more than $100 mil­lion — the vouch­ers, which can cut four months off of any drug re­view, have fetched as much as $350 mil­lion — which could eas­i­ly be enough to pay for the en­tire de­vel­op­ment pro­gram by it­self.

The out­cry has forced Marathon to pull back, at least tem­porar­i­ly paus­ing the launch of de­flaza­cort while talk­ing it over with mem­bers of the close­ly-knit Duchenne com­mu­ni­ty. It’s un­like­ly, though, that it can come up with a price like­ly to sat­is­fy par­ents al­ready pay­ing a dis­count price for over­seas sup­plies.

The FDA in the past has said that it han­dled this case as it would any oth­er, guid­ed by the rules laid out by Con­gress. Sanders, though, says the FDA got played, and he wants it to stop.

Pres­i­dent Trump re­cent­ly named Scott Got­tlieb as the head of the FDA. And if he gets the Sen­ate nod, as ex­pect­ed, he can set­tle in with a con­tro­ver­sy sit­ting on his desk.

2019 Trin­i­ty Drug In­dex Eval­u­ates Ac­tu­al Com­mer­cial Per­for­mance of Nov­el Drugs Ap­proved in 2016

Fewer Approvals, but Neurology Rivals Oncology and Sees Major Innovations

This report, the fourth in our Trinity Drug Index series, outlines key themes and emerging trends in the industry as we progress towards a new world of targeted and innovative products. It provides a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of novel drugs approved by the FDA in 2016, scoring each on its commercial performance, therapeutic value, and R&D investment (Table 1: Drug ranking – Ratings on a 1-5 scale).

How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Aymeric Le Chatelier, Ipsen

A $1B-plus drug stum­bles in­to an­oth­er big PhI­II set­back -- this time flunk­ing fu­til­i­ty test -- as FDA hold re­mains in ef­fect for Ipsen

David Meek

At the time Ipsen stepped up last year with more than a billion dollars in cash to buy Clementia and a late-stage program for a rare bone disease that afflicts children, then CEO David Meek was confident that he had put the French biotech on a short path to a mid-2020 launch.

Instead of prepping a launch, though, the company was hit with a hold on the FDA’s concerns that a therapy designed to prevent overgrowth of bone for cases of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva might actually stunt children’s growth. So they ordered a halt to any treatments for kids 14 and under. Meek left soon after to run a startup in Boston. And today the Paris-based biotech is grappling with the independent monitoring committee’s decision that their Phase III had failed a futility test.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 70,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Roche's check­point play­er Tecen­triq flops in an­oth­er blad­der can­cer sub­set

Just weeks after Merck’s star checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda secured FDA approval for a subset of bladder cancer patients, Swiss competitor Roche’s Tecentriq has failed in a pivotal bladder cancer study.

The 809-patient trial — IMvigor010 — tested the PD-L1 drug in patients with muscle-invasive urothelial cancer (MIUC) who had undergone surgery, and were at high risk for recurrence.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 70,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Eli Lil­ly’s $1.6B can­cer drug failed to spark even the slight­est pos­i­tive gain for pa­tients in its 1st PhI­II

Eli Lilly had high hopes for its pegylated IL-10 drug pegilodecakin when it bought Armo last year for $1.6 billion in cash. But after reporting a few months ago that it had failed a Phase III in pancreatic cancer, without the data, its likely value has plunged. And now we’re getting some exact data that underscore just how little positive effect it had.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 70,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: FDA’s golodirsen CRL: Sarep­ta’s Duchenne drugs are dan­ger­ous to pa­tients, of­fer­ing on­ly a small ben­e­fit. And where's that con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al?

Back last summer, Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram told Duchenne MD families and investors that the FDA’s shock rejection of their second Duchenne MD drug golodirsen was due to some concerns regulators raised about the risk of infection and the possibility of kidney toxicity. But when pressed to release the letter for all to see, he declined, according to a report from BioPharmaDive, saying that kind of move “might not look like we’re being as respectful as we’d like to be.”

He went on to assure everyone that he hadn’t misrepresented the CRL.

But Ingram’s public remarks didn’t include everything in the letter, which — following the FDA’s surprise about-face and unexplained approval — has now been posted on the FDA’s website and broadly circulated on Twitter early Wednesday.

The CRL raises plenty of fresh questions about why the FDA abruptly decided to reverse itself and hand out an OK for a drug a senior regulator at the FDA believed — 5 months ago, when he wrote the letter — is dangerous to patients. It also puts the spotlight back on Sarepta $SRPT, which failed to launch a confirmatory study of eteplirsen, which was only approved after a heated internal controversy at the FDA. Ellis Unger, director of CDER’s Office of Drug Evaluation I, notes that study could have clarified quite a lot about the benefit and risks associated with their drugs — which can cost as much as a million dollars per patient per year, depending on weight.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 70,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Gilead dusts off a failed Ebo­la drug as coro­n­avirus spreads; Ex­elix­is boasts pos­i­tive Ph I/II da­ta

→ Less than a year ago Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir failed to make the cut as investigators considered a raft of potential drugs that could be used against an Ebola outbreak. But it may gain a new mission with the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, which is popping up now around the world.

Gilead put out a statement saying that they’re now in discussions with health officials in the US and China about testing their NUC against the virus. It’s the latest in a growing lineup of biopharma companies that are marshaling R&D forces to see if they can come up with a vaccine or therapy to blunt the spread of the virus, which has now sickened hundreds, killed at least 17 people and led the Chinese government to start quarantining cities.

Alex Karnal (Deerfield)

Deer­field vaults to the top of cell and gene ther­a­py CD­MO game with $1.1B fa­cil­i­ty at Philadel­phi­a's newest bio­phar­ma hub

Back at the beginning of 2015, Deerfield Management co-led a $10 million Series C for a private gene therapy startup, reshaping the company and bringing in new leaders to pave way for an IPO just a year later.

Fast forward four more years and the startup, AveXis, is now a subsidiary of Novartis marketing the second-ever gene therapy to be approved in the US.

For its part, Deerfield has also grown more comfortable and ambitious about the nascent field. And the investment firm is now putting down its biggest bet yet: a $1.1 billion contract development and manufacturing facility to produce everything one needs for cell and gene therapy — faster and better than how it’s currently done.

Tri­fec­ta of sick­le cell dis­ease ther­a­pies ex­tend life ex­pectan­cy, but are not cost-ef­fec­tive — ICER

Different therapeutic traits brandished by the three approved therapies for sickle cell disease all extend life expectancy, but their impact on quality of life is uncertain and their long-term cost-effectiveness is not up to scratch according to the thresholds considered reasonable by ICER, the non-profit concluded in a draft guidance report on Thursday.

Sickle cell disease (SCD), which encompasses a group of inherited red blood cell disorders that typically afflict those of African ancestry, impacts hemoglobin — and is characterized by episodes of searing pain as well as organ damage.