WATCH: Scott Got­tlieb vows to shake up the FDA, back­ing a trend to­ward faster drug de­vel­op­ment

FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb has sound­ed a crys­tal clear warn­ing over the high — and grow­ing — cost of drug de­vel­op­ment. And in a speech to reg­u­la­to­ry ex­ecs on Mon­day, Got­tlieb com­mit­ted the FDA to back­ing up more ef­fi­cient drug de­vel­op­ment pro­grams with new mea­sures to clear the reg­u­la­to­ry path for de­vel­op­ers bar­rel­ing ahead to rel­a­tive­ly swift piv­otal da­ta in search of an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK.

Got­tlieb start­ed by out­lin­ing a bleak pic­ture in drug R&D, not­ing that the eco­nom­ic mod­el for drug de­vel­op­ment is bro­ken. It costs too much to de­vel­op a drug so it can be ap­proved for mar­ket­ing. And costs are swelling fast at the dis­cov­ery end of the busi­ness, which will help swamp a sys­tem that al­ready doesn’t work par­tic­u­lar­ly well.

As he has in the past, Got­tlieb held up some of the rapid-fire clin­i­cal tri­als we’ve been see­ing in the can­cer field as a mod­el for what can work, paving the way to the ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval path­way at the FDA. And he be­lieves — though there is pre­cious lit­tle ev­i­dence to back it up — that mov­ing drug de­vel­op­ment in­to the fast lane can re­duce R&D costs and there­by al­low bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies to pass on sav­ings to pa­tients through low­er costs.

To help de­vel­op­ers, Got­tlieb vowed that the FDA, through CDER chief Janet Wood­cock and the Of­fice of New Drugs, will adapt the reg­u­la­to­ry path­way to en­able drug de­vel­op­ment at a more mod­er­ate cost.

Said Got­tlieb:

Com­pa­ra­ble reg­u­la­to­ry mile­stones need to be built in­to the new seam­less clin­i­cal tri­al process. We need to en­sure we pro­vide com­pa­ra­ble in­ter­ac­tions and over­sight.

He al­so not­ed that as de­vel­op­ers move to­ward faster, seam­less stud­ies — drop­ping the tra­di­tion­al Phase I through Phase III de­vel­op­ment plan — reg­u­la­tors al­so need to up­date pa­tients’ aware­ness of the risks in­volved in pro­vid­ing their con­sent for par­tic­i­pat­ing in these stud­ies.


Watch Got­tlieb’s speech and Q&A

Cred­it: RAPS


Here are some ex­cerpts from the speech, start­ing with an out­line of the trend to­ward a sin­gle de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for new drugs.

Ow­ing in part to these lead­er­ship ef­forts, we’ve seen more spon­sors de­vel­op on­col­o­gy drugs that for­go the con­ven­tion­al three se­quen­tial phas­es of drug de­vel­op­ment. They opt in­stead for seam­less ap­proach­es. Un­der these tri­al de­signs, they’ll typ­i­cal­ly add co­horts to a first-in-hu­man tri­al to in­ves­ti­gate dos­es and ac­tiv­i­ty in a va­ri­ety of can­cers.

We’ve seen ex­am­ples where this ap­proach has al­lowed the rapid de­vel­op­ment of drugs in mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent tu­mor types. If we had to stop and start for­mal Phase II tri­als in each dif­fer­ent or­gan sys­tem where a can­cer arose, it could have been a pro­tract­ed process. This ap­proach is well suit­ed to the kinds of drugs that are be­ing de­vel­oped now, where drugs in­ter­vene on com­mon el­e­ments found across mul­ti­ple kinds of dis­ease states. At FDA, we’ve iden­ti­fied more than 40 ac­tive com­mer­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al new drug ap­pli­ca­tions for large first-in-hu­man on­col­o­gy tri­als alone that use these seam­less strate­gies.

Got­tlieb al­so talked about us­ing broad pro­to­cols that al­low de­vel­op­ers to tack­le mul­ti­ple tar­gets at once.

We’re al­so ad­vanc­ing the use of ‘Mas­ter Pro­to­cols’ to en­able more co­or­di­nat­ed ways to use the same tri­al struc­ture to eval­u­ate treat­ments in more than one sub­type of a dis­ease or type of pa­tient.

This ap­proach is par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant when it comes to tar­get­ed drugs. These are drugs that may in­ter­vene on mark­ers that are rel­e­vant across many dif­fer­ent dis­ease sub­types. We may, for ex­am­ple, want to eval­u­ate these dif­fer­ent tar­gets si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, as part of one large study. This could give us a bet­ter way to un­der­stand the com­par­a­tive ben­e­fits of a drug across dif­fer­ent set­tings. To en­able these mas­ter pro­to­cols, it’s of­ten im­por­tant to do mol­e­c­u­lar pa­tient screen­ing. This can lead to the de­vel­op­ment of a di­ag­nos­tic that can al­so be used to guide pa­tient care.

Got­tlieb out­lined plans to in­vest more of the FDA’s mon­ey in new tech­nol­o­gy that can as­sist this faster/bet­ter/cheap­er ap­proach to drug de­vel­op­ment.

On the sec­ond point that I want­ed to high­light to­day, we’re al­so tak­ing new steps to mod­ern­ize how spon­sors can eval­u­ate clin­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, and how FDA re­views this da­ta as part of our reg­u­la­to­ry process.

This starts with bet­ter use of more ad­vanced com­put­ing tools, and more so­phis­ti­cat­ed sta­tis­ti­cal and com­pu­ta­tion­al method­olo­gies, as part of the drug de­vel­op­ment and the drug re­view process. This in­cludes more wide­spread use of mod­el­ing and sim­u­la­tion, and high per­for­mance com­put­ing clus­ters in­side FDA.

FDA al­ready has high per­for­mance com­put­ing clus­ters. These tools help us de­vel­op more so­phis­ti­cat­ed meth­ods for eval­u­at­ing the da­ta that’s sub­mit­ted to us from clin­i­cal tri­als. The com­put­ing tools al­so en­able us to prop­er­ly eval­u­ate the more so­phis­ti­cat­ed com­po­nents that are sub­mit­ted to us as part of prod­uct re­view ap­pli­ca­tions.

Got­tlieb al­so talked about shak­ing up the R&D ap­proach to some spe­cif­ic dis­eases that have proved par­tic­u­lar­ly hard to deal with.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, to bet­ter de­lin­eate how we’re go­ing to ap­proach the over­all de­vel­op­ment and eval­u­a­tion of drugs tar­get­ed to cer­tain un­met med­ical needs, we plan to be­gin work on at least ten new dis­ease-spe­cif­ic guid­ance doc­u­ments over the next year. Some of these doc­u­ments are al­ready un­der­way. Among the dis­eases we’re tar­get­ing are ar­eas of sig­nif­i­cant un­met need like Amy­otroph­ic Lat­er­al Scle­ro­sis (ALS).

Re­vamp­ing the eco­nom­ics of drug R&D is no sim­ple task.

The on­col­o­gy field has been able to move far­ther and faster than oth­er dis­ease fields due to its abil­i­ty to test new drugs on pa­tients with ad­vanced dis­ease and dwin­dling hope of sur­vival. So it won’t be easy to trans­late that same ap­proach to mass mar­ket dis­eases like di­a­betes and car­dio, where mil­lions are treat­ed for years for chron­ic dis­ease.

An­oth­er big ques­tion is whether bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies will ac­tu­al­ly pass along any sav­ings they get from a more ef­fi­cient de­vel­op­ment path­way to pay­ers and con­sumers. The en­tire in­dus­try has been tip­ping more and more of its de­vel­op­ment dol­lars to can­cer in part be­cause of the big re­wards that come from fast ap­provals. And the FDA has no con­trol what­so­ev­er over the fi­nal price drug de­vel­op­ers use for their new drugs.

BY­OD Best Prac­tices: How Mo­bile De­vice Strat­e­gy Leads to More Pa­tient-Cen­tric Clin­i­cal Tri­als

Some of the most time- and cost-consuming components of clinical research center on gathering, analyzing, and reporting data. To improve efficiency, many clinical trial sponsors have shifted to electronic clinical outcome assessments (eCOA), including electronic patient-reported outcome (ePRO) tools.

In most cases, patients enter data using apps installed on provisioned devices. At a time when 81% of Americans own a smartphone, why not use the device they rely on every day?

Image: Shutterstock

Eli Lil­ly asks FDA to re­voke EUA for Covid-19 treat­ment

Eli Lilly on Friday requested that the FDA revoke the emergency authorization for its Covid-19 drug bamlanivimab, which is no longer as effective as a combo therapy because of a rise in coronavirus variants across the US.

“With the growing prevalence of variants in the U.S. that bamlanivimab alone may not fully neutralize, and with sufficient supply of etesevimab, we believe now is the right time to complete our planned transition and focus on the administration of these two neutralizing antibodies together,” Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s CSO, said in a statement.

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As­traZeneca-Alex­ion merg­er slides through FTC re­view af­ter sup­posed M&A crack­down pos­es no bar­ri­ers

The AstraZeneca-Alexion megamerger received a good sign Friday, despite warning signs of the tides turning against large M&A pharma deals.

US regulators at the FTC have cleared the acquisition for approval, AstraZeneca announced, all but signing off on the deal to go through once it officially closes in the third quarter. AstraZeneca originally said it was planning to buy out Alexion back in December for $39 billion.

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J&J faces CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee again next week to weigh Covid-19 vac­cine risks

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices punted earlier this week on deciding whether or not to recommend lifting a pause on the administration of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine, but the committee will meet again in an emergency session next Friday to discuss the safety issues further.

The timing of the meeting likely means that the J&J vaccine will not return to the US market before the end of next week as the FDA looks to work hand-in-hand with the CDC to ensure the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks for all age groups.

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David Stack, Pacira Biosciences CEO

In high­ly un­usu­al move, Paci­ra sues med­ical jour­nal for li­bel over its non-opi­oid painkiller

A New Jersey biotech whose only approved drug is used as a painkiller after surgeries is suing a scientific journal, its editors and a handful of authors for libel after the publication printed numerous papers and editorials that the company says discredited the drug.

Pacira Biosciences filed the complaint against the American Society of Anesthesiologists in the US District Court for New Jersey on Wednesday afternoon. A February issue of the group’s journal Anesthesiology printed three articles and other content full of “bias” that “seriously disparaged” the drug Exparel, Pacira claimed.

Osman Kibar (Samumed, now Biosplice)

Os­man Kibar lays down his hand at Sa­mumed, step­ping away from CEO role as his once-her­ald­ed an­ti-ag­ing biotech re­brands

Samumed made quite the entrance back in 2016, when it launched with some anti-aging programs and a whopping $12 billion valuation. That level of fanfare was nowhere to be found on Thursday, when the company added another $120 million to its coffers and quietly changed its name to Biosplice Therapeutics.

Why the sudden rebrand?

“We did that for obvious reasons,” CFO and CBO Erich Horsley told Endpoints News. “The name Biosplice echoes our science much more than Samumed does.”

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Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view: Pe­ter Marks on why full Covid-19 vac­cine ap­provals could be just months away

Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, took time out of his busy schedule last Friday to discuss with Endpoints News all things related to his work regulating vaccines and the pandemic.

Marks, who quietly coined the name “Operation Warp Speed” before deciding to stick with his work regulating vaccines at the FDA rather than join the Trump-era program, has been the face of vaccine regulation for the FDA throughout the pandemic, and is usually spotted in Zoom meetings seated in front of his wife’s paintings.

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Near­ly a year af­ter Au­den­tes' gene ther­a­py deaths, the tri­al con­tin­ues. What hap­pened re­mains a mys­tery

Natalie Holles was five months into her tenure as Audentes CEO and working to smooth out a $3 billion merger when the world crashed in.

Holles and her team received word on the morning of May 5 that, hours before, a patient died in a trial for their lead gene therapy. They went into triage mode, alerting the FDA, calling trial investigators to begin to understand what happened, and, the next day, writing a letter to alert the patient community so they would be the first to know. “We wanted to be as forthright and transparent as possible,” Holles told me late last month.

The brief letter noted two other patients also suffered severe reactions after receiving a high dose of the therapy and were undergoing treatment. One died a month and a half later, at which point news of the deaths became public, jolting an emergent gene therapy field and raising questions about the safety of the high doses Audentes and others were now using. The third patient died in August.

“It was deeply saddening,” Holles said. “But I was — we were — resolute and determined to understand what happened and learn from it and get back on track.”

Eleven months have now passed since the first death and the therapy, a potential cure for a rare and fatal muscle-wasting disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy, is back on track, the FDA having cleared the company to resume dosing at a lower level. Audentes itself is no more; last month, Japanese pharma giant Astellas announced it had completed working out the kinks of the $3 billion merger and had restructured and rebranded the subsidiary as Astellas Gene Therapies. Holles, having successfully steered both efforts, departed.

Still, questions about precisely what led to the deaths of the 3 boys still linger. Trial investigators released key details about the case last August and December, pointing to a biological landmine that Audentes could not have seen coming — a moment of profound medical misfortune. In an emerging field that’s promised cures for devastating diseases but also seen its share of safety setbacks, the cases provided a cautionary tale.

Audentes “contributed in a positive way by giving a painful but important example for others to look at and learn from,” Terry Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and editor of the journal Human Gene Therapy, told me. “I can’t see anything they did wrong.”

Yet some researchers say they’re still waiting on Astellas to release more data. The company has yet to publish a full paper detailing what happened, nor have they indicated that they will. In the meantime, it remains unclear what triggered the events and how to prevent them in the future.

“Since Audentes was the first one and we don’t have additional information, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, flying around, waiting to figure out how to land our vehicles,” said Jude Samulski, professor of pharmacology at UNC’s Gene Therapy Center and CSO of the gene therapy biotech AskBio, now a subsidiary of Bayer.

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Pascal Soriot (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Af­ter be­ing goad­ed to sell the com­pa­ny, Alex­ion's CEO set some am­bi­tious new goals for in­vestors. Then Pas­cal So­ri­ot came call­ing

Back in the spring of 2020, Alexion $ALXN CEO Ludwig Hantson was under considerable pressure to perform and had been for months. Elliott Advisers had been applying some high public heat on the biotech’s numbers. And in reaching out to some major stockholders, one thread of advice came through loud and clear: Sell the company or do something dramatic to change the narrative.

In the words of the rather dry SEC filing that offers a detailed backgrounder on the buyout deal, Alexion stated: ‘During the summer and fall of 2020, Alexion also continued to engage with its stockholders, and in these interactions, several stockholders encouraged the company to explore strategic alternatives.’

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