Sen­a­tor Har­ris comes out swing­ing against Alk­er­mes and its CEO, at­tack­ing an opi­oid drug fran­chise

Alk­er­mes has earned a high-pro­file po­lit­i­cal foe on Capi­tol Hill. And the show­down sud­den­ly erupt­ed in­to a high-stakes bat­tle to­day aimed at one of the com­pa­ny’s fran­chise drugs.

Richard Pops

Cal­i­for­nia Sen­a­tor Ka­mala Har­ris to­day came out swing­ing at the Waltham, MA-based com­pa­ny — domi­ciled in Ire­land for tax pur­pos­es. In a let­ter to Alk­er­mes  $ALKS CEO Richard Pops, Har­ris seized on a string of re­ports in The New York Times and else­where claim­ing that Alk­er­mes as­signed sales reps to the courts in an at­tempt to beat the bush­es for big­ger sales of its opi­oid ad­dic­tion drug Viv­it­rol.

The De­mo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tor — some­times men­tioned as a pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial can­di­date — goes on to de­mand in­for­ma­tion on the com­pa­ny’s sales and sales prac­tices, look­ing in­to why its rev­enue has grown 7 times over its 2011 lev­el of $30 mil­lion. And she adds that the cam­paign by Alk­er­mes has caused the sys­tem to over­look “cheap­er and more thor­ough­ly stud­ied treat­ments” that have been “stig­ma­tized and mar­gin­al­ized.”

Alk­er­mes shares are down 4% Mon­day af­ter­noon.

Late Mon­day, Alk­er­mes re­spond­ed to a query from me, dis­agree­ing with Har­ris and tout­ing its “dis­rup­tive ap­proach that chal­lenges the treat­ment sta­tus quo….Alk­er­mes is fo­cused on en­sur­ing that pa­tients, health­care pro­fes­sion­als and crim­i­nal jus­tice of­fi­cials are ed­u­cat­ed on Viv­it­rol and be­lieves that pa­tients should have ac­cess to all med­ica­tions. ”

Har­ris’ at­tack cen­tered on claims that Alk­er­mes has been cash­ing in on the na­tion­wide opi­oid cri­sis, which has claimed thou­sands of lives. And re­peat­ed claims the com­pa­ny en­gaged in an ex­pen­sive lob­by­ing cam­paign to help smooth its path.

Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris

The sen­a­tor wants a laun­dry list of in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing a list of the jails and pris­ons where Alk­er­mes has been hand­ing out sam­ples for free as well as de­tails on the speak­ers’ bu­reau used to pro­mote the ther­a­py.

Pops, a soft-spo­ken phar­ma ex­ec who’s been open­ly crit­i­cal of the way some in­dus­try lead­ers have priced their prod­ucts, would seem to be an un­like­ly sub­ject for this at­tack. But Har­ris al­so en­list­ed some ex­perts in the as­sault.

“Alk­er­mes has tak­en un­eth­i­cal drug pro­mo­tion to new depths by en­list­ing judges, law en­force­ment per­son­nel, and leg­is­la­tors to fa­vor Viv­it­rol over proven treat­ments,” said Adri­ane Fugh-Berman, pro­fes­sor, de­part­ment of phar­ma­col­o­gy and phys­i­ol­o­gy, George­town Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter, in a state­ment. “Alk­er­mes’ ac­tions un­der­mine pub­lic health.”

Alk­er­mes is just the lat­est in a line­up of promi­nent bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies to draw the ire of law­mak­ers and earn the hot seat in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Al­ler­gan CEO Brent Saun­ders has most re­cent­ly held the role of poster child for in­dus­try re­form af­ter en­list­ing a Mo­hawk tribe to help pro­tect its patents on Resta­sis. And they both fol­low My­lan, Marathon and im­pris­oned biotech bad boy Mar­tin Shkre­li, which have drawn claims of price goug­ing.

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

UP­DAT­ED: In a land­mark first glimpse of hu­man da­ta from Ver­tex, CRISPR/Cas9 gene ther­a­py sig­nals ear­ly ben­e­fit

Preliminary data on two patients with blood disorders that have been administered with Vertex and partner CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene-editing therapy suggest the technology is safe and effective, marking the first instance of the benefit of the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology in humans suffering from disease.

Patients in these phase I/II studies give up peripheral blood from which hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells are isolated. The cells are tinkered with using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, and the edited cells — CTX001 — are infused back into the patient via a stem cell transplant. The objective of CTX001 is to fix the errant hemoglobin gene in patents with two blood disorders: beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease, by unleashing the production of fetal hemoglobin.

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UP­DAT­ED: Make that 2 ap­proved RNAi drugs at Al­ny­lam af­ter the FDA of­fers a speedy OK on ul­tra-rare dis­ease drug

Seventeen years into the game, Alnylam’s pivot into commercial operations is picking up speed.
The bellwether biotech $ALNY has nabbed their second FDA OK for an RNAi drug, this time for givosiran, the only therapy now approved for acute hepatic porphyria. This second approval came months ahead of the February deadline — even after winning priority review following their ‘breakthrough’ title earlier.
AHP is an extremely rare disease, with some 3,000 patients in Europe and the US, not all diagnosed, and analysts have projected peak revenue of $600 million to $700 million a year. The drug will be sold as Givlaari.

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David Ricks. Eli Lilly

Eli Lil­ly touts $400M man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pan­sion, 100 new jobs to much fan­fare in In­di­anapo­lis — even though it's been chop­ping staff

Eli Lilly is pouring in $400 million to beef up manufacturing facilities at its home base of Indianapolis. The investment, which was lauded by the city’s mayor, is expected to create 100 new jobs.

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Am­gen chops 172 more staffers in R&D, op­er­a­tions and sales amid neu­ro­science ex­it, rev­enue down­turn

Neuroscience wasn’t the only unit that’s being hit by a reorganization underway at Amgen. As well as axing 149 employees in its Cambridge office, the company has disclosed that 172 others nationwide, including some from its Thousand Oaks, CA headquarters, are being let go.

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Stephen Hahn (via Senate HELP Committee)

Stephen Hahn gets through Sen­ate’s soft­ball job in­ter­view — but most­ly plays dodge­ball on the is­sues fac­ing the FDA

Anyone looking for fresh insights on what kind of FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn will be got precious few clues during Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the nomination.

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Op­di­vo/Yer­voy com­bo for melanoma fails in key pa­tient pop­u­la­tion

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s efforts to expand their checkpoint inhibitor combination have run into another recalcitrant cancer.

The NJ-based pharma announced that a combination of Yervoy and Opdivo didn’t beat out Opdivo alone in patients with resected high-risk melanoma who had very low levels of PD-L1. The drug combo couldn’t improve recurrence-free survival in these post-surgery patients.

Ver­tex's stel­lar quar­ter car­ries on with French re­im­burse­ment deal

Vertex’s golden quarter just got brighter. About a month after the US drugmaker finally clinched a deal with UK authorities to cover its slate of cystic fibrosis (CF) drugs following years of protracted negotiations, the company on Wednesday secured a deal with France for its CF therapy, Orkambi.

After the UK, France has one of the largest CF populations outside the United States. Achieving French reimbursement unlocks an ~7000-patient CF population, around ~2500-3000 of which will likely be eligible to receive (and be reimbursed for) Orkambi, Stifel’s Paul Matteis wrote in a note.

Nello Mainolfi, Kymera via Youtube

Kymera hands the helm to No­var­tis vet — and found­ing CSO — Nel­lo Main­olfi

Kymera Therapeutics is turning to a co-founder to run the company.
The protein degradation specialist with a deep-pocket syndicate behind them has opted to give the helm officially to Nello Mainolfi. The new CEO is a veteran of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research. He joined Atlas Venture in their entrepreneur-in-residence program and helped launch Kymera as the CSO three years ago with Atlas’ Bruce Booth.
The boast at Kymera is that they’re angling to create a new class of protein degraders, a popular field where there’s been a variety of startups. One of its chief advocates is NIBR head Jay Bradner, who launched C4 just ahead of joining Novartis, where he’s also been doing new work in the field.