How much is your vi­sion worth? Spark CEO Jeff Mar­raz­zo has a price in mind

Just how much is your vi­sion worth?

That’s the bil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion at Spark Ther­a­peu­tics now as the FDA winds up with an odds-on ap­proval for its gene ther­a­py used to fix a rare form of in­her­it­ed blind­ness called RPE65-me­di­at­ed reti­nal dy­s­tro­phy.

Jeff Mar­raz­zo

It’s ver­boten in bio­phar­ma for CEOs to dis­cuss hard prices ahead of an ap­proval, but Spark $ONCE CEO Jeff Mar­raz­zo has been do­ing the math on the eco­nom­ic val­ue of vi­sion, and came up with a sub­stan­tial 7-fig­ure num­ber: $1 mil­lion-plus for Lux­tur­na.

“While it is not our in­ten­tion to­day to guide you with the po­ten­tial price if it is ap­proved, we are en­cour­aged that by mod­el­ing rea­son­able as­sump­tions about the im­pact of Lux­tur­na on these types of in­di­rect costs, as well as on qual­i­ty of life and di­rect med­ical cost over a pa­tient’s life­time that there is sup­port for the val­ue of the ther­a­py in ex­cess of $1 mil­lion per pa­tient,” he said dur­ing Spark’s Q3 call with an­a­lysts on Tues­day.

Mar­raz­zo then care­ful­ly walked through the eco­nom­ic ar­gu­ment for a price that could land the com­pa­ny’s lead treat­ment right at the top of the list of the 10 most ex­pen­sive ther­a­pies on the plan­et.

There are sev­er­al fac­tors to con­sid­er in eval­u­at­ing their ther­a­py’s price, Mar­raz­zo said. Start with the val­ue of a job, some­thing 70% of the blind in the US don’t have. There’s the cost of a care­giv­er for blind chil­dren, of­ten a par­ent who can’t work. And there are state court de­ci­sions that place the val­ue of sight for plain­tiffs at more than $1 mil­lion.

Spark’s move here is cru­cial for the en­tire gene ther­a­py field. This is the first such treat­ment to reach the thresh­old of an FDA ap­proval, and its mar­ket­ing plan will in­flu­ence the mar­ket val­u­a­tion of every biotech in the field. And while a cou­ple of gene ther­a­pies have been sanc­tioned in Eu­rope, they’ve on­ly been rarely used, falling well short of the kind of com­mer­cial suc­cess need­ed for a vi­able mar­ket­ing ef­fort.

Over the last year there have been a va­ri­ety of wide-rang­ing dis­cus­sions about the com­ing price dis­cus­sion on gene ther­a­pies. Some have sug­gest­ed that the man­u­fac­tur­ers should spread the price over a pe­ri­od of time, to make it eas­i­er to cov­er or lim­it the price if the gene ther­a­py’s ef­fect waned over time.

Mar­raz­zo, for his part, says re­im­burse­ment rules in the US make such spread out pay­ments vir­tu­al­ly im­pos­si­ble, sug­gest­ing that Spark will wind up with a 7-fig­ure stick­er that gets paid on de­liv­ery. While he says that the fi­nal price has yet to be nailed down, at this stage of the game it’s more than like­ly that Spark has a hard price in mind for the roll­out to come soon.

And the CEO just made a block­buster eco­nom­ic case for Lux­tur­na.

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Civil and criminal sanctions were being discussed, the agency noted in a rare broadside at one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Notable lawmakers cheered the angry regulators on, urging the FDA to make an example of Novartis, which fielded Zolgensma at $2.1 million — the current record for a one-off therapy.

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Following in the footsteps of a lineup of big players like Eli Lilly — which has suspended patient recruitment for drug studies — Amgen and GSK have opted to take a more tailored approach. Amgen is intent on circling the wagons around key studies that are already fully enrolled, and GSK has the red light on new studies while the pandemic plays out.

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Amarin had been fighting to keep key patents under lock and key — and away from generic rivals — for another 10 years, but District Court Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas ruled against the biotech. She ruled that:
(A)ll the Asserted Claims are invalid as obvious under 35 U.S.C.§ 103. Thus, the Court finds in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s remaining infringementclaim, and in their favor on their counterclaims asserting the invalidity of the AssertedClaims under 35 U.S.C. § 103.

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That kind of accelerated timeline would fall on the fast side of NIAID director Anthony Fauci’s well-publicized prediction that it would be another 12 to 18 months before a vaccine can be available for public use. A Phase I trial of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine began two weeks ago, and both the biotech and fellow mRNA player CureVac have discussed similar, if not even faster, timelines for emergency use among healthcare workers.

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Can a pair of top AveX­is alum­ni steer a new gene ther­a­py up­start to R&D glo­ry? 3 VCs bet $60M on it

VCs love few things more than a proven executive team when it comes to launching a new company. And now a group of A-listers has turned to a pair of top execs out of AveXis to steer the latest gene therapy player into the clinic.

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When Pieter van der Meer started raising the capital for Gilde Healthcare’s fifth fund in the waning months of 2019, he had his eyes on a different chain of events that could change the healthcare system and perhaps even play to his firm’s advantage: The US presidential election.

Since raising their third fund in 2011, the 34-year-old Dutch firm had focused on value-based care. They chose late-stage biotechs that came up with new devices and delivery systems for de-risked established compounds, and when they chose preclinical biotechs, they spoke with potential pharma partners, payers and regulators to ask where and at what prices the drug made sense. As the Democratic primary became a contest over how to lower healthcare costs, it looked like a strategy that could pay off.

Daniel O'Day (AP Images)

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