Step­ping in­to the pric­ing de­bate, FDA chief Scott Got­tlieb pro­pos­es new re­im­burse­ment idea for an­tibi­otics

Scott Got­tlieb

In an at­tempt to make good on its promise to tack­le the su­per­bug prob­lem, the FDA trot­ted out a new idea to­day that it hopes will ad­dress the re­im­burse­ment catch-22 in­her­ent in the in­dus­try. Their idea? Treat drugs like soft­ware, hav­ing hos­pi­tals buy li­cens­es to an­tibi­otics in­stead of re­im­burs­ing on a per-use ba­sis.

Let’s set aside, for the mo­ment, that pric­ing is typ­i­cal­ly not a top­ic the FDA likes to weigh in on. Af­ter all, drug pric­ing is not un­der FDA’s di­rect purview and would re­quire some in­ter-agency col­lab­o­ra­tion with the likes of CMS. But wor­ries around the pace of in­no­va­tion in an­tibi­otics and oth­er an­timi­cro­bial drugs ap­pear to be dri­ving the FDA to ac­tion.

Brent Ahrens

In the agency’s state­ment Tues­day, FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb ar­gued that the cur­rent drug re­im­burse­ment mod­el isn’t con­ducive to an­tibi­otics R&D. The more an­tibi­otics a physi­cian pre­scribes, the more mon­ey the drug­mak­er earns. But that’s a prob­lem con­sid­er­ing a grow­ing ef­fort to scale back the use of an­timi­cro­bials.

“When such drugs be­come avail­able, we try to use them spar­ing­ly, lest pathogens be­come over-ex­posed to a new mech­a­nism of at­tack and de­vel­op re­sis­tance to it,” Got­tlieb wrote. “So, providers have im­posed un­der­stand­able re­stric­tions on the use of such drugs. While this rep­re­sents re­spon­si­ble stew­ard­ship, it al­so means that a nov­el an­tibi­ot­ic may have a very lim­it­ed mar­ket. If prod­uct de­vel­op­ers know that they will not be able to re­coup their in­vest­ments, there may be re­duced in­cen­tive to in­vest the sig­nif­i­cant mon­ey need­ed to dis­cov­er and de­vel­op such a drug.”

Brent Ahrens, a Canaan part­ner with a long his­to­ry back­ing an­tibi­otics mak­ers like Iterum and Du­ra­ta, said so-called “ef­fec­tive stew­ard­ship” of these drugs is se­ri­ous­ly af­fect­ing ROI in this field.

“If one were to look at the launch­es of the last sev­er­al an­tibi­otics — or some of the ac­qui­si­tions done — very few have done well over the past 15 years,” Ahrens said. “All of that is re­lat­ed to stew­ard­ship and the price point. The in­cen­tive for us to do this just falls apart.”

Jeff Stein

Un­der the FDA’s new idea for re­im­burse­ment, hos­pi­tals and oth­er care fa­cil­i­ties could be re­im­bursed for li­cens­es to an­timi­cro­bials rather than a per-use ba­sis. With­in this mod­el, the hos­pi­tal sys­tems would pay a fixed li­cens­ing fee for ac­cess to the drug, which would of­fer them the right to use a cer­tain num­ber of an­nu­al dos­es.

“This is sim­i­lar to the way that soft­ware of­ten gets re­im­bursed, where in­sti­tu­tions pay a li­cens­ing fee for a fixed num­ber of in­stal­la­tions,” Got­tlieb’s state­ment reads. “We have been speak­ing with our coun­ter­parts at CMS as to whether such an ap­proach is fea­si­ble, whether it can be for­mu­lat­ed as a demon­stra­tion, and as a demon­stra­tion, whether it would have the in­tend­ed pub­lic health ben­e­fits.”

The FDA hopes that such a mod­el would pro­vide a pre­dictable re­turn on in­vest­ment and rev­enue stream for drug­mak­ers. It would al­so put the in­sti­tu­tions ful­ly in charge of stew­ard­ship of the meds.

Jeff Stein, the CEO and pres­i­dent of clin­i­cal-stage an­tibi­otics mak­er Cidara, tells me it’s en­cour­ag­ing to see the FDA tack­le the prob­lem, but he does won­der if the idea would work for hos­pi­tals.

“The ques­tion is — would hos­pi­tals em­brace it?” Stein said. “Will they be will­ing to pay for a drug up­front for a lim­it­ed num­ber of pa­tients?”

Ahrens said he’s al­so skep­ti­cal about how that would play out.

“Hos­pi­tals are re­luc­tant to pay for any­thing — un­der­stand­ably so — and it’s chal­leng­ing get­ting new prod­ucts in a hos­pi­tal,” Ahrens said. Pay­ing a larg­er sum up­front — when there are low-cost op­tions al­ready avail­able — may be a tough sell to acute care fa­cil­i­ties.

Still, both Ahrens and Stein are hap­py to see the FDA take on the re­im­burse­ment chal­lenge, as both con­sid­er it the biggest is­sue fac­ing the space. In­cen­tive pro­grams like QIDP and oth­ers stem­ming from the GAIN act have helped to fu­el in­no­va­tion in the in­dus­try over the past few years, but if com­pa­nies — and in­vestors — don’t get paid for their ef­forts, the space could slow its ef­forts, they said.

“I’d hate to see a cycli­cal ef­fect,” Ahrens said. “But with­out bet­ter re­im­burse­ment, there just won’t be a lot of new de­vel­op­ment.”

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IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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Bayer $BAY made much of the fact that they were going all-in on gene editing when they did their deal 3 years ago with CRISPR Therapeutics, which pitched $35 million in on their end. This was the cornerstone of their plan to set up new JVs that could make some serious leap forwards in hot new R&D spaces. Now CRISPR will have full management control of Casebia as they pursue programs in hemophilia, ophthalmology and autoimmune diseases.
Samarth Kulkarni, the CEO at CRISPR, made it sound like a natural progression.

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The biologic targets interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-23 cytokines, which are known to play a key role in inflammatory and immune responses. Stelara, which generated about $4.7 billion in the first nine months of 2019, is a key player in the crowded marketplace of drugs to treat autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. AbbVie’s star therapy, Humira, continues to dominate, despite its looming patent cliff in the United States, while others including J&J’s $JNJ own anti-IL23 Tremfya, Lilly’s $LLY anti-IL-17 Taltz and AbbVie’s $ABBV recently approved anti-IL-23 antibody Skyrizi carve out a slice of market share.

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→ Hours before the first federal opioid trial was set to begin, three drug distributors and an opioid manufacturer agreed to a $260 million agreement settlement, the Wall Street Journal was the first to report. The deal — which will see McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen pay $215 million to Summit and Cuyahoga counties, and Teva deal out $35 million in cash and addiction treatments — does not resolve the pending, nationwide litigation that may result in a settlement worth upwards of $40 billion. Negotiators in that case, brought by 2,300 tribes, counties and cities nationwide and led by several states’ attorneys general, worked through much of Friday without success. Josh Stein, the attorney general for North Carolina, said they were trying to put together a $48 billion deal.

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Close to 3 years after Opko tried to defend itself as shares tumbled on the news that its long-acting growth hormone had failed to outperform a placebo, the Pfizer partner $PFE is back. And this time they’re pitching Phase III data that demonstrate their drug is non-inferior — or maybe a tad better — than their well-known but fading standard in the field.
The comparator drug here is Genotropin, which earned a marginal $142 million for Pfizer last year — down 9% from the year before. Approved 24 years ago, biosimilars are now in development that Pfizer would like to stay out in front of. The market leader here is Norditropin, a growth hormone from Novo Nordisk that uses the same basic ingredient as Genotropin, which the Danish company sells with a kid-friendly self-injectable pen. That would also present some big competition if the new therapy from Opko/Pfizer makes it to the market.
The new data, says researchers, underscore that a weekly injection of somatrogon performed as well or slightly better than Genotropin (somatropin) in young children with growth hormone deficiency. Investigators tracked height velocity at 10.12 cm/year, edging out the older drug’s 9.78 cm/year. That 0.33 difference may not prove compelling to payers, though, who have been known to overlook dosing advantages in favor of lower costs.
That message may have weighed on the stock reaction this morning, with a 30%-plus hike $OPK giving way to more marginal gains.
Back in late 2016, Opko had to defend itself against a devastating Phase III setback as their initial late-stage trial failed against a sugar pill. Opko later blamed that setback on outliers in the study, though it wasn’t able to expunge the failure.

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