Stormy Daniels’ lawyer: No­var­tis made $400K in 'sus­pi­cious' pay­ments to Trump at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen

Stormy Daniels’ at­tor­ney Michael Ave­nat­ti has out­lined a se­ries of “sus­pi­cious fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions” in­volv­ing close to $400,000 in pay­ments No­var­tis made to the ac­count of Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants, which was ear­li­er used by Don­ald Trump’s per­son­al at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen to pay $130,000 to the adult film ac­tress to keep her silent about al­le­ga­tions of an af­fair with the pres­i­dent.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, No­var­tis $NVS made four wire pay­ments of $99,980 each, just un­der the $100,000 mark, which Ave­nat­ti not­ed be­gan last fall and were wrapped in ear­ly Jan­u­ary of this year, just weeks be­fore soon-to-be CEO Vas Narasimhan met with Trump in Davos. [This sto­ry has been up­dat­ed with new in­for­ma­tion here: No­var­tis now says that it paid Co­hen’s com­pa­ny $1.2M]

A spokesper­son for No­var­tis re­spond­ed to a query I sent Tues­day night, say­ing: “Still chas­ing af­ter this – but want to clar­i­fy for your in­for­ma­tion that any agree­ments with Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants were en­tered be­fore our cur­rent CEO tak­ing of­fice in Feb­ru­ary of this year and have ex­pired.” Lat­er, the phar­ma gi­ant tried to put some ad­di­tion­al dis­tance be­tween Narasimhan and the pay­ments, which they said in­volved “health­care pol­i­cy mat­ters.”

Who­ev­er drove the deal at No­var­tis, get­ting swept up in the Daniels scan­dal at the height of the me­dia tem­pest — days ahead of a ma­jor pol­i­cy ini­tia­tive on drug pric­ing by Trump — is ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly em­bar­rass­ing for the Swiss com­pa­ny, which still has plen­ty of ex­plain­ing to do.

The bomb­shell in the re­port spot­light­ed $500,000 paid by Russ­ian oli­garch Vik­tor Vek­sel­berg, with close ties to Rus­sia’s au­thor­i­tar­i­an leader Vladimir Putin, af­ter the elec­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Ave­nat­ti, that mon­ey could have been used to re­pay Co­hen for the hush mon­ey he paid Daniels. An­oth­er $200,000 came from AT&T, which has con­firmed the pay­ments to re­porters cov­er­ing the sto­ry, say­ing it paid for “in­sights in­to un­der­stand­ing the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.” Ko­rea Aero­space In­dus­tries paid $150,000.

“Mr.  Vek­sel­berg  and  his  cousin  Mr.  An­drew  In­trater  rout­ed  eight  pay­ments  to  Mr.  Co­hen  through  a  com­pa­ny  named  Colum­bus  No­va  LLC  (“Colum­bus”)  be­gin­ning  in  Jan­u­ary  2017  and  con­tin­u­ing  un­til  at  least  Au­gust  2017,” states Ave­nat­ti’s re­port.

“Al­so  in­clud­ed  in  these  sus­pi­cious  fi­nan­cial  trans­ac­tions  are  four  pay­ments  in  late  2017  and  ear­ly  2018  to­tal­ing  $399,920  made  by  glob­al  phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal  gi­ant  No­var­tis  di­rect­ly  to  Es­sen­tial  in  four  sep­a­rate  trans­ac­tions  of  $99,980  each  (just  be­low  $100,000).

“Fol­low­ing  these  pay­ments,  re­ports  sur­faced  that  Mr.  Trump  took  a din­ner  meet­ing  with the  in­com­ing  CEO  of  No­var­tis be­fore  Mr.  Trump’s  speech at  the  World  Eco­nom­ic  Fo­rum  in  Davos,  Switzer­land  in  late  Jan­u­ary  2018.”

Ave­nat­ti in­clud­ed a link to a Fier­cePhar­ma sto­ry on the group of ex­ec­u­tives meet­ing with Trump for din­ner in Davos.

Overnight, No­var­tis ex­ecs scram­bled to cir­cle the wag­ons around their CEO, con­firm­ing the pay­ments but in­sist­ing Narasimhan was nev­er in­volved in the “arrange­ment.” Their state­ment:

In Feb­ru­ary 2017, No­var­tis en­tered in­to a one year agree­ment with Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants short­ly af­ter the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump fo­cused on US health­care pol­i­cy mat­ters. The terms were con­sis­tent with the mar­ket. The agree­ment ex­pired in Feb­ru­ary 2018.

As al­ready stat­ed, the en­gage­ment of Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants pre­dat­ed Vas Narasimhan be­com­ing No­var­tis CEO. Dr. Narasimhan had no in­volve­ment what­so­ev­er with this arrange­ment.

No­var­tis was con­tact­ed in No­vem­ber 2017 by lawyers from the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s of­fice re­gard­ing the com­pa­ny’s agree­ment with Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants. No­var­tis co­op­er­at­ed ful­ly with the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s of­fice and pro­vid­ed all the in­for­ma­tion re­quest­ed. No­var­tis con­sid­ers this mat­ter closed as to it­self and is not aware of any out­stand­ing ques­tions re­gard­ing the agree­ment.

Vas Narasimhan may have been still the in­com­ing CEO at No­var­tis at that point in late Jan­u­ary, but he had di­rect­ed the de­vel­op­ment ef­fort at the phar­ma gi­ant for sev­er­al years and had been tapped for the CEO’s job months be­fore his meet­ing with Trump, along with a large group of ex­ec­u­tives. He took the CEO job at the be­gin­ning of Feb­ru­ary as CEO Joe Jimenez stepped down.

This al­so isn’t No­var­tis’ first in­volve­ment in a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion. A lit­tle more than a month ago the com­pa­ny agreed to pay a fine of $25 mil­lion to the SEC af­ter com­pa­ny reps were ac­cused of of­fer­ing doc­tors in Chi­na lav­ish en­ter­tain­ment in ex­change for boost­ing the use of No­var­tis’ drugs.

No­var­tis and the phar­ma in­dus­try in gen­er­al have been step­ping up their pres­ence in Wash­ing­ton DC, in­ten­si­fy­ing lob­by­ing ef­forts as Trump and his top of­fi­cials in health­care fo­cus on a pledge to dra­mat­i­cal­ly low­er drug prices in the US. Trump is ex­pect­ed to give a speech on that very top­ic this Fri­day. I fol­lowed up with some more ques­tions for No­var­tis, but haven’t heard back.

Ave­nat­ti, mean­while, took to Twit­ter to call out all the com­pa­nies in­volved in con­tribut­ing to a “slush fund.”

https://twit­ter.com/MichaelAve­nat­ti/sta­tus/994156631440216069

Im­age: Michael Ave­nat­ti Shut­ter­stock

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Joe Jimenez, Getty

Ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez is tak­ing an­oth­er crack at open­ing a new chap­ter in his ca­reer — and that in­cludes a new board seat and a $250M start­up

Joe Jimenez is back.

The ex-CEO of Novartis has taken a board seat on Century Therapeutics, the Versant and Bayer-backed startup focused on coming up with a brand new twist on cell therapies for cancer — a field where Jimenez made his mark backing the first personalized CAR-T approved for use.

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Credit: Shutterstock

Can we make the an­tibi­ot­ic mar­ket great again?

The standard for-profit model in drug development is straightforward. Spend millions, even billions, to develop a medicine from scratch. The return on investment (and ideally a tidy profit) comes via volume and/or price, depending on the disease. But the string of big pharma exits and slew of biotech bankruptcies indicate that the model is sorely flawed when it comes to antibiotics.

The industry players contributing to the arsenal of antimicrobials are fast dwindling, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is embarrassingly sparse, the WHO has warned. Drugmakers are enticed by greener pastures, compared to the long, arduous and expensive path to antibiotic approval that offers little financial gain as treatments are typically priced cheaply, and often lose potency over time as microbes grow resistant to them.

Top Har­vard chemist caught up in FBI’s 'T­hou­sand Tal­ents' drag­net, ac­cused of ly­ing about Chi­nese con­nec­tions, pay

The FBI’s probe into the alleged theft of R&D secrets by Chinese authorities has drawn Harvard’s top chemist into its net.

The agency accused Charles M. Lieber, who chairs the university’s chemistry and chemical biology department, with lying about his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents campaign, which was established as a way of drawing in innovators from around the world. And the scientist, 60, was charged with making false statements about his ties to China.

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Eye­ing a trio of tri­al ini­ti­a­tions, Jim Wilson's gene ther­a­py start­up woos Bruce Gold­smith from Deer­field as CEO

Passage Bio — Jim Wilson’s self-described “legacy company” — has wooed a seasoned biotech executive to steer the clinical entry of its first three gene therapy programs.

Bruce Goldsmith jumps to the helm of Passage after a brief CEO stint at Civetta, a cancer-focused startup he helped launch while a venture partner at Deerfield. He takes over from OrbiMed partner and interim chief Stephen Squinto, who will now lead the R&D team.

The FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. They plan to squash it — and per­ma­nent­ly ex­ile him

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition. And their lawsuit is asking that Shkreli — with several years left on his prison sentence — be banned permanently from the pharma industry.

UP­DAT­ED: Ac­celeron res­ur­rects block­buster hopes for so­tater­cept with pos­i­tive PhII — and shares rock­et up

Acceleron $XLRN says that its first major trial readout of 2020 is a success.

In a Phase II study of 106 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Acceleron’s experimental drug sotatercept hit its primary endpoint: a significant reduction in pulmonary vascular resistance. The drug also met three different secondary endpoints, including the 6-minute walking test.

“We’re thrilled to report such positive topline results from the PULSAR trial,” Acceleron CEO Habib Dable said in a statement. The company said in a conference call they plan on discussing a Phase III trial design with regulators.

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Short at­tack­er Sahm Ad­ran­gi draws crosshairs over a fa­vorite of Sanofi’s new CEO — with PhII da­ta loom­ing

Sahm Adrang Kerrisdale

Kerrisdale chief Sahm Adrangi took a lengthy break from his series of biotech short attacks after his chief analyst in the field pulled up stakes and went solo. But he’s making a return to drug development this morning, drawing crosshairs over a company that’s one of new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s favorite collaborators.

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Amber Saltzman (Ohana)

Flag­ship's first ven­ture of 2020 is out, and it's all about sperm

A couple years ago, Amber Salzman got a call as she was returning East full-time after a two-year stint running a gene therapy company in California.

It was from someone at Flagship Pioneering, the deep-pocketed biotech venture firm. They had a new company with a new way of thinking about sperm. It had been incubating for over a year, and now they wanted her to run it.

“It exactly fit,” Salzman told Endpoints News. “I just thought I had to do something.”