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

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three ma­jor buy­outs an­nounced: Take­da/Shire; Bris­tol-My­ers/Cel­gene and now Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan. And with this lat­est deal it’s in­creas­ing­ly clear that the sharp fall from grace suf­fered by high-pro­file play­ers which have seen their share prices blast­ed has cre­at­ed an open­ing for the growth play­ers in big phar­ma to up their game — in sharp con­trast to the pop­u­lar bolt-on deals that have been dri­ving the growth strat­e­gy at No­var­tis, Mer­ck, Roche and oth­ers.

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SQZ, Ery­tech kick off $57M cell ther­a­py part­ner­ship; Jean-Paul Kress lands new CEO gig at Mor­phoSys

→ In a mar­riage of two tech­nolo­gies meant to make cell ther­a­pies more pow­er­ful, SQZ Biotech is team­ing up with France’s Ery­tech Phar­ma for a col­lab­o­ra­tion, with $57 mil­lion re­served for the first project and $50 mil­lion for each sub­se­quent ap­proval (prod­uct or in­di­ca­tion). Hav­ing ac­cess to Ery­tech’s method of fash­ion­ing ther­a­peu­tics from red blood cells, the Cam­bridge, MA-based com­pa­ny said, will am­pli­fy SQZ’s cell en­gi­neer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and al­low them to de­vleop a new class of im­munomod­u­la­to­ry ther­a­pies. Its own tech — so far ap­plied in can­cer but al­so has po­ten­tial in di­a­betes — tem­po­rary dis­rupts the cell mem­brane by squeez­ing the cell, thus cre­at­ing a brief win­dow for tar­get ma­te­ri­als such as anti­gens to en­ter.

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

FDA re­jects Ac­er's rare dis­ease drug, asks for new tri­al — shares crater

Ac­er Ther­a­peu­tics’ bid to re­pur­pose celipro­lol — a be­ta-block­er on the mar­ket for hy­per­ten­sion — as a treat­ment for a rare, in­her­it­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der has hit a se­vere set­back. The New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny on Tues­day said the FDA re­ject­ed the drug and has asked for an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $AC­ER cratered near­ly 77% to $4.47 in Tues­day morn­ing trad­ing.

Tasly Bio­phar­ma pitch­es long-await­ed IPO — will it trig­ger an­oth­er $1B gold rush on HKEX?

In the run up to the Hong Kong stock ex­change’s an­tic­i­pat­ed rule change — open­ing the door for Chi­nese pre-rev­enue biotechs to go pub­lic clos­er to home — more than a year ago, Tasly Bio­phar­ma was one of the big play­ers whose ru­mored in­ter­est helped stoke en­thu­si­asm for the new list­ing venue. The com­pa­ny has since kept the drum­roll rum­bling in the back­ground, rais­ing a pre-IPO round and con­vinc­ing part­ner Trans­gene to swap own­er­ship in a joint ven­ture for eq­ui­ty. Now the oth­er shoe has fi­nal­ly dropped as ex­ecs out­line plans for a pipeline dom­i­nat­ed by car­dio­vas­cu­lar drugs.

With 4 more biotech IPOs due to wrap up Q2, how is the class of 2019 far­ing?

With 22 biotech IPOs on the books and four more set to price in the last week of June, in­vest­ment ad­vis­er Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal has tak­en the pulse of the re­cent rush.

By the IPO ex­perts’ count, 25 out of 32 health­care of­fer­ings this year have been from biotechs — dif­fer­ing slight­ly from Brad Lon­car’s tal­ly — and the over­all pic­ture is one of un­der­per­for­mance. While they av­er­aged a first-day re­turn of 9.0%, col­lec­tive­ly they have trad­ed down to a 5.9% re­turn. Turn­ing Point $TP­TX and Cor­texyme $CRTX emerged on top at the half-year mark, ris­ing 135% and 109% re­spec­tive­ly.

Eye­ing a $500M peak sales pot, Almi­rall dou­bles down on le­brik­izum­ab as Der­mi­ra lines up PhI­II

With eyes on what it be­lieves is a $500 mil­lion peak rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ty in Eu­rope, Barcelona-based Almi­rall has stepped up with $50 mil­lion in cash to take up the op­tion on Der­mi­ra’s IL-13 an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug le­brik­izum­ab just ahead of the start of Phase III. And there’s an­oth­er $30 mil­lion due as the late-stage pro­gram gets geared up.

That shouldn’t be long from now, as Der­mi­ra ex­pects to be­gin the late-stage tri­al work for atopic der­mati­tis be­fore the end of this year as it fol­lows a trail that ex­ecs in­sist leads to block­buster re­turns. Along the way, they’ll need to take on the 600-pound go­ril­la in atopic der­mati­tis: the IL-13/IL-4 drug Dupix­ent, from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. Ri­vals al­so in­clude Leo Phar­ma, in its piv­otal with tralok­izum­ab, and Anap­tys­Bio in the hunt with a mid-stage pro­gram for etokimab, pre­vi­ous­ly re­ferred to as ANB020.