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

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Vicente Anido (University of West Virginia via YouTube)

Aerie fires CEO af­ter lead pro­gram flop, com­ments about pri­ma­ry end­points be­ing 'not re­quired'

Aerie Pharmaceuticals CEO Vicente Anido has left the company less than a week after trying to chart a Phase III study in the wake of a serious Phase IIb flop.

Anido’s last day at Aerie was Friday, the biotech announced in a news release Tuesday morning, and Benjamin McGraw is taking his place in an interim role. The now former CEO was terminated without cause, according to an SEC filing.

The board has started looking for a full-time chief to take his place.

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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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