The 2018 break­down on a chart-top­ping set of new drug ap­provals — and the 5 big things we learned from it

2018 will go down as a remarkable year for biopharma R&D, and not just because the industry posted an all-time record high in new drug/biologic approvals. Officially, there were 59 new molecular entities — plus a string of biologics — approved last year. After looking over the full list of each new drug approved by CDER last year, which you can see in all its spectacular detail below, several major themes come into view.


— After 5 years of historic investment in drug R&D and startups, we’re looking at the transformation of a new generation of biotechs into commercial players; no easy task which in itself is forcing some fundamental changes in many of these companies.

— Over the same period, the FDA has changed from a bureaucratic hurdle to active helper. For established drugmakers, the policy at the agency has been to do whatever it can to speed along new drugs. Under Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, that has even meant reversing three earlier rejections. But so far there have been no credible accusations that the open-door, speed-’em-up policy has threatened patients more than it has helped them.

— The rare/orphan disease R&D strategy — the sweet spot for companies looking to score market-moving advances with high-priced drugs in record time — has come full circle in biotech. And the dominant trend will stoke greater demands in 2019 for pricing reform while begging questions about efficiency in marketing.

— Any analysis of R&D productivity has to highlight how each of the top 10 players in the industry performed. And once again we have some stellar successes, some big no-shows and a lingering concern that the sliding overall ROI on R&D remains unsustainable for the group.

— While this annual look at NDAs over the course of the years necessarily focused on FDA approvals — still the industry standard for top global performance — we’ll note that in 2018 the industry truly began to focus on Asian drug OKs. In particular, China has emerged as both a place to develop new drugs, and also strike deals to commercialize the world’s new drugs. Any regulatory strategy that doesn’t include China now is incomplete.

Here comes commercialization risk

Several of the big approvals in 2018 came through for companies that will now start commercialization work for the first time. The marketing class of 2018 includes GW Pharma, with its groundbreaking anti-convulsive meds, the remarkable arrival of RNAi at Alnylam with big advances in play for Agios, Loxo, Ultragenyx, Ionis/Akcea and even little Verastem with its orphaned PI3K drug duvelisib.

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Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Look­ing to re­solve lin­ger­ing doubts, Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen, No­var­tis scrap Alzheimer's stud­ies — is BACE fi­nal­ly dead or will Bio­gen and Ei­sai car­ry on?

The BACE theory of controlling Alzheimer’s died with failed pivotal projects at Merck, Eli Lilly and their partners at AstraZeneca. Now Amgen and Novartis have come along to bulldoze it under a mound of safety threats — leaving only Biogen and Eisai to carry on with a less than zero chance of success — with the notable addition that they may actually be doing harm to patients.

After the market closed Thursday, Amgen and Novartis announced that they were dumping two pivotal programs underway with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute on their BACE drug CNP520 (umibecestat) after an independent review of the data indicated that patients’ cognitive abilities were actually worsening at a faster pace than the placebo arm.

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Christi Shaw at JP Morgan 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Fresh out of Eli Lil­ly, Christi Shaw sur­faces as Daniel O'­Day's new CEO at CAR-T pi­o­neer Kite

Well, that didn’t take long. 

We found out Thursday evening that Christi Shaw has given up her top post as the head of the Bio-Medicines group at Eli Lilly for the helm at CAR-T pioneer Kite. New Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day, a Roche veteran, had made finding a Kite CEO a top priority on his arrival at Gilead. And he went right for a headliner.

O’Day was clearly excited about the coup.

“We conducted an extensive search for a new leader at Kite and we believe that Christi’s unique set of skills will allow us to continue to build on our leadership position in cell therapy,” he said in a prepared statement. “Christi’s vast experience across complex therapeutic areas, and particularly in oncology, will serve Kite very well. She is clearly a leader who will bring teams and individuals together and I am confident she will build upon the entrepreneurial spirit at Kite as we seek to help more people with cancer around the world.”

Christi Shaw at JP Morgan 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Eli Lil­ly's Christi Shaw bows out of top post at the Bio-Med­i­cines unit

Less than 3 years after Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks recruited Novartis vet Christi Shaw to run their big Bio-Medicines business, she’s out.

In a statement put out Thursday morning, Lilly said that Shaw’s last day will come at the end of August. Patrik Jonsson, currently president and general manager of Lilly Japan, will succeed Shaw once he gets the paperwork sorted out.

Lilly’s shares dropped 4% on the news.

Jeff Poulton

Al­ny­lam’s Maraganore switch­es ‘per­haps the best CFO in mid-cap biotech’ with Shire vet Jeff Poul­ton

There’s a new CFO taking charge of the numbers at RNAi pioneer Alnylam.

Alnylam chief John Maraganore says that CFO Manmeet S. Soni is leaving in the proverbial pursuit of new opportunities. And he’s being replaced by ex-Shire CFO Jeff Poulton, not long after the Takeda takeover obliterated that position.

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Analy­sis: In most of the Big Phar­ma world, R&D spend­ing tow­ers over rev­enue from new drugs. Guess who beat the odds

It’s always been the case that there’s no medicine less useful than one that doesn’t make it to patients (unless you regard the task of R&D to be perpetually learning about swimming, while under water…). Yet, launching new medicines that physicians want, that payers will cover, and that patients will take, is a discipline that is unevenly distributed among the big players.

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President Donald Trump at State of the Union. AP Images

White House changes course to kill re­bate re­form

So what exactly is the White House’s plan to tackle rising drug prices? It doesn’t look like we will get definitive answers anytime soon. On the heels of President Donald Trump’s surprise revelation that an executive order is in the works to implement a “favored nations clause,” his administration is now putting out word that it has abandoned an earlier proposal to overhaul rebates.

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The FDA's Janet Wood­cock talks about some big changes she's push­ing for in drug de­vel­op­ment, and agency re­views

Janet Woodcock is perhaps the most influential regulator at the FDA. And when the head of CDER talks about the changes being made at the agency when it comes to clinical trial designs, or the need to reorganize for a specific disease arena, an assessment of the expansion of gene therapy or I/O, common development mistakes, and so on, you can be sure the industry pays attention to every word.

So it was with some eagerness that I opened up Geoffrey Porges’ summary of their recent conversation about the FDA. And I wasn’t disappointed. In a wide-ranging exchange with the SVB Leerink analyst, Woodcock discussed the growing importance of patient-reported outcomes in clinical trials, a campaign underway now to see if CROs would help spur more basket studies to compare drugs head-to-head, and much, much more.

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Ex-DARPA di­rec­tor pur­sues all-in-one can­cer pill as NED CEO; Karyopharm los­es com­mer­cial chief ahead of drug roll­out

“Why not try?”

That’s what Geoffrey Ling told me over the phone when asked about what led him to his journey to the position of CEO at NED Biosciences — a company with a lofty goal of creating an all-in-one oral drug to treat all types of cancer and making this drug available to not only developed nations, but also the developing world. 

Ling comes from an extensive background in medicine and the government. He is the co-leader of The Brain Health Project, a professor of neurology and an attending neurocritical care physician at John Hopkins University and Hospital, as well as the assistant director for Medical Innovation of the Science Division in president Obama’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).