The gene ther­a­py pric­ing de­bate gets re­al as Spark sets $850,000 charge for its pi­o­neer­ing drug

Years of de­bate, spec­u­la­tion and analy­sis have boiled down to this: Spark $ONCE Ther­a­peu­tics has set an $850,000 whole­sale ac­qui­si­tion cost for the US’s first gene ther­a­py — $425,000 per eye dam­aged by an RPE65 gene mu­ta­tion.

Set to roll out in a mat­ter of weeks, the WAC price for Lux­tur­na falls to­ward the high­er end of an­a­lysts’ bets, which ranged from about $600,000 to just un­der the $1 mil­lion mark for what’s in­tend­ed as a one-time treat­ment for the rare, sight-steal­ing ge­net­ic con­di­tion. Now the high­est priced ther­a­py in the coun­try — out­pac­ing drugs like Spin­raza at $750,000 for the first year of ther­a­py — it falls on Spark to come up with the right pric­ing mod­el that can per­suade pay­ers to cov­er the pro­ce­dure for a small group of un­der 2,000 po­ten­tial pa­tients, with few­er than 20 new pa­tients per year.

Spark’s ex­pe­ri­ence will have an im­mense im­pact on the en­tire gene ther­a­py field, blaz­ing a far wider path that will heav­i­ly in­flu­ence the com­mer­cial for­tunes of a whole wave of gene ther­a­py com­pa­nies look­ing to field once-and-done cures for some of the worst dis­eases to af­flict mankind. And know­ing full well just how much to­day’s close­ly-watched mar­ket­ing plan will be re­viewed by the health­care sys­tem, Spark’s pric­ing team has come up with a mix of re­bates and pro­posed stag­gered pay­ment mod­els de­signed to ease past barbed pay­er bar­ri­ers that can crip­ple any drug launch.

From the time that Jeff Mar­raz­zo first start­ed at the helm of up­start Spark Ther­a­peu­tics about 5 years ago, he’s been think­ing about what the first gene ther­a­py in the US would cost.

And think­ing. And think­ing. And think­ing.

“Did you ever see The Nev­erEnd­ing Sto­ry?” Mar­raz­zo asks me jok­ing­ly in a rare break from his care­ful­ly pre­pared pre­view of the plan, still sound­ing some­what amazed that he’s ac­tu­al­ly reached this stage of the game.

To­day, fi­nal­ly, is the be­gin­ning of an­oth­er im­por­tant chap­ter in the gene ther­a­py sto­ry. And the $850,000 tal­ly Spark is rolling out now is, like all health­care pric­ing in the US, a lot more com­pli­cat­ed than the big round WAC fig­ures peo­ple re­act to.

True to his metic­u­lous na­ture, Mar­raz­zo wants to care­ful­ly ex­plain the mul­ti-tier pay­ment mod­el Spark’s team has been craft­ing and the ob­jec­tive be­hind it all: Not just steer­ing the first gene ther­a­py to an ap­proval, but mak­ing sure that pay­ers will cov­er it so that pa­tients will be able use it to save their vi­sion.

In do­ing this, Mar­raz­zo is al­so acute­ly aware that the first pay­ment mod­el will like­ly heav­i­ly in­flu­ence what and how he charges for a gene ther­a­py for he­mo­phil­ia, now well down the clin­i­cal path. And left un­said is the im­pact that his plan will bear on the en­tire field in­volv­ing blue­bird bio and every­one else press­ing in be­hind him.

Keep in mind, he notes in Busi­ness 101 mode, that there are two key items that de­ter­mine the com­mer­cial val­ue of any new ther­a­py. The price you charge, and the units you sell.

“If the units sold is ze­ro you have ze­ro in the rev­enue line,” says the CEO, what­ev­er the price. And that’s not what Mar­raz­zo and this pub­licly trad­ed com­pa­ny have been in the hunt for.

For some time Mar­raz­zo has re­sist­ed the idea of of­fer­ing re­bates for pa­tients who fail to ben­e­fit fol­low­ing treat­ment. That, he tells me, had more to do with man­ag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions as the com­pa­ny nav­i­gates a com­plex set of hur­dles built in to fed­er­al and com­mer­cial pric­ing poli­cies. But the Spark pric­ing team has worked it out so that un­der one mod­el Spark can of­fer pay­ers un­spec­i­fied re­bates at 30 days and 30 months — which is about the av­er­age amount of time a pa­tient stays in a com­mer­cial plan — if Lux­tur­na falls short of es­tab­lished ef­fi­ca­cy goals on vi­sion.

Michael Sher­man

He al­so per­suad­ed Har­vard Pil­grim CMO Michael Sher­man to of­fer a key en­dorse­ment: “This out­comes-based re­bate arrange­ment is tru­ly in­no­v­a­tive, as it ties pay­ment for the ther­a­peu­tic not on­ly to a short-term goal, but al­so to a longer-term, 30-month as­sess­ment of ef­fi­ca­cy.”

Mar­raz­zo’s not say­ing how much he’s of­fer­ing in re­bates, but when I asked him why not a full re­fund for pa­tients who don’t re­spond ad­e­quate­ly, he said that’s not pos­si­ble. There are so few pa­tients in­volved for each health plan that a full or near full re­bate would take the low­est pos­si­ble price down to ze­ro, which he would have to of­fer to fed­er­al pay­ers — mak­ing it a com­mer­cial dis­as­ter.

To avoid putting hos­pi­tals in a fix over the “buy and bill” re­im­burse­ment mod­el, which leaves them on the hook for the ini­tial cost of the treat­ment, Spark is con­tract­ing di­rect­ly with pay­ers on the price, leav­ing the providers to charge for their end of the pro­ce­dure.

Still in the works is a pro­pos­al to CMS for stag­gered pay­ments, with an up­front amount and bills due through a set pe­ri­od of time. And the com­pa­ny is al­so work­ing on cov­er­ing pa­tients’ out of pock­et costs as part of the over­all price.

Tak­en as a whole, he says, the Spark pric­ing strat­e­gy of­fers the best chance of win­ning cov­er­age for a rad­i­cal­ly new and ex­pen­sive ther­a­peu­tic ap­proach.

In Eu­rope, where the first two gene ther­a­pies have been rolled out to a mere hand­ful of pa­tients in sin­gle pay­er sys­tems, the fail­ure to gain ac­cep­tance has been a vir­tu­al death sen­tence for man­u­fac­tur­ers. Up against a much more in­tri­cate set of US hur­dles, Spark’s team think they have many of the ba­sics worked out.

We’ll know soon whether Mar­raz­zo found the key to open­ing the mar­ket to gene ther­a­pies, or fash­ioned a jour­ney in­to a blind al­ley.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Kristen Hege, Bristol Myers Squibb SVP, early clinical development, oncology/hematology and cell therapy (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: Bris­tol My­er­s' Kris­ten Hege on cell ther­a­py, can­cer pa­tients and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

Kristen Hege leads Bristol Myers Squibb’s early oncology discovery program carrying on from the same work at Celgene, which was acquired by BMS in 2019. She’s known for her early work in CAR-T, having pioneered the first CAR-T cell trial for solid tumors more than 25 years ago.

However, the eminent physician-scientist is more than just a drug developer mastermind. She’s also a practicing physician, mother to two young women, an avid backpacker and intersecting all those interests — a champion of young women and people of color in STEM and life sciences.

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Spe­cial re­port 2022: Meet 20 women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D

When you run a special report for a fourth year, it can start feeling a little bit like a ritual. You go through the motions — in our case opening up nominations for top women in biopharma R&D and reviewing more than 500 entries — you make your choices of inclusion and exclusion. You host a ceremony.

But then things happen that remind you why you do it in the first place. Perhaps a Supreme Court rules to overturn the constitutional right to abortion and a group of women biotech leaders makes it clear they strongly dissent; perhaps new data on gender diversity in the industry come out that look all too similar to the old ones, suggesting women are still dramatically underrepresented at the top; perhaps protests and conflicts around the world put in stark terms the struggles that many women still face in earning the most basic recognition.

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Phar­ma rep­u­ta­tion re­tains 'halo' even as pan­dem­ic me­dia cov­er­age re­cedes — sur­vey

The Covid-19 halo effect on the pharma industry is continuing, according to a new global study from Ipsos. The annual survey for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) finds considerable goodwill from consumers across measures of trust, cooperation with governments, and advancing research and drug development.

“Despite the pandemic in many countries no longer being the top of mind concern generally – although it does remain the top concern as a health issue – the industry’s reputation has remained positive,” said Ipsos research director Thomas Fife-Schaw.

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Gossamer Bio CEO Faheem Hasnain at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Gos­samer’s Fa­heem Has­nain de­fends a round of pos­i­tive PAH da­ta as a clear win. But can these PhII re­sults stand up to scruti­ny?

Gossamer Bio $GOSS posted a statistically significant improvement for its primary endpoint in the key Phase II TORREY trial for lead drug seralutinib on Tuesday morning. But CEO Faheem Hasnain has some explaining to do on the important secondary of the crucial six-minute walk distance test — which will be the primary endpoint in Phase III — as the data on both endpoints fell short of expectations, missing one analyst’s bar on even modest success.

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Prometheus moves to raise cash hours af­ter PhII da­ta leads to stock surge

After releasing better-than-anticipated data on two mid-stage studies Wednesday morning, Prometheus Biosciences’ CEO said the company would “take some time to assess” its next financing options.

It only needed about seven hours. Wednesday afternoon after the market closed, the biotech announced it would seek $250 million through an equity offering as the company looks to edge out anti-TL1A competitor Pfizer and its new partner Roivant.

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Enhertu researcher Ian Krop speaks during Wednesday's SABCS press conference (MedMeetingImages/Todd Buchanan via SABCS)

SABCS roundup: No­var­tis shows two-year PFS in breast can­cer sub­groups; As­traZeneca re­veals more En­her­tu da­ta

The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is taking place this week, and so far, some of the Big Pharmas are turning out new trial data about some of the biggest drugs in the space.

First off, Novartis announced that its drug, Kisqali, showed about a year of progression-free survival in patients with different types of first-line metastatic breast cancer. The CDK 4/6 drug was first approved by the FDA in 2017, setting it up in direct competition against Pfizer’s Ibrance.

Big Phar­mas team up with lo­cal Sin­ga­pore or­ga­ni­za­tions to boost man­u­fac­tur­ing

Singapore has long established itself as a major hub for pharma manufacturing, and now several big players are looking to further cement their presence in the Lion City.

Takeda, Sanofi and GSK are forming a partnership with the Singapore-based Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and several local academic institutions, including the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, its enterprise company called NTUitive and Singapore Institute of Technology to provide a greater boost to the manufacturing of biologics.

Piper Trelstad, head of CMC, Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute

Q&A with Gates leader: Women tak­ing on more roles in phar­ma man­u­fac­tur­ing, but still work to do

More and more women are driving innovation and taking leadership roles in biotech – as evidenced today in the release of Endpoints News’ list of the top 20 women in the R&D world – but those gains are beginning to extend across pharma sectors.

In pharma manufacturing in the US today, around 46% of all roles are occupied by women, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2021. And according to a Bloomberg report, women’s roles across manufacturing roles had a massive boost after the start of the pandemic.