The Sen­ate fum­bles its first stab at phar­ma prof­i­teer­ing, keep­ing the is­sue front and cen­ter in 2017

End­points News as­sess­es the big bio­phar­ma R&D sto­ry this week in a spe­cial year-end send­off. Chances are, this is al­so what we’ll be talk­ing about in 2017. And it will cer­tain­ly be front and cen­ter at the up­com­ing J.P. Mor­gan Health­care Con­fer­ence.

The Sen­ate of­fers a weak re­sponse to price goug­ing

The Sen­ate this week high­light­ed just how lit­tle the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try needs to fear from law­mak­ers when it comes to con­trol­ling drug prices right now. In­ves­ti­gat­ing four clear cas­es of price goug­ing on old prod­ucts, two or­ches­trat­ed by Mar­tin Shkre­li, the Sen­ate pol­ished off a mix of dusty reg­u­la­to­ry in­cen­tives as their sug­ges­tion for rein­ing in prof­i­teer­ing: “spe­cial” pri­or­i­ty re­views when need­ed, vouch­ers to help re­ward a fast re­sponse, maybe a spe­cial reim­por­ta­tion pass to pro­vide cheap com­pe­ti­tion, a man­date to move gener­ics through the FDA faster. None of it would ac­tu­al­ly nip the whole thing in the bud. “It is pos­si­ble that the busi­ness mod­el pur­sued by the Valeants and Tur­ings of the world was at­trac­tive in part be­cause it was le­gal,” the re­port states, in a mas­sive un­der­state­ment. (Ya think?) Noth­ing the sen­a­tors sug­gest­ed would ac­tu­al­ly pre­vent the next Shkre­li from do­ing ex­act­ly the same thing. If law­mak­ers are un­will­ing to tack­le ob­vi­ous price goug­ing, then what are the chances they can ever come to grips with the much big­ger is­sue of sys­temic rip-offs, the an­nu­al price spikes that have kept Big Phar­ma look­ing healthy as their R&D ef­forts con­tin­ue to un­der­per­form?

It’s time to get re­al

Drug pric­ing as a po­tent po­lit­i­cal is­sue, though, isn’t go­ing any­where. As Shkre­li told mein a Twit­ter ex­change on Thurs­day, the two deals he en­gi­neered for Tur­ing and Retrophin are still mak­ing plen­ty of “guap” as law­mak­ers fud­dle about. Don­ald Trump has made his own broad, un­de­fined pledge to con­trol pric­ing. And elect­ed of­fi­cials have to be acute­ly aware that the pub­lic’s anger will on­ly grow. One of the most com­pelling in­dus­try re­spons­es has been Al­ler­gan CEO Brent Saun­ders’ pledge to hold an­nu­al price in­creas­es to sin­gle dig­its.

Fair pric­ing prac­tices on old­er drugs will be es­sen­tial to main­tain­ing greater con­trol over the price of new drugs. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that pub­lic anger is not fixed on the price of im­por­tant new drugs that make a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives. It’s the old­er drugs, where the price goes up when the fran­chise should be fad­ing in val­ue, that rile the peo­ple and of­fend their sense of fair­ness. No one likes be­ing ripped off. And with­out ag­gres­sive pric­ing on many, though not nec­es­sar­i­ly all, new drugs, R&D will be­come un­sus­tain­able.

If this is­sue has your at­ten­tion, I’d en­cour­age you to come to End­points News’ first live event dur­ing the J.P. Mor­gan Health­care Con­fer­ence in San Fran­cis­co, where we’ll be joined by Saun­ders and a great pan­el dis­cussing the sin­gle most press­ing is­sue of the year.

Your tick­et rev­enue will be used to help grow the pub­li­ca­tion in 2017. So you can view this as a way to par­tic­i­pate in a great dis­cus­sion, a net­work­ing event you won’t want to miss, and a sign of your sup­port for what we’re do­ing here.

John Car­roll, Ed­i­tor

Hap­py hol­i­days, and I hope to see you in San Fran­cis­co Jan­u­ary 10.— John Car­roll

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation for a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.