To be cost-ef­fec­tive, Bio­gen should slash Spin­raza price, and No­var­tis can­not jus­ti­fy a $4M-$5M price tag for Zol­gens­ma — ICER

As treat­ments for rare dis­eases and gene ther­a­pies make strides on the US mar­ket, the is­sue of pric­ing is once again cen­ter stage. Bio­gen should cut the price of its spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy (SMA) treat­ment Spin­raza and the price for No­var­tis’ one-shot Zol­gens­ma — which is ex­pect­ed to win FDA ap­proval by May — is jus­ti­fi­able up to $1.5 mil­lion, Boston-based ICER con­clud­ed on Wednes­day.

Akin to NICE in the UK, ICER is an in­de­pen­dent body that an­a­lyzes the cost-ef­fec­tive­ness of drugs and oth­er med­ical ser­vices in the Unit­ed States. Un­like NICE, though, ICER is not gov­ern­ment-af­fil­i­at­ed, but its de­ter­mi­na­tions are in­creas­ing­ly be­com­ing in­flu­en­tial with pay­ers.

Spin­raza was ap­proved by the FDA amidst much fan­fare in 2016 as the first and on­ly dis­ease-mod­i­fy­ing treat­ment for SMA, a rare and but lead­ing ge­net­ic cause of in­fant deaths. But the price tag of $750,000 for the first year of ther­a­py (and a $375,000 there­after) sparked heavy crit­i­cism, even though many pay­ers even­tu­al­ly agreed to re­im­burse the treat­ment. It gen­er­at­ed $1.7 bil­lion in 2018 sales for Bio­gen.

No­var­tis’ Zol­gens­ma is cur­rent­ly un­der FDA re­view and the agency is ex­pect­ed to an­nounce its de­ci­sion in the com­ing months. The Swiss drug­mak­er has sug­gest­ed a price of $4 mil­lion for the gene re­place­ment ther­a­py, which it ac­quired via its $8.7 bil­lion takeover of AveX­is, may be jus­ti­fied.

David Rind

“(T)he cur­rent price of Spin­raza far ex­ceeds com­mon thresh­olds for cost-ef­fec­tive­ness. The price of Zol­gens­ma is not yet known, but there has been pub­lic dis­cus­sion of prices above com­mon­ly ac­cept­ed cost-ef­fec­tive­ness thresh­olds as well. These treat­ments will be cov­ered by US in­sur­ers re­gard­less of the pric­ing, but the rip­ple ef­fect of pric­ing de­ci­sions like these threat­ens the over­all af­ford­abil­i­ty and sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the US health sys­tem,” ICER’s chief med­ical of­fi­cer David Rind said in a state­ment.

In the ini­tial draft ICER rec­om­men­da­tions is­sued late last year, ICER had sug­gest­ed Zol­gens­ma — priced at $2 mil­lion — could be more cost-ef­fec­tive in the long run ver­sus Spin­raza.

On Wednes­day, ICER’s fi­nal re­port sug­gest­ed al­though Spin­raza’s price “should be far low­er than it is, and the price for Zol­gens­ma should be low­er than the hy­po­thet­i­cal $4-5 mil­lion price the man­u­fac­tur­er has sug­gest­ed could be jus­ti­fied.”

ICER con­duct­ed its analy­ses us­ing two mea­sures: 1) QALYs, or qual­i­ty-ad­just­ed life-years, are a mea­sure of the state of health of a per­son or group in which the ben­e­fits — in terms of length of life — are ad­just­ed to re­flect the qual­i­ty of life. Es­sen­tial­ly, one QALY is equal to one year of life in per­fect health. 2) Life years gained (LYG), which ex­press­es the ad­di­tion­al num­ber of years of life that a per­son lives as a re­sult of re­ceiv­ing a treat­ment.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, life ex­pectan­cy in the most com­mon and se­vere form of SMA (type I) is less than two years. Sur­vival de­pends on res­pi­ra­to­ry func­tion, and many in­fants and chil­dren even­tu­al­ly re­quire per­ma­nent ven­ti­la­tion.

Us­ing the QALY mea­sure for cost-ef­fec­tive­ness, Spin­raza’s val­ue was as­sessed in the presymp­to­matic pop­u­la­tion, as there are da­ta sup­port­ing its ef­fec­tive­ness in these types of pa­tients. The drug’s price should be be­tween $72,000-$130,000 for the first year of treat­ment and be­tween $36,000-$65,000 for each suc­ces­sive year. Un­der the LYG bench­mark, Spin­raza would need to be priced be­tween $83,000-$145,000 dur­ing the ini­tial year and $41,000-$72,000 for each suc­ces­sive year, ICER said.

“As the re­port notes, there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in ro­bust­ness and qual­i­ty of ev­i­dence for Spin­raza as com­pared to Zol­gens­ma. The analy­sis, how­ev­er, fails to ac­count for those dif­fer­ences. Spin­raza is the stan­dard of care in SMA and has ben­e­fit­ted the lives of more than 6,600 peo­ple. In con­trast, Zol­gens­ma is an ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py which has re­port­ed re­sults to date for on­ly 15 pa­tients fol­lowed for up to 2.5 years, sev­en of whom are re­port­ed to have sub­se­quent­ly ini­ti­at­ed treat­ment with Spin­raza,” a Bio­gen spokesper­son said in an emailed state­ment.

Mean­while, ICER did not vote on the long-term val­ue of Zol­gens­ma, as its fi­nal price is not yet known. It con­duct­ed its as­sess­ment for the SMA type I pop­u­la­tion as this is the on­ly pop­u­la­tion in which it has been clin­i­cal­ly eval­u­at­ed. Us­ing QALY, the ther­a­py’s price for type I SMA would need to be be­tween $310,000-$900,000 per shot, while un­der the LYG bench­mark it would need to be be­tween $710,000-$1.5 mil­lion per treat­ment, ICER con­clud­ed.

“The val­ue mea­sures and thresh­olds em­ployed by ICER in this re­port are de­signed around the sta­tus quo of chron­ic care man­age­ment and can­not pos­si­bly cap­ture the full ben­e­fits of dis­ease-mod­i­fy­ing treat­ments de­liv­ered as a one-time ad­min­is­tra­tion,” a No­var­tis spokesper­son said in an emailed state­ment.

ICER al­so rec­om­mend­ed pay­ers en­dorsed the con­cept of val­ue-based con­tracts, a sys­tem in which a re­im­burse­ment for a sub­stan­tial por­tion of the treat­ment is not passed on to the drug­mak­er, should pa­tients not re­ceive ad­e­quate clin­i­cal ben­e­fit.

Im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Nick Leschly via Getty

UP­DAT­ED: Blue­bird shares sink as an­a­lysts puz­zle out $1.8M stick­er shock and an un­ex­pect­ed de­lay

Blue­bird bio $BLUE has un­veiled its price for the new­ly ap­proved gene ther­a­py Zyn­te­glo (Lenti­Glo­bin), which came as a big sur­prise. And it wasn’t the on­ly un­ex­pect­ed twist in to­day’s sto­ry.

With some an­a­lysts bet­ting on a $900,000 price for the β-tha­lassemia treat­ment in Eu­rope, where reg­u­la­tors pro­vid­ed a con­di­tion­al ear­ly OK, blue­bird CEO Nick Leschly said Fri­day morn­ing that the pa­tients who are suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed with their drug over 5 years will be charged twice that — $1.8 mil­lion — on the con­ti­nent. That makes this drug the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py on the plan­et, just be­hind No­var­tis’ new­ly ap­proved Zol­gens­ma at $2.1 mil­lion, with an­a­lysts still wait­ing to see what kind of pre­mi­um can be had in the US.

Gene ther­a­pies seize the top of the list of the most ex­pen­sive drugs on the plan­et — and that trend has just be­gun

Anyone looking for a few simple reasons why the gene therapy field has caught fire with the pharma giants need only look at the new list of the 10 most expensive therapies from GoodRx.

Two recently approved gene therapies sit atop this list, with Novartis’ Zolgensma crowned the king of the priciest drugs at $2.1 million. Right below is Luxturna, the $850,000 pioneer from Spark, which Roche is pushing hard to acquire as it adds a gene therapy group to the global mix.

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Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics poised to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tion for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval, with new piv­otal da­ta on its sick­le cell dis­ease drug

Global Blood Therapeutics is set to submit an application for accelerated approval in the second-half of this year, after unveiling fresh data from a late-stage trial that showed just over half the patients given the highest dose of its experimental sickle cell disease drug experienced a statistically significant improvement in oxygen-wielding hemoglobin, meeting the study's main goal.

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In a boost to Rit­ux­an fran­chise, Roche nabs quick ap­proval for po­latuzum­ab ve­dotin

Roche’s lat­est an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gate has crossed the FDA fin­ish line, gain­ing an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval a full two months ahead of sched­ule.

Po­livy, or po­latuzum­ab ve­dotin, is a first-in-class drug tar­get­ing CD79b — a pro­tein promi­nent in B-cell non-Hodgkin lym­phoma. It will now be mar­ket­ed for dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma as part of a reg­i­men that al­so in­cludes the chemother­a­py ben­damus­tine and a ver­sion of rit­ux­imab (Rit­ux­an).

News­mak­ers at #EHA19: Re­gen­eron, Ar­Qule track progress on re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s close­ly-watched bis­pe­cif­ic con­tin­ues to ring up high re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s high-pro­file bis­pe­cif­ic REGN1979 is back in the spot­light at the Eu­ro­pean Hema­tol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion sci­en­tif­ic con­fab. And while the stel­lar num­bers we saw at ASH have erod­ed some­what as more blood can­cer pa­tients are eval­u­at­ed, the re­sponse rates for this CD3/CD20 drug re­main high.

A to­tal of 13 out of 14 fol­lic­u­lar lym­phomas re­spond­ed to the drug, a 93% ORR, down from 100% at the last read­out. In 10 out of 14, there was a com­plete re­sponse. In dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma the re­sponse rate was 57% among pa­tients treat­ed at the 80 mg to 160 mg dose range. They were all com­plete re­spons­es. And 2 of these Cars were for pa­tients who had failed CAR-T ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford, Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Un­der siege, in­vest­ment man­ag­er Wood­ford faces an­oth­er in­vest­ment shock

Em­bat­tled UK fund man­ag­er Neil Wood­ford — who has con­tro­ver­sial­ly blocked in­vestors from pulling out from his flag­ship fund to stem the blood­let­ting, af­ter a slew of dis­ap­point­ed in­vestors fled fol­low­ing a se­ries of sour bets — is now pay­ing the price for his ac­tions via an in­vestor ex­o­dus on an­oth­er fund.

Har­g­reaves Lans­down, which has in the past sold and pro­mot­ed the Wood­ford funds via its re­tail in­vest­ment plat­form, has re­port­ed­ly with­drawn £45 mil­lion — its en­tire po­si­tion — from the in­vest­ment man­ag­er’s In­come Fo­cus Fund.

Sil­i­con Val­ley's most an­tic­i­pat­ed slide deck just dropped. What does it mean for bio­phar­ma's dig­i­tal teams?

These aren’t the typ­i­cal slides you’d see at End­points — no mol­e­cules, clin­i­cal pro­grams, or p-val­ues. In­stead, we’ll talk dig­i­tal and in­ter­net trends, fac­tors that elite glob­al brands — re­gard­less of in­dus­try — must first mea­sure and un­der­stand be­fore de­ploy­ing prod­ucts in­to the world. That’s a con­cept that most of our Big Phar­ma au­di­ence is in tune with. Dig­i­tal aware­ness is key to suc­cess in the dis­cov­ery, de­vel­op­ment, and mar­ket­ing of new bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, and most of the ma­jors now have a chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer: No­var­tis, Sanofi, and Pfiz­er, just to name a few.

J&J gains an en­thu­si­as­tic en­dorse­ment from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for their big new drug Spra­va­to

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has lit­tle love for Big Phar­ma, but there’s at least one new drug that just hit the mar­ket which he is en­am­ored with.

Trump, ev­i­dent­ly, has been read­ing up on J&J’s new an­ti-de­pres­sion drug, Spra­va­to. And the pres­i­dent — who of­ten likes to break out in­to a full-throat­ed at­tack on greedy drug­mak­ers — ap­par­ent­ly en­thused about the ther­a­py in a meet­ing with of­fi­cials of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, which has long grap­pled with de­pres­sion among vet­er­ans.

Fol­low­ing CAR-T pi­o­neer­s' foot­steps, Tes­sa launch­es Chi­na JV in $120M deal

These days just about every biotech se­ri­ous about glob­al de­vel­op­ment — and not just com­mer­cial­iza­tion — has a Chi­na strat­e­gy. Tes­sa Ther­a­peu­tics, a Bay­lor as­so­ci­at­ed out­fit based out of Sin­ga­pore, is no ex­cep­tion.

Tak­ing a page out of the CAR-T pi­o­neers’ play­book, Tes­sa is es­tab­lish­ing a joint ven­ture with Chi­na-Sin­ga­pore Guangzhou Knowl­edge City, which is ini­tial­ly putting down $40 mil­lion for a 13% stake with $40 mil­lion more to come in a sec­ond stage. The biotech, which now re­tains an 87% con­trol, is al­so rolling out its own con­tri­bu­tions in two phas­es, start­ing with $20 mil­lion and all its tech­nol­o­gy li­cense rights for Chi­na.