Too slow to warn: Sanofi in­dict­ed over old an­ti-epilep­tic drug tied to birth de­fects

Sanofi has been for­mal­ly charged over De­pakine — a decades-old ther­a­py for epilep­sy that caus­es birth de­fects and im­pedes neu­ro­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment when tak­en dur­ing preg­nan­cy.

Ev­i­dence that the com­pound — sodi­um val­proate — was as­so­ci­at­ed with neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal risks emerged in the lat­ter half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. In 2014, the EMA re-eval­u­at­ed the drug, and a year lat­er rec­om­men­da­tions that prac­ti­tion­ers should no longer pre­scribe the treat­ment for women of child­bear­ing age or preg­nant women were en­forced.

In 2015, the French so­cial af­fairs in­spec­tion agency (IGAS) chid­ed French health au­thor­i­ties and Sanofi over their re­sponse to the risks re­lat­ed to the drug and its de­riv­a­tives. Soon af­ter, the French pros­e­cu­tor kicked off a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the ap­proval and sale of De­pakine in Oc­to­ber 2016, Reuters re­port­ed.

The com­pound — which is on the WHO list of “es­sen­tial med­i­cines” — has been on the mar­ket since 1967 to treat epilep­sy and bipo­lar dis­or­der. Sanofi learned of the risk of fe­tus mal­for­ma­tion in the 1980s. In 2003, the com­pa­ny be­came aware of the drug’s im­pact on the neu­ro­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the fe­tus, with a risk of autism or learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, ac­cord­ing to the wire agency.

“It’s fi­nal­ly a great vic­to­ry!” tweet­ed Ma­rine Mar­tin, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion for the as­sis­tance of par­ents of chil­dren suf­fer­ing from an­ti-con­vul­sant syn­drome (APE­SAC), which was set up in 2011. “My de­ter­mi­na­tion paid off, we will have our big crim­i­nal tri­al !!!”

The crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion was ini­ti­at­ed by APE­SAC, and forms of part of the process of the pend­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion on De­pakine be­fore the Ju­di­cial Tri­bunal of Paris, a Sanofi spokesper­son told End­points News.

“This (in­dict­ment) sta­tus will al­low us to as­sert all of our means of de­fence and demon­strate that the com­pa­ny has com­plied with its no­ti­fi­ca­tion oblig­a­tion,” the spokesper­son said.

IGAS has es­ti­mat­ed that be­tween 425 to 450 ba­bies suf­fered con­gen­i­tal birth de­fects or were still­born fol­low­ing ex­po­sure to De­pakine from 2006 to 2014, ac­cord­ing to es­ti­mates cit­ed by Reuters.

Af­ter par­ents of suf­fer­ers crit­i­cized the French state and Sanofi for be­ing too slow to warn about the side ef­fects of the drug — in 2017, a com­pen­sa­tion scheme for vic­tims was set up. Rough­ly 6.5 mil­lion eu­ros has been pro­vid­ed in com­pen­sa­tion to 31 vic­tims, al­though near­ly 2,000 claims have been filed, ac­cord­ing to the French me­dia group fran­ce­in­fo.

Sanofi is not par­tic­i­pat­ing in this fund, the spokesper­son told End­points.

In a 2016 in­ter­view with Reuters, Sanofi said it would ac­cept any blame at­trib­uted by a court over the drug.

On Tues­day, Sanofi in a state­ment that it will “prove it has al­ways com­plied with its du­ty to in­form and been trans­par­ent.”

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: Com­mit­tee votes 22-0 to rec­om­mend an FDA OK for the J&J vac­cine, set­ting up 3rd US Covid-19 jab

The US could have a third authorized Covid-19 vaccine within hours.

The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously — 22-0 — to recommend the agency issue an emergency use authorization for J&J’s vaccine. If they follow the precedent of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine,  the FDA will likely authorize the vaccine by Saturday, immediately adding a few million doses to the US supply and adding a 100 million by June. An authorization would give the world its first single-dose vaccine, a major weapon in the effort to vaccinate the world and bring the virus to heel, particularly in rural and developing areas.