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.”

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

Bax­ter con­tin­ues on-shoring push with $50M In­di­ana ex­pan­sion

It’s been a banner year for the once humdrum business of manufacturing drugs, particularly vaccines. Billions have been spent ramping up facilities for Covid-19 jabs, while individual CDMOs have expanded their facilities, apparently anticipating demand or responding to a government-led push to onshore drug manufacturing.

Now Baxter Biopharma Solutions, the CDMO wing of the many-armed healthcare giant Baxter, is getting in on the game. On Tuesday, they announced plans to spend $50 million to expand their flagship, 600,000 square-foot facility in Bloomington, IN.

Eu­ro­pean Union aims to es­tab­lish patent workaround in case of emer­gen­cies while try­ing to strength­en its own IP

The European Union is looking at ways to bypass patent protections and make it easier to make generic drugs in cases of emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, a new document says.

Normally, under WTO regulations, the practice known as “compulsory licensing” is allowed in exceptional circumstances and could be applied as a waiver to bypass patent holders. Wednesday’s document was published as part of the EU’s plan to shore up the intellectual property rights of its member states.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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The flu virus (CDC)

Roche tacks on an­oth­er Xofluza in­di­ca­tion as flu sea­son meets pan­dem­ic

Xofluza was heralded as the first new flu drug in 20 years when it got the FDA OK back in 2018. But even so, Roche saw tough competition from cheaper Tamiflu generics that appeared to be nearly as — if not just as — effective.

Now, the pharma says the drug also can be used to prevent influenza after exposure, snagging a new approval and adding to Xofluza’s appeal as flu season meets the pandemic.