Top FDA of­fi­cial ac­cused CDER chief Wood­cock of ap­pear­ing bi­ased, brow­beat­ing re­view­ers in de­mand­ing eteplirsen OK

While FDA com­mis­sion­er Rob Califf was try­ing to nav­i­gate an in­ter­nal civ­il war at the agency over its con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to pro­vide an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for Sarep­ta’s eteplirsen, John Jenk­ins, then head of the Of­fice of New Drugs, sent him a memo which de­tailed a blis­ter­ing at­tack on CDER chief Janet Wood­cock.

Janet Wood­cock

It was Wood­cock who de­mand­ed, and won, the ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of an ac­cel­er­at­ed OK of the Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy drug.

But Jenk­ins, who sided with oth­er top of­fi­cials at the FDA in op­pos­ing the ap­proval, says that Wood­cock cre­at­ed an “ap­pear­ance of bias” in push­ing for the ap­proval from an ear­ly point. Wood­cock, he wrote Califf in a memo dat­ed Sep­tem­ber 14, 2016, left the FDA re­view team feel­ing pres­sured to come over to her side. And she by­passed the usu­al chain of com­mand to get what she want­ed, in­sist­ing on an ap­proval even be­fore the re­view team had com­plet­ed its task and leav­ing them dis­trust­ful of her role and man­ner.

Not on­ly did Jenk­ins ob­ject to Wood­cock’s han­dling of eteplirsen, a drug which had the vo­cal sup­port of the Duchenne com­mu­ni­ty, he al­so told Califf that he had de­layed his re­tire­ment specif­i­cal­ly be­cause Wood­cock in­tend­ed to take his place af­ter he left. And that is ex­act­ly what she did.

The memo was high­light­ed in a re­port by Charles Seife on Un­dark, an on­line site that al­so in­clud­ed a copy of the full let­ter. You can read the whole doc­u­ment here.

While Califf pub­lished much of the doc­u­men­ta­tion around the dis­pute, this par­tic­u­lar memo did not sur­face un­til Seife’s FOIA law­suit forced it out. And it in­cludes the re­mark­able sug­ges­tion that Califf should coun­sel the pow­er­ful CDER chief on her man­ner and her meth­ods.

Jenk­ins has since re­tired from the FDA, but he de­clined to talk to Seife, as did Wood­cock. But his memo de­serves care­ful at­ten­tion. One ex­cerpt:

John Jenk­ins

On page 4, you state “there is al­so abun­dant ev­i­dence that Dr. Wood­cock heard and read FDACDER0001 all the sci­en­tif­ic ev­i­dence…” This im­plies she took these ac­tions BE­FORE reach­ing a de­ci­sion on the ap­pli­ca­tion, which is clear­ly not cor­rect giv­en her state­ment to the re­view team of her in­ten­tion to over­rule them and ap­prove the drug BE­FORE they had com­plet­ed their re­views. Keep in mind this oc­curred af­ter an AC (ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee) meet­ing at which the ma­jor­i­ty of the pan­el vot­ed against both AA and full ap­proval. It is al­so clear that she was pre­pared to ap­prove the drug over the team’s ob­jec­tions by the orig­i­nal PDU­FA goal date and on­ly re­luc­tant­ly agreed to press the spon­sor for ad­di­tion­al da­ta on dy­s­trophin pro­duc­tion from the on­go­ing open-la­bel tri­al. While I am glad she agreed to go along with that re­quest, con­vinc­ing her to take what seemed like a very log­i­cal ac­tion was not easy. So, I find it hard to rec­on­cile your state­ments about the process with the ac­tions tak­en. Keep in mind that the usu­al course of ac­tion would be for the Of­fice to is­sue a CR let­ter and then the spon­sor could sub­mit a FDRR that would first come to me and on­ly if I sup­port­ed the Of­fice would an FDRR go to the Cen­ter Di­rec­tor. In this case that process was by­passed.

His memo goes on to out­line his con­cerns about the com­plete lack of da­ta on ef­fi­ca­cy as well as con­cerns that ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval would clear­ly low­er the bar at the agency on a new drug OK.

Al­so on page 9 it is iron­ic that you at­tribute to Janet the idea of ran­dom­iz­ing ear­ly in or­der to gen­er­ate good ev­i­dence. That is ex­act­ly what the re­view team planned to re­quire of Sarep­ta af­ter the re­sults of the 12-pa­tient study be­came avail­able, but it was Janet that pressed that a new ran­dom­ized tri­al not be re­quired. So, if Janet had fol­lowed the nor­mal CDER process in this case the re­view team would have re­quired place­bo-con­trolled tri­als, as they did for dris­apersen and we would have bet­ter da­ta on which to make a de­ci­sion.

Jenk­ins stops one step short of ac­cus­ing Wood­cock of bul­ly­ing the staff.

While I un­der­stand your de­sire not to un­der­cut her role as Cen­ter Di­rec­tor, her ac­tions have at best cre­at­ed a serous …ap­pear­ance of bias among the re­view team mem­bers and that has cre­at­ed dis­trust and a sense of un­due pres­sure to “come around” to her way of think­ing. Even if you up­hold her de­ci­sion I would think you should coun­sel her about how her be­hav­ior and ac­tions have un­der­mined her cred­i­bil­i­ty among the re­view staff and should be avoid­ed in fu­ture sim­i­lar cas­es. Ef­fec­tive lead­ers must have the trust and re­spect of their staff.

Lat­er, just be­fore he re­tired, Jenk­ins gave a speech in which he tried to warn oth­er drug de­vel­op­ers to avoid try­ing to fol­low the same path that Sarep­ta took. But he was clear­ly con­cerned about the fu­ture:

As you know, I had planned to re­tire from FDA last spring. I have de­layed my de­par­ture for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, but one of the most im­por­tant rea­sons is that Janet has told me she plans to serve as act­ing in my place as head of OND once I leave. I am very con­cerned about the im­pact of that de­ci­sion on the fu­ture of the new drugs re­view pro­gram and would be hap­py to dis­cuss those con­cerns fur­ther.

Aerial view of Genentech's campus in South San Francisco [Credit: Getty]

Genen­tech sub­mits a big plan to ex­pand its South San Fran­cis­co foot­print

The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City. 

The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.

Here comes the oral GLP-1 drug for di­a­betes — but No­vo Nordisk is­n't dis­clos­ing Ry­bel­sus price just yet

Novo Nordisk’s priority review voucher on oral semaglutide has paid off. The FDA approval for the GLP-1 drug hit late Friday morning, around six months after the NDA filing.

Rybelsus will be the first GLP-1 pill to enter the type 2 diabetes market — a compelling offering that analysts have pegged as a blockbuster drug with sales estimates ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion.

Ozempic, the once-weekly injectable formulation of semaglutide, brought in around $552 million (DKK 3.75 billion) in the first half of 2019.

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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Oxitec biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in Piracicaba, Brazil in 2016 [credit: Getty Images]

In­trex­on unit push­es back against claims its GM mos­qui­toes are mak­ing dis­ease-friend­ly mu­tants

When the hysteria of Zika transmission sprang into the American zeitgeist a few years ago, UK-based Oxitec was already field-testing its male Aedes aegypti mosquito, crafted to possess a gene engineered to obliterate its progeny long before maturation.

But when a group of independent scientists evaluated the impact of the release of these genetically-modified mosquitoes in a trial conducted by Oxitec in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, they found that some of the offspring had managed to survive — prompting them to speculate what impact the survivors could have on disease transmission and/or insecticide resistance.

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Pur­due threat­ens to walk away from set­tle­ment, asks to pay em­ploy­ees mil­lions in bonus­es

There are two updates on the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, as the Sackler family threatens to walk away from their pledge to pay out $3 billion if a bankruptcy judge does not stop outstanding state lawsuits against them. At the same time, the company has asked permission to pay millions in bonuses to select employees.

Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week as part of its signed resolution to over 2,000 lawsuits. The deal would see the Sackler family that owns Purdue give $3 billion from their personal wealth and the company turned into a trust committed to curbing and reversing overdoses.

While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

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Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.