Trump at­tacks “slow and bur­den­some” drug ap­proval process, trig­ger­ing a pitch from Am­i­cus CEO

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump out­lined his po­lit­i­cal agen­da for 2017 in his ad­dress to a joint ses­sion of Con­gress Tues­day night, aim­ing a broad­side di­rect­ed straight at the “bur­den­some” drug ap­proval process at the FDA. And a promi­nent CEO in the rare dis­ease field stepped in­to Trump’s high pow­ered spot­light to urge a change in the way the agency han­dles or­phan drugs while mak­ing a pitch for a speedy re­ver­sal of a painful set­back hand­ed to him by reg­u­la­tors last year.

In a se­ries of point­ed high­lights dur­ing tonight’s speech, most of Trump’s com­ments on health­care fo­cused on the now stan­dard at­tack on Oba­macare and a de­mand to re­peal and re­place his pre­de­ces­sor’s plans on health in­sur­ance. But he re­served a few mo­ments of heat­ed crit­i­cism re­served specif­i­cal­ly for the FDA and gov­ern­ment re­form.

“We must elim­i­nate the bur­den­some ap­proval process for life-sav­ing drugs so that more lives can be saved,” was in­clud­ed in Trump’s ad­vance list of talk­ing points.

“(O)ur slow and bur­den­some ap­proval process at the FDA keeps too many ad­vances, like the one that saved Megan’s life, from reach­ing those in need,” Trump told his au­di­ence, turn­ing to Am­i­cus CEO John Crow­ley’s daugh­ter Megan in the au­di­ence.

Megan Crow­ley suf­fers from Pompe dis­ease, a rare ail­ment that Am­i­cus has set out to treat with two drugs now in Phase I. Crow­ley found­ed No­vazyme, ac­quired by Gen­zyme, which went on to de­vel­op an en­zyme re­place­ment ther­a­py Megan Crow­ley still us­es.

“If we slash the re­straints, not just at the FDA but in gov­ern­ment,” Trump told Con­gress, “we will be blessed with far more mir­a­cles like Megan.”

Ear­li­er in the speech Trump al­so lashed out once again at the “ar­ti­fi­cial­ly high price of drugs,” which he has vowed to rein in.

That all fits close­ly with the pres­i­dent’s in­sis­tence — out­lined in a re­cent ses­sion with Big Phar­ma ex­ec­u­tives — that the drug ap­proval process needs to be dereg­u­lat­ed, in­sist­ing that slash­ing FDA rules was need­ed in or­der to cut drug prices. But the in­dus­try has re­coiled at the idea that the FDA’s rules gov­ern­ing de­vel­op­ment need to be gut­ted, leav­ing many won­der­ing just how ex­treme a makeover the pres­i­dent has in mind.

Am­i­cus $FOLD rep­re­sents a biotech com­pa­ny which would ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cant­ly from a sharp change in di­rec­tion at the FDA. Last year the com­pa­ny’s shares were sent in­to a tail­spin af­ter it was forced to mount a new safe­ty study for migala­s­tat, a new drug for Fab­ry dis­ease, af­ter reg­u­la­tors at the FDA de­mand­ed more da­ta in a move that will push back any ap­proval by years. Months be­fore, the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion gave it a green light across the At­lantic.

“(I)t is trou­bling that in re­cent years, rare dis­ease re­search is be­com­ing what the Or­phan Drug Act sought to change: an en­ter­prise too ex­pen­sive to jus­ti­fy in­vest­ment,” the Am­i­cus CEO wrote in a piece for the Ob­serv­er. “It takes now or­phan drugs as much time to com­plete Phase III stud­ies (the stage of drug de­vel­op­ment where ef­fi­ca­cy is es­tab­lished) as it does for non-or­phans. At the same time, the av­er­age clin­i­cal tri­al cost per pa­tient is 14 times high­er for or­phan drugs com­pared to those that are not. The FDA’s reg­u­la­tion of the or­phan de­vel­op­ment process is be­com­ing less flex­i­ble, less ef­fi­cient and less pa­tient-cen­tered.”

“Sim­i­lar­ly,” he added, “my com­pa­ny, Am­i­cus Ther­a­peu­tics, saw the de­vel­op­ment of Galafold, for the treat­ment of Fab­ry dis­ease, slowed by the same process in the U.S., adding mil­lions of dol­lars in cost and de­lay­ing treat­ment for years, de­spite the drug’s ap­proval as a pre­ci­sion med­i­cine in Eu­rope last year. The FDA has de­clared that the on­ly path­way to avail­abil­i­ty for Fab­ry pa­tients in the Unit­ed States is pred­i­cat­ed on yet an­oth­er study. And while we do that, pa­tients wait. All get sick­er. And some will die.”

In­vestors picked up on the pos­si­bil­i­ties, bid­ding Am­i­cus’ shares up 7% Wednes­day morn­ing.

Now the biotech in­dus­try wants to know if a new FDA com­mis­sion­er ap­point­ed by Trump would change the bal­ance of safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta need­ed for an ap­proval, changes which may ben­e­fit in­di­vid­ual com­pa­nies but erode the gold stan­dard long de­mand­ed by the agency.

Crow­ley has al­ready made it clear that he be­lieves he’s ready to start mar­ket­ing the drug in the US “to­day.” His fate this year will in­flu­ence the en­tire in­dus­try, for bet­ter or worse, as Trump and the na­tion’s law­mak­ers go about trans­form­ing the pres­i­dent’s rhetoric in­to po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ty.


Re­marks As De­liv­ered:

An in­cred­i­ble young woman is with us this evening who should serve as an in­spi­ra­tion to us all.

To­day is Rare Dis­ease day, and join­ing us in the gallery is a Rare Dis­ease Sur­vivor, Megan Crow­ley.  Megan was di­ag­nosed with Pompe Dis­ease, a rare and se­ri­ous ill­ness, when she was 15 months old.  She was not ex­pect­ed to live past five.

On re­ceiv­ing this news, Megan’s dad, John, fought with every­thing he had to save the life of his pre­cious child.  He found­ed a com­pa­ny to look for a cure, and helped de­vel­op the drug that saved Megan’s life.  To­day she is 20 years old — and a sopho­more at Notre Dame.

Megan’s sto­ry is about the un­bound­ed pow­er of a fa­ther’s love for a daugh­ter.

But our slow and bur­den­some ap­proval process at the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion keeps too many ad­vances, like the one that saved Megan’s life, from reach­ing those in need.

If we slash the re­straints, not just at the FDA but across our Gov­ern­ment, then we will be blessed with far more mir­a­cles like Megan.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.