Trump's 'sweep­ing ac­tion' to low­er drug prices mocked by an­a­lysts as re­lieved in­vestors trig­ger ral­ly in Big Phar­ma stocks

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took to the bul­ly pul­pit to­day to steer a pack­age of pro­pos­als in­to ex­is­tence that he claimed is “the most sweep­ing ac­tion in his­to­ry to low­er the price of pre­scrip­tion drugs for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

But if that was his aim, his shot hit so far from the mark that it trig­gered a spike in Big Phar­ma stock prices as an­a­lysts dis­missed the ef­fort as a “non-event” cen­tered on some mar­gin­al pro­mo­tion­al is­sues that would be a “small price to pay” for avoid­ing tak­ing a hit on their con­trol of drug pric­ing.

Trump’s short speech — play­ing out against a back­drop of rev­e­la­tions that No­var­tis had paid his per­son­al at­tor­ney $1.2 mil­lion — con­tin­ued his prac­tice of ex­co­ri­at­ing drug lob­by­ists and spe­cial in­ter­ests. But it was long on rhetoric and short on tough moves. 

The pres­i­dent said his pro­pos­als would re­sult in “elim­i­nat­ing the mid­dle men; the mid­dle men be­came very, very rich,” even though their stocks al­so surged in the wake of Trump’s roll­out. And he vowed to take on spe­cial in­ter­ests while pre­vent­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers from ex­ploit­ing the coun­try’s patent sys­tem to guard block­buster ther­a­peu­tic fran­chis­es.

As promised, Trump ac­cused oth­er coun­tries of en­gi­neer­ing ar­ti­fi­cial­ly low drug prices, forc­ing Amer­i­cans to shoul­der the weight of “the enor­mous cost of re­search and de­vel­op­ment.” Trump al­so weighed in against so-called gag laws that pre­vent phar­ma­cists from point­ing con­sumers to low­er priced al­ter­na­tives to pre­scribed drugs.

In a quick fol­low-up, HHS Sec­re­tary Alex Azar raised one spe­cif­ic pro­pos­al that aimed at sham­ing phar­ma com­pa­nies by forc­ing them to in­clude the price of the drugs they pro­mot­ed in ad­ver­tis­ing.

While lob­by­ists may have come in for a tongue lash­ing, the in­dus­try has to be pleased that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is mak­ing no move to re­quire Medicare to ne­go­ti­ate low­er prices, or al­low for reim­por­ta­tion of drugs from those oth­er coun­tries with cheap­er prices. What we heard about to­day amount­ed to some tai­lor­ing and planned slim­ming — the ba­sic out­fit re­mains the same. And that fact helped trig­ger a broad ral­ly in Big Phar­ma stocks af­ter the speech wrapped.

HHS pro­vid­ed more specifics in a blue­print for ac­tion that it dis­trib­uted just be­fore the speech­es. The ac­tions in­clude —

  • Adding val­ue-based drug con­tract­ing, which the in­dus­try has al­ready ea­ger­ly signed off on as a need­ed com­pro­mise.
  • Chang­ing the for­mu­la­ry struc­ture used by Medicare Part D plans to al­low for a min­i­mum of one drug per cat­e­go­ry or class, rather than 2, to height­en com­pe­ti­tion and al­low some lever­ag­ing.
  • En­cour­ag­ing states to try new de­mo projects us­ing best prac­tices from pri­vate in­dus­try to low­er drug costs.
  • End­ing the 180-day gener­ic drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty pro­vi­sion as a tem­po­rary mea­sure to hold back dis­count com­pe­ti­tion.
  • Go­ing af­ter low for­eign drug prices be­gin­ning with an analy­sis of prices in coun­tries be­long­ing to the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment.
  • In­clud­ing new rules aimed at low­er­ing out-of-pock­et ex­pens­es.
  • Of­fer­ing thoughts on in­creas­ing the num­ber and ac­cess to biosim­i­lars, elim­i­nat­ing a process where “man­u­fac­tur­ers may seek to use shared sys­tem REMS to de­lay or block com­pe­ti­tion from gener­ic prod­ucts en­ter­ing the mar­ket.”
  • Giv­ing Part D plans more flex­i­bil­i­ty on adding cheap­er gener­ics to their for­mu­la­ries.
  • And in ad­di­tion to see­ing if the rules can be changed to re­quire phar­mas to pub­li­cize pric­ing, the gov­ern­ment has a plan to spot­light drugs which have not seen reg­u­lar price hikes as part of an at­tempt to shine a light on the cost of in­di­vid­ual ther­a­pies.

The pro­pos­als to­day are very much a work in progress, with the ad­min­is­tra­tion promis­ing to look at in­ter­change­abil­i­ty of biosim­i­lars with brand­ed drugs, an is­sue that has raised the hack­les of some drug man­u­fac­tur­ers whose fran­chise drugs face a com­pet­i­tive threat.

But while com­pa­nies are like­ly to ob­ject to var­i­ous de­tails in the plan, with con­sid­er­able lob­by­ing to come on the specifics, there are no big changes out­lined here that will do what Trump has been promis­ing to do for more than a year: slash drug prices.

In­vestors clear­ly didn’t see any pain in the pro­pos­als. The $NBI surged, along with shares of the big phar­mas like Eli Lil­ly (up 2%), Mer­ck (up 3%) and J&J (up 2%). So did the PBMs — $ES­RX — that took a hit from the pres­i­dent. The win­dow dress­ing to this speech may have in­di­cat­ed a time of mourn­ing, but the lights were on and the par­ty was un­der­way in­side.

Jef­feries called it “be­nign,” and a “non-event.”

Leerink didn’t see much earth shak­ing about it.

Over­all we con­cur with the ob­vi­ous Street sen­ti­ment that the pro­pos­als are much less dra­con­ian than feared, and with no re-im­por­ta­tion, no manda­to­ry trans­paren­cy of con­tracts, no guar­an­teed flow-through of re­bates, no patent term ab­bre­vi­a­tion or risks, then the lim­it­ed im­pact of greater price trans­paren­cy, which the in­dus­try will op­pose, seems a small price to pay if in­deed those pro­pos­als are im­ple­ment­ed.

Trump, mean­while, is stick­ing with his vow to bring drug prices in­to line the world over.

This is “just the be­gin­ning,” Trump con­clud­ed, promis­ing new leg­is­la­tion and more ac­tions that re­quired help from Con­gress.

“We’re go­ing to see those prices come down,” he said. “It will be a beau­ti­ful thing.”


Im­ages: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Alex Azar. WHITE HOUSE via YOUTUBE

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Psilocybin mushrooms (via The Denver Post)

In a key step for psy­che­del­ic re­search, mag­ic mush­room com­pound clears first clin­i­cal safe­ty hur­dle

Exasperated with the often-ineffective existing slate of antidepressants, COMPASS Pathways set up shop in London 2016 — and made a beeline for psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms.

On Wednesday, the startup said its man-made version of the chemical — which is illegal across geographies in its natural fungi form — had been well-tolerated in an early-stage, placebo-controlled trial in 89 healthy volunteers.

Al­pham­ab On­col­o­gy rounds out HKEX's sec­ond biotech IPO year with $230M raise and high lo­cal in­ter­est

Alphamab Oncology has inspired a surge of local interest in what will likely be the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s last biotech run of the year, pricing its IPO on the high end of the range and raising over $230 million (HK$1.83 billion).

After rejigging the offering structure and making up to 50% available for enthusiastic local investors, the biotech sold 179.4 million shares at $1.31 (HK$10.2) and saw its stock rise to $1.77 ($13.8) on the first day of trading.

For sale: Long-act­ing PhI­II GLP-1 di­a­betes drug that’s way be­hind ri­vals, now spurned by Sanofi

Almost exactly 4 years ago Sanofi came to the bargaining table with South Korea’s Hanmi bearing $434 million dollars in cash and offering about $4 billion in milestones to in-license their once-weekly GLP-1 injectable. The pact was intended to revive their ailing diabetes division. Instead, it turned into a very expensive grave to mark the end of Sanofi’s R&D ambitions in the field.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson used efpeglenatide’s demise — while committing to paying hundreds of millions of more dollars to push it through 5 late-stage studies — as a marker of the company’s determination to stay focused on first and best-in-class drugs.

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Parkin­son's trans­plants emerge as stem cell pi­o­neer Jeanne Lor­ing joins race

Jeanne Loring hadn’t studied Parkinson’s in 22 years when she got an email from a local neurologist.

The neurologist, Melissa Houser, didn’t know Loring had ever published on the disease. She was just looking for a stem cell researcher who might hear her out. 

“I think I was just picked out a hat,” Loring told Endpoints News. 

At a meeting in Loring’s Scripps Research office, Houser and a Parkinson’s nurse practitioner, Sherrie Gould, asked her why there was so much research done in stem cell transplants for other neurodegenerative diseases but not Parkinson’s. They wanted to know if she would work on one. 

What does $6.9B buy these days in on­col­o­gy R&D? As­traZeneca has a land­mark an­swer

Given the way the FDA has been whisking through new drug approvals months ahead of their PDUFA date, AstraZeneca and their partners Daiichi Sankyo may not have to wait until Q2 of next year to get a green light on trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201).

The pharma giant this morning played their ace in the hole, showing off why they were willing to commit to a $6.9 billion deal — with $1.35 billion in a cash upfront — to partner on the drug.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Large advertisements for the drug Vivitrol decorate the walls of Grand Central Station on June 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein via Getty)

FDA slaps down Alk­er­mes for mis­lead­ing Viv­it­rol ads — don't for­get vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to opi­oid over­dose

The ads piqued interest as soon as they started appearing in 2016: at Grand Central Station, on the Red Line in Cambridge, and on a billboard off the New Jersey Turnpike. All showed a young person, generally with his or her arms crossed, and the question, “what is Vivitrol?”

Vivitrol’s maker, Alkermes, was in the midst of a marketing and lobbying campaign to promote the anti-opioid addiction drug — a campaign that would face significant backlash for tarnishing competitors despite little evidence for Vivitrol’s superiority.

FDA in-house re­view spot­lights an is­sue with one of Hori­zon's end­points but notes ef­fi­ca­cy for lead drug

The FDA in-house review highlights a disagreement of investigators’ use of a key endpoint by Horizon Pharma in the late-stage trial for the top drug in its pipeline, but largely agreed that the antibody was effective.

Horizon submitted a BLA for thyroid eye disease (TED) drug teprotumumab in March, less than two years after they bought the drug (and the rest of a division) from Narrow River for $145 million upfront. With breakthrough status, priority review, orphan designation and in-house sales projections of up to $750 million, the one-time Roche reject became the marquee pipeline asset for a company that’s developed some of the world’s most expensive drugs.