Vas­cepa sparkle set to light up Amar­in's fourth quar­ter rev­enue

Bask­ing in the glow of its keen­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed FDA ap­proval for its fish oil pill in the block­buster in­di­ca­tion of re­duc­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk in pa­tients al­ready on statins, Amarin on Tues­day un­veiled its pre­lim­i­nary fourth-quar­ter rev­enue that beat Wall Street es­ti­mates.

Amarin ex­pects its to­tal 2019 rev­enue to come in at, or slight­ly ex­ceed, the up­per end of its pre­vi­ous­ly de­clared guid­ance of $410 mil­lion to $425 mil­lion, dri­ven by the sales of its flag­ship drug, Vas­cepa. That works out to rough­ly $140 mil­lion for the fourth quar­ter, north of the con­sen­sus pro­jec­tion of $131 mil­lion and Jef­feries’ es­ti­mate of $135 mil­lion, Jef­feries an­a­lysts wrote in a note.

“In­deed, the com­pa­ny has gen­er­al­ly met or ex­ceed­ed con­sen­sus in each of the last 5+ quar­ters and has con­tin­u­al­ly raised guid­ance,” they said. “We have con­fi­dence in our $3B+ peak es­ti­mate and be­lieve the stock re­mains gen­er­al­ly un­der­val­ued at its cur­rent $21 stock price, or $8.8B ful­ly di­lut­ed, im­ply­ing on­ly around 3x peak sales. We think it’s worth more around $12B or 4x peak sales or an­oth­er 25%+ up­side from here.”

Amarin’s Vas­cepa, known chem­i­cal­ly as icos­apent eth­yl, is an omega-3 fat­ty acid de­rived from fish oil that was orig­i­nal­ly en­dorsed by the US reg­u­la­tor as a treat­ment for el­e­vat­ed triglyc­erides. How­ev­er, last month the FDA sanc­tioned its use in a much broad­er pa­tient pop­u­la­tion af­ter a land­mark tri­al — RE­DUCE-IT — which showed the pill trig­gered a 25% re­duc­tion in the risk for the first oc­cur­rence of a ma­jor car­dio event, and a 26% re­duc­tion for 3-point MACE, a com­pos­ite of car­dio­vas­cu­lar death, non­fa­tal heart at­tack and non­fa­tal stroke.

On Tues­day, Amarin re­it­er­at­ed its 2020 sales ex­pec­ta­tions of $650 mil­lion to $700 mil­lion and pre­dict­ed that be­yond this year, it ex­pects its net rev­enue will grow in­to bil­lions of dol­lars.

The com­pa­ny al­so ex­pects its op­er­at­ing ex­pens­es to be high­er by $200 mil­lion to $250 mil­lion this year, ver­sus over 2019, trig­gered by costs as­so­ci­at­ed with the com­pa­ny’s planned ex­pan­sion of its sales team and RE­DUCE-IT pro­mo­tion­al ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing di­rect-to-con­sumer ad­ver­tis­ing. These opex es­ti­mates are high­er than what Wall Street was ex­pect­ing, but will like­ly be off­set by sales out­per­for­mance, Stifel an­a­lysts wrote in a note.

One press­ing is­sue for Amarin is the patent lit­i­ga­tion it is cur­rent­ly in­volved in against gener­ic drug­mak­ers Red­dy’s and Hik­ma. The tri­al be­gins on Jan­u­ary 13, and is ex­pect­ed to last three weeks — a de­ci­sion is ex­pect­ed by March/April, Jef­feries an­a­lysts said. “Based on our ex­pert conf calls and dili­gence, we are hope­ful for a set­tle­ment be­fore all of that or a pos­i­tive patent vic­to­ry which could clear a key over­hang for in­vestors,” they wrote.

Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”

On a roll, Mer­ck blazes through a new seg­ment of the bio­mark­er trail

Merck has notched an approval for using Keytruda to treat a biomarker-based subset of first-line colorectal cancer patients with unresectable or metastatic tumors, as the pharma giant continues to find new niches for its blockbuster PD-1 star.

The OK is significant in a number of ways. Not only does it build on an accelerated approval for all tumors characterized as microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair deficient (dMMR); it also marks the first single treatment for colorectal cancer that doesn’t contain chemotherapy.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Patrick Straub/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock)

No­var­tis pays $678M for kick­back scheme as Vas Narasimhan tries to dis­tance phar­ma gi­ant from shady be­hav­ior

Novartis has reached another large settlement to resolve misconduct allegations, agreeing to pay more than $678 million to settle claims that it had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lavish dinners, so-called speaking fees and expensive alcohol “that were nothing more than bribes” to get doctors to prescribe Novartis medications.

The top-shelf alcohol and lavish meals included a $3,250 per person night at Nobu in Dallas, a $672-per person dinner at Washington DC’s Smith & Wollensky and a $314 per person meal at Sushi Roku in Pasadena, according to the Justice Department complaint. There were at least 7 trips to Hooters and fishing trips in Alaska and off the Florida coast. Each of these events were supposed to be “speaker programs” where doctors educated other doctors on a drug, but the DOJ alleged many were “bogus” wine-and-dine events where the drug was barely mentioned, if at all.  (“Nobody presented slides on the fishing trips,” the complaint says.)