Ver­tex deal for Scot­land — no deal for Eng­land

Cys­tic fi­bro­sis (CF) drug mak­er Ver­tex Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — which is still locked in ne­go­ti­a­tion with NHS Eng­land to en­dorse the use of its med­i­cines — has suc­cess­ful­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed a deal with Scot­tish au­thor­i­ties.

A month ago, the Scot­tish Med­i­cines Con­sor­tium spurned two of the com­pa­ny’s med­i­cines — Orkam­bi and Symke­vi — cit­ing un­cer­tain­ty over their long-term ef­fi­ca­cy in re­la­tion to their cost.

Each drug car­ries a list price of more than £100,000 per pa­tient per year. The UK has more than 10,400 cys­tic fi­bro­sis pa­tients – the largest CF pop­u­la­tion out­side the US, ac­cord­ing to the Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis Foun­da­tion.

But on Thurs­day, Ver­tex an­nounced a deal had been reached with Scot­land. The price ne­go­ti­at­ed for the treat­ments is con­fi­den­tial, but as part of the five-year agree­ment Ver­tex will col­lect re­al-world ev­i­dence on the drugs that sup­port any fu­ture sub­mis­sions, the com­pa­ny said, adding that about 400 out of the 900 CF pa­tients in Scot­land car­ry the mu­ta­tions ad­dress­able by Orkam­bi or Symke­vi.

David Rams­den Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis Trust

“We cel­e­brate the news in Scot­land to­day, but our cam­paign must con­tin­ue to fo­cus on Ver­tex and all par­ties in Eng­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land. Those in need of the drugs have al­ready wait­ed too long and we must en­sure that thou­sands more peo­ple are not sub­ject­ed to a post­code lot­tery. Scot­land’s suc­cess must now be repli­cat­ed across the UK with­out fur­ther dam­ag­ing de­lay,” Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis Trust chief David Rams­den said in a state­ment.

The cys­tic fi­bro­sis drugs made by Ver­tex $VRTX are the first treat­ments that ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing ge­net­ic caus­es of cys­tic fi­bro­sis, which is char­ac­ter­ized by a thick sticky mu­cus in the lungs, di­ges­tive sys­tem and oth­er or­gans that re­duces life ex­pectan­cy. In its sec­ond-quar­ter re­sults — pub­lished in late Ju­ly — Ver­tex’s tri­fec­ta of CF med­i­cines com­bined gen­er­at­ed near­ly $1 bil­lion in sales, up 25% from the pre­ced­ing quar­ter. The FDA is al­so re­view­ing the Boston biotech’s three-drug cock­tail for CF, which is ex­pect­ed to treat 90% of CF pa­tients.

Jeff Lei­den Ver­tex

Ver­tex has been hag­gling with UK’s cost-ef­fec­tive­ness watch­dog NICE, which has re­fused to al­low the drug in­to Eng­land’s NHS un­til Ver­tex of­fers it a dis­count on the treat­ment’s price tag that would com­pel the agency to look fa­vor­ably up­on its cost-ef­fec­tive­ness. Ear­li­er this year, NHS Eng­land of­fered Ver­tex £500 mil­lion over five years and £l bil­lion over the next 10 years to ac­cess the com­pa­ny’s med­i­cines — but the US drug­mak­er re­ject­ed the of­fer. Ne­go­ti­a­tions are still on­go­ing.

To the hor­ror of UK cys­tic fi­bro­sis pa­tients, a Ver­tex ex­ec­u­tive dis­closed that last year close to 8,000 packs (each con­tain­ing a 28-day sup­ply) of the com­pa­ny’s treat­ment, Orkam­bi, were de­stroyed af­ter cross­ing their ex­piry date. In a stand­off with UK par­lia­ment in March, Ver­tex chief Jeff Lei­den stood his ground, de­spite be­ing chas­tised by a pletho­ra of MPs for Ver­tex’s pric­ing strat­e­gy, busi­ness mod­el and ethics.

So­cial im­age: Ver­tex

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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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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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.”

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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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.

No­var­tis los­es biosim­i­lar ap­peal as court up­holds a 31-year mo­nop­oly by Am­gen's En­brel

A new court ruling has strengthened Amgen’s grip on the IP estate around Enbrel, keeping biosimilars of the autoimmune and inflammatory drug at bay until 2029.

Novartis, the patent challenger, isn’t throwing in the towel yet. In a statement noting the failed appeal, its generics division Sandoz noted its reviewing options, “including potential appeal to US Supreme Court.”

It’s been almost four years since the FDA approved Erelzi, Sandoz’s copycat version of Enbrel. While sales of the Pfizer-partnered drug in the US — the market Amgen is in charge of — have dipped slightly during that time, it remains a solid megablockbuster with 2019 revenue slightly above $5 billion.

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.)