Should Sarep­ta’s patents be seized by the gov­ern­ment? Pa­tient ad­vo­cates pitch con­tro­ver­sial drug pric­ing pro­pos­al

Six ad­vo­ca­cy groups are send­ing a big ask to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to low­er the price of one rather ex­pen­sive drug for Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy, pe­ti­tion­ing health reg­u­la­tors to flex pow­er it’s nev­er ex­er­cised be­fore.

Amidst a years-long de­bate over drug pric­ing, Sarep­ta has hit a sen­si­tive chord with the high price tag of its DMD drug Ex­ondys 51 (eteplirsen), which goes for a around $300,000 per year.

The or­ga­ni­za­tions draft­ed a let­ter to the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices (HHS), plead­ing that Sec­re­tary Alex Azar act to low­er the price of the drug. Specif­i­cal­ly, the group wants HHS to lever­age a piece of leg­is­la­tion called the Bayh-Dole Act — along with con­trac­tu­al agree­ments with fund­ing agen­cies — to take over own­er­ship of five patents on Ex­ondys 51. They can do that, the group in­sists, be­cause the in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty was backed by fed­er­al re­search dol­lars. Grant re­cip­i­ents are re­quired to dis­close fed­er­al fund­ing that con­tributes to a patent­ed in­ven­tion on their patent ap­pli­ca­tion — a step that both Sarep­ta and the Uni­ver­si­ty of West­ern Aus­tralia failed to do.

By tak­ing ti­tle to the patents, the HHS could lever­age their po­si­tion to low­er the price of Ex­ondys, the or­ga­ni­za­tions said.

An­a­lysts at Leerink, who cov­er Sarep­ta’s stock $SRPT, sent a note to in­vestors this morn­ing not­ing the un­like­li­hood that such ac­tion would be tak­en by the gov­ern­ment.

“Bot­tom Line: To­day’s let­ter from sev­er­al groups de­liv­ered to HHS Sec­re­tary (Alex) Azar high­lights the lengths that some are will­ing to go in or­der to force drug prices low­er; how­ev­er we be­lieve these groups have an up­hill bat­tle, and even if they were to pre­vail there would be lim­it­ed read through to oth­er rare dis­ease com­pa­nies whose busi­ness mod­els re­ly on pre­mi­um pric­ing.”

Leerink re­minds in­vestors that a sim­i­lar strat­e­gy was used against Gilead, Ver­tex, and No­var­tis, among oth­ers. Those ef­forts failed, an­a­lysts said in a note.

But KEI, one of the or­ga­ni­za­tions that wrote the let­ter, said Leerink’s note is mis­lead­ing.

“If they are re­fer­ring to re­search we’ve sub­mit­ted to HHS on drugs mar­ket­ed by Gilead and oth­er firms, that state­ment isn’t quite ac­cu­rate,” KEI spokesper­son Kim Tre­anor wrote in an email. “Our re­search has been sub­mit­ted very re­cent­ly and is still be­ing re­viewed by HHS, so no res­o­lu­tion to these cas­es has oc­curred as of yet.”

The let­ter writ­ers do ac­knowl­edge, how­ev­er, that the ac­tion they’re re­quest­ing is un­prece­dent­ed:

In the past, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has, on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions, asked re­cip­i­ents of fed­er­al grants and con­tracts to cor­rect fail­ures to dis­close fed­er­al fund­ing of the in­ven­tions, but has not ex­er­cised its rights to take the ti­tle of such patents for pur­pos­es of in­flu­enc­ing drug prices. In this re­spect, we rec­og­nize that we are ask­ing HHS to do some­thing new.

And lat­er, the let­ter re­it­er­ates what the or­ga­ni­za­tions are up against:

We re­spect­ful­ly ask for a meet­ing with your staff to fur­ther dis­cuss this is­sue, not­ing that as a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, if the de­ci­sions are del­e­gat­ed sole­ly to the NIH (Of­fice of Tech­nol­o­gy Trans­fer) staff it is high­ly un­like­ly any ac­tion will be tak­en to mod­er­ate the price of this drug.

Read the full let­ter here, writ­ten and sub­mit­ted by KEI, Health GAP, Pa­tients for Af­ford­able Drugs, Peo­ple of Faith for Ac­cess to Med­i­cines, So­cial Se­cu­ri­ty Works and Uni­ver­si­ties Al­lied for Es­sen­tial Med­i­cines.


Im­age: Sarep­ta Ther­a­peu­tics. AP IM­AGES

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Covid-19 roundup: Mer­ck­'s $356M sup­ply deal on hold as FDA asks for more da­ta; UK stud­ies of­fer more in­for­ma­tion on ef­fi­ca­cy of Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine af­ter one dose

Merck is pushing back plans to supply the US government with a Covid-19 drug after the FDA asked for more data to support an emergency use authorization.

The antibody, MK-7110, had looked promising in a Phase III study conducted by OncoImmune before Merck came along and bought the biotech for $425 million. At the interim analysis, investigators looked at data from 203 patients and concluded that a single dose of the drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50% among severe patients. And those taking the drug had a 60% higher chance of improvement in clinical status compared to placebo.

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CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

Fatty liver conceptual image, 3D illustration showing fatty liver silhouette made from micrograph of liver steatosis (Shutterstock)

The path to NASH: un­der­stand­ing the role of se­vere obe­si­ty in a com­plex, mul­ti-sys­tem dis­ease

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We often think a person’s transition from a healthy to a diseased state is binary. But that’s often not the case. In reality, the onset of a disease is not something that occurs overnight, and the majority lie on a continuum that is impacted by a multitude of factors. Some of these factors are in a patient’s control. Others are not.

This is the case in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), two of the most complex diseases that “live” on this proverbial continuum. The clinical onset of NAFLD — and ultimately NASH — is a complex process that is closely related to obesity, insulin resistance and impaired adipose tissue metabolism.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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