With a sub­stan­tial dis­count to Cat­a­lyst's Fir­dapse, is Ja­cobus poised to win physi­cian, pay­er sup­port for off-la­bel adult LEMS use?

Weeks ago, the FDA en­dorsed a Lam­bert-Eaton myas­thenic syn­drome (LEMS) drug from fam­i­ly-run New Jer­sey-based com­pa­ny called Ja­cobus Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals in pe­di­atric pa­tients, on the ba­sis of adult da­ta, to the sur­prise of Cat­a­lyst Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals which on­ly last year got its pricey — yet sim­i­lar — treat­ment for the rare au­toim­mune dis­or­der across the fin­ish line in adults. It has now been re­vealed that Ja­cobus’ ver­sion car­ries a price that is less than half of Cat­a­lyst’s Fir­dapse — a move that could fu­el off-la­bel pre­scrip­tion in adults.

Be­fore Cat­a­lyst’s Fir­dapse was sanc­tioned for use by the FDA, hun­dreds of pa­tients had been able to ac­cess a sim­i­lar drug from com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies for a frac­tion of the cost, or Ja­cobus’ for free, as part of an FDA-rat­i­fied com­pas­sion­ate use pro­gram. But the ap­proval of the Cat­a­lyst drug, ac­com­pa­nied by mar­ket ex­clu­siv­i­ty span­ning sev­en years — ef­fec­tive­ly pre­clud­ed Ja­cobus and com­pound­ing phar­ma­cies from sell­ing their ver­sions.

Dos­ing for any of these treat­ments is based on the pa­tient’s weight and dis­ease sever­i­ty. Cat­a­lyst’s Fir­dapse, which is ap­proved with a max­i­mum dose of 80 mg, car­ries an av­er­age list price of $375,000 a year. The com­pa­ny does not dis­close a per pill num­ber, a Cat­a­lyst spokesper­son told End­points News. 

The list price for Ruzur­gi is $80 for each 10 mg tablet, and Ja­cobus’ treat­ment is ap­proved up to a max­i­mum dose of 100 mg, Lau­ra Ja­cobus, who runs the pri­vate­ly-held com­pa­ny, told End­points News. “As an ex­am­ple, the whole­sale cost for a 60 mg dos­ing reg­i­men would be $175,200.00 an­nu­al­ly.  The cost to sup­port a pa­tient re­quir­ing a dai­ly dose of 100 mg would be $292,000.00 an­nu­al­ly.”

Ver­mont Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders — ahead of his an­nounce­ment to make a sec­ond at­tempt at the pres­i­den­cy — spot­light­ed Cat­a­lyst for the “im­moral ex­ploita­tion of pa­tients”. Oth­er crit­ics of Cat­a­lyst’s pric­ing strat­e­gy sug­gest­ed that de­pend­ing on how Ja­cobus prices its drug, Ruzur­gi, in­sur­ers could be per­suad­ed to fa­vor it over Cat­a­lyst’s prod­uct de­spite be­ing of­fi­cial­ly ap­proved for pe­di­atric use on­ly. As far as the FDA is con­cerned, doc­tors can pre­scribe drugs for off-la­bel use when they judge that it is med­ical­ly ap­pro­pri­ate for their pa­tient.

Fir­dapse land­ed on the US mar­ket this Jan­u­ary, and Cat­a­lyst has not­ed it has en­coun­tered min­i­mal push­back from pay­ers, and in­di­cat­ed that typ­i­cal­ly, cov­ered pa­tients pay less than $10 per month out-of-pock­et.

In a note pub­lished last month, Sun­Trust Robin­son Humphrey’s Ed­ward Nash sug­gest­ed that de­spite sug­ges­tions to the con­trary, “(W)e have not seen any prece­dent where pay­ers cov­er an off-la­bel drug for use in un­ap­proved pa­tient pop­u­la­tion”.

Mean­while, HC Wain­wright’s An­drew Fein sug­gest­ed that Ja­cobus, de­spite the rep­u­ta­tion of a “mod­ern-day Robin Hood” is not equipped with the in­fra­struc­ture nor the ex­pe­ri­ence to sup­port a com­mer­cial push of Ruzur­gi, even with the ap­proval in hand.

“Hand­i­capped by le­gal rea­sons, we do not be­lieve that Ja­cobus can open­ly pro­mote off-la­bel use in LEMS adults…It is un­clear if and how Ja­cobus would be able to ex­pand com­mer­cial pen­e­tra­tion oth­er than through pro­mot­ing a pro­lif­er­a­tion of off-la­bel use at aca­d­e­m­ic cen­ters that were en­rolled in the com­pas­sion­ate pro­gram (which mounts to ap­prox­i­mate­ly 200 pa­tients),” he wrote in a May note.

In LEMS pa­tients, the body’s own im­mune sys­tem launch­es an at­tack on the neu­ro­mus­cu­lar junc­tion — which con­nects nerves and mus­cles. The con­di­tion can as­so­ci­at­ed with oth­er au­toim­mune dis­eases, but tends to oc­curs in pa­tients with can­cer. Its preva­lence in pe­di­atric pa­tients is not known, but glob­al­ly it is es­ti­mat­ed to af­fect three per mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als, ac­cord­ing to the FDA. In a re­cent in­vestor pre­sen­ta­tion Cat­a­lyst sug­gest­ed there are 3,000 LEMS US pa­tients, of which 300 are on Fir­dapse.

A STAT re­port pub­lished on Mon­day sug­gest­ed that some adult LEMS pa­tients have in­sin­u­at­ed that Fir­dapse is not ef­fec­tive enough and more tablets be­yond the ap­proved 80 mg dose must be tak­en for re­lief — these ex­tra pills sad­dle them with out-of-pock­et bills that could climb to thou­sands of dol­lars month­ly. The Cat­a­lyst spokesper­son did not pro­vide com­ment on this as­ser­tion.

Im­age: Shut­ter­stock

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His­toric drug pric­ing re­forms pass; Pfiz­er ac­quires GBT; The long search for non-opi­oid pain drugs; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

The Endpoints Weekly has officially crossed the 60,000 mark on subscribers — thanks to all of your support. As the editorial team grows, we’ve been able to do a lot more, with many of those on display this week. Be sure to check out Lei Lei Wu’s deep dive on pain R&D. If you missed it, you may also rewatch her companion panel here.

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Gold for adults, sil­ver for in­fants: Pfiz­er's Pre­vnar 2.0 head­ed to FDA months af­ter Mer­ck­'s green light

Pfizer was first to the finish line for the next-gen pneumococcal vaccine in adults, but Merck beat its rival with a jab for children in June.

Now, two months after Merck’s 15-valent Vaxneuvance won the FDA stamp of approval for kids, Pfizer is out with some late-stage data on its 20-valent shot for infants.

Known as Prevnar 20 for adults, Pfizer’s 20vPnC will head to the FDA by the end of this year for an approval request in infants, the Big Pharma said Friday morning. Discussions with the FDA will occur first and more late-stage pediatric trials are expected to read out soon, informing the regulatory pathway in other countries and regions.

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Seagen interim CEO Roger Dansey and Daiichi Sankyo CEO Sunao Manabe

Paving the way for Mer­ck­'s buy­out, Seagen los­es ar­bi­tra­tion dis­pute with Dai­ichi over ADC tech

As Seagen awaits a final buyout offer from Merck that could be in the territory of $40 billion, Seagen revealed Friday afternoon that it lost an arbitration dispute with Daiichi Sankyo relating to the companies’ 2008 collaboration around the use of antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology.

But that loss likely won’t matter much when it comes to Merck’s deal.

After breaking off its pact with Daiichi in mid-2015, the two companies battled over “linker” tech — a chemical bridge between an ADC’s antibody component and the cytotoxic payload — that Seagen claims Daiichi would improve upon and implement in its current generation of ADCs.

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Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO via AP Images)

Sen­ate Fi­nance chair con­tin­ues his in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to phar­ma tax­es with re­quests for Am­gen

Amgen is the latest pharma company to appear on the radar of Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is investigating the way pharma companies are using subsidiaries in low- or zero-tax countries to lower their tax bills.

Like its peers Merck, AbbVie and Bristol Myers Squibb, Wyden notes how Amgen uses its Puerto Rico operations to consistently pay tax rates that are substantially lower than the U.S. corporate tax rate of 21%, with an effective tax rate of 10.7% in 2020 and 12.1% in 2021.

FDA ap­proves sec­ond in­di­ca­tion for As­traZeneca and Dai­ichi's En­her­tu in less than a week

AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo’s antibody-drug conjugate Enhertu scored its second approval in less than a week, this time for a subset of lung cancer patients.

Enhertu received accelerated approval on Thursday to treat adults with unresectable or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors have activating HER2 (ERBB2) mutations, and who have already received a prior systemic therapy.

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J&J to re­move talc prod­ucts from shelves world­wide, re­plac­ing with corn­starch-based port­fo­lio

After controversially spinning out its talc liabilities and filing for bankruptcy in an attempt to settle 38,000 lawsuits, Johnson & Johnson is now changing up the formula for its baby powder products.

J&J is beginning the transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio, the pharma giant announced on Thursday — just months after a federal judge ruled in favor of its “Texas two-step” bankruptcy to settle allegations that its talc products contained asbestos and caused cancer. An appeals court has since agreed to revisit that case.

CSL is gathering its four business units under a unified brand identity strategy (Credit: CSL company site)

CSL brings Se­qirus, Vi­for un­der par­ent um­brel­la brand in iden­ti­ty re­vamp

CSL is gathering its brands under the family name umbrella, renaming its vaccine and newly acquired nephrology specialty businesses with the parent initials.

CSL Seqirus and CSL Vifor join CSL Plasma and CSL Behring as the four now uniformly branded business units of the global biopharma. The Seqirus vaccine division was formed in 2015 with the combination of bioCSL and its purchase of Novartis’ flu vaccine business. CSL picked up Vifor Pharma late last year in an $11.7 billion deal for the nephrology, iron deficiency and cardio-renal drug developer.

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No­var­tis re­ports two pa­tient deaths af­ter treat­ment with Zol­gens­ma

Two children with spinal muscular atrophy have died after receiving Novartis’ Zolgensma, a gene therapy designed as a one-time treatment for the rare fatal disease.

The deaths, which resulted from acute liver failure, occurred in Russia and Kazakhstan, Novartis confirmed in a statement to Endpoints News. Having notified health authorities across all the markets where Zolgensma is available, it will update the drug label “to specify that fatal acute liver failure has been reported,” a spokesperson wrote.

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