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

Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

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Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; 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.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

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CBER Director Peter Marks (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

FDA ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee votes unan­i­mous­ly in fa­vor of bi­va­lent Covid shots re­plac­ing pri­ma­ry se­ries

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all current vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

The vote marks an effort to clear up confusion around varying formulations and dosing schedules for current primary series and booster vaccines, as well as “get closer to the strains that are circulating,” according to committee member Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Rodney Rietze, iVexSol CEO

Bris­tol My­ers, Charles Riv­er join Se­ries A fund­ing for iVex­Sol

Massachusetts-based iVexSol has secured funding to the tune of $23.8 million in its latest Series A round. The new investors include Bristol Myers Squibb, manufacturer Charles River Laboratories and Asahi Kasei Medical.

iVexSol is a manufacturer of lentiviral vectors (LVV), used in making gene therapies, and this latest round of fundraising brings its total Series A total over $39 million, which will be used to recruit more employees and bolster its technology.

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John Rim, Samsung Biologics CEO (Samsung/PR Newswire)

Sam­sung Bi­o­log­ics spells out ex­pan­sion plans in South Ko­rea and US

The CDMO arm of one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates has posted its year-end results and plans for 2023, which include new construction.

Samsung Biologics netted north of KRW 3 trillion ($2.4 billion) in 2022 revenue and an operating profit of KRW 983.6 billion ($799 million), which the company touted on Friday as “record-high earnings.” The revenue boost was 55% compared to 2021.

No­var­tis' ap­proved sick­le cell dis­ease drug fails to beat place­bo in PhI­II

Novartis’ sickle cell drug, approved in 2019 and branded as Adakveo, has failed an ongoing Phase III, according to preliminary results.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled early data from the ongoing STAND Phase III study on Friday, saying that crizanlizumab showed no statistically significant difference between the drug at two different dose levels compared to placebo in annualized rates of vaso-occlusive crises that lead to a healthcare visit over the first year since being randomized into the trial.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren urges FTC to 'scru­ti­nize' two phar­ma buy­outs

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is calling on senior Federal Trade Commission officials to “closely scrutinize” two proposed pharma mergers.

Warren expressed concern over “rampant consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry,” in particular Amgen’s $28 billion plans to take over Horizon Therapeutics, and Indivior’s proposed acquisition of Opiant for $145 million upfront, in a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan and Commissioners Alvaro Bedoya and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter earlier this week.