With Trump’s new FDA com­mish nom­i­nee loom­ing, in­dus­try ex­ecs are keep­ing their fin­gers crossed for Scott Got­tlieb

Scott Got­tlieb

Last week Pres­i­dent Trump said he was just days away from an­nounc­ing an ab­solute­ly “fan­tas­tic” new FDA com­mis­sion­er. One who would cut up to 80% of the reg­u­la­tions around drug de­vel­op­ment, blaz­ing a short­er path to an ap­proval. One who would get ex­per­i­men­tal meds to dy­ing pa­tients, over­haul­ing time­lines and slash­ing de­vel­op­ment bud­gets.

By and large, the mes­sage has spurred more than a lit­tle trep­i­da­tion in the in­dus­try that the pres­i­dent, who has earned a rep­u­ta­tion for shoot­ing first and ask­ing ques­tions lat­er, was go­ing to rad­i­cal­ly change the ap­proval process at the FDA. And that might in­di­cate that lib­er­tar­i­an “seast­ead­er” Jim O’Neill — who has fa­mous­ly said that drugs should be ap­proved on safe­ty alone — has the in­side track with the new pres­i­dent.

But he’s not the in­dus­try’s first choice. That dis­tinc­tion ap­pears to be re­served al­most en­tire­ly for Scott Got­tlieb, the for­mer deputy com­mis­sion­er at the FDA un­der George W. Bush with a rep­u­ta­tion as a staunch con­ser­v­a­tive with no known ap­petite for toss­ing grenades in­to the reg­u­la­to­ry un­der­brush.

Mizuho Se­cu­ri­ties USA ran a quick sur­vey of 53 drug com­pa­nies ask­ing them which of the four can­di­dates men­tioned so far in the me­dia — Got­tlieb, O’Neill, Bal­a­ji Srini­vasan and Joseph Gul­fo — would get their vote.

Sev­en­ty-two per­cent picked Got­tlieb. The rest were al­so rans. O’Neill got a hand­ful of votes at 8%, with Gul­fo at 9% and Srini­vasan at a mere 2%. (Gul­fo has pro­mot­ed his own can­di­da­cy with­out any in­de­pen­dent con­fir­ma­tion from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that he’s ever been a se­ri­ous can­di­date or been with­in 100 feet of the new pres­i­dent.)

In his week­ly roundup on Fri­day, Baird’s Bri­an Sko­r­ney came to the same con­clu­sion with­out any polling. He wrote: “We be­lieve in­dus­try and in­vestor sup­port is over­whelm­ing­ly in fa­vor of Scott Got­tlieb.”

“He leans right, he’s got ex­pe­ri­ence in the agency, he’s got the M.D. cre­den­tial, and he’s out­spo­ken,” Michael Ga­ba, fed­er­al pol­i­cy leader of law firm Hol­land & Knight’s na­tion­al Health­care & Life Sci­ences Team, told Reuters re­cent­ly.

I asked Ga­ba to elab­o­rate on that. And he sent me this:

When it comes to the FDA, bio­phar­ma, and reg­u­lat­ed in­dus­try as a whole, puts a pre­mi­um on pre­dictabil­i­ty, speed to mar­ket, and the abil­i­ty to make dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing claims in the mar­ket­place about their prod­ucts’ ef­fec­tive­ness to treat and mit­i­gate dis­ease.  Safe­ty is the giv­en once a prod­uct makes it through the FDA, and by it­self doesn’t dis­tin­guish prod­ucts in the mar­ket­place.  Among the FDA com­mis­sion­er can­di­dates we’ve read about, Dr. Got­tlieb is well known to in­dus­try and has the req­ui­site ex­pe­ri­ence and tal­ent to re­form and stream­line the FDA ap­proval process.

The theme among the oth­er can­di­dates ap­pears to be to speed prod­ucts to mar­ket by lim­it­ing the agency’s role to eval­u­at­ing safe­ty on­ly.  Not on­ly would this dy­nam­ic be chal­leng­ing to in­dus­try, providers and pa­tients, it would re­quire a statu­to­ry change to the FD­CA – and we all know that the leg­isla­tive process it­self can be very messy and un­pre­dictable.

Got­tlieb’s nom­i­na­tion would con­tin­ue a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion of nam­ing a trained physi­cian for the top job at the FDA. As a res­i­dent fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, he’s kept the heat on Oba­macare through a se­ries of op-eds in high pro­file pub­li­ca­tions like the Wall Street Jour­nal. As a ven­ture part­ner at New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates he’s a board mem­ber at Me­dA­vante, which mar­kets soft­ware for an­a­lyz­ing clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta. And he’s an ad­vi­sor to Glax­o­SmithK­line, which has shown no ap­petite for rad­i­cal change in the way de­vel­op­ers prove a drug works.

It’s the kind of re­sume that would in­di­cate a sym­pa­thy for con­tin­u­ing to evolve reg­u­la­tions to speed de­vel­op­ment, but with­out any ap­petite for play­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

Of course, that’s one rea­son why he may not get the job. Trump has glee­ful­ly named new cab­i­net mem­bers based on their hos­til­i­ty to the agen­cies they’ll be run­ning and the reg­u­la­tions they’ve been in­volved in cre­at­ing. And his ex­ec­u­tive or­der de­mand­ing the elim­i­na­tion of two rules for every new one un­der­scores his com­mit­ment to elim­i­nat­ing hun­dreds of pages of regs for every one that sur­vives.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.