Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Consulting’

In a case of national significance to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, the United States Supreme Court on January 7 decided to hear the case of Sorrell (Attorney General of Vermont) v. IMS Health Inc & Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

This case is about whether States have the right to regulate how physician prescriber data is sold and used, and whether physicians have a right to privacy in the use of their personal information. In Vermont, the legislature enacted a law that allowed prescribers on their annual licensing renewal to opt-out of allowing the use of information that would identify them in any data used for marketing or promotion of prescription drugs.

The Vermont law also states that “pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmaceutical marketers shall not use prescriber-identifiable information for marketing or promoting a prescription drug” unless the prescriber consents. Vt Stat. Ann. 18, § 4631(d).

Without the identity of prescribers, companies such as IMS Health would not be able to provide the level of granularity about prescribing behavior that allows targeted detailing by medical representatives to take place.

Currently, individual patient names in the prescription data are redacted by encryption technology, but this process results in a unique identifier for each patient. Tracking this unique patient identifier coupled with the name of the physician allows the prescribing behavior of different doctors for a patient to be monitored. This has major significance to medical reps allowing them to identify physicians who: do or do not prescribe their products, switch patients to competitor products or use lower cost generics.

The Vermont legislature in 2009 passed the Prescription Confidentiality Law, 18 V.S.A. § 4631 that requires prescribers to give their consent to the use of personally identifiable information and allowed them the ability to opt-out at the time of license renewal.  In the absence of consent, all other prescription data was still available for use in marketing and promotion, but not the identity of the prescribing doctor. Not surprisingly this law was not well received by data mining companies such as IMS Health and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The District Court upheld the legal challenge to the Vermont law, while the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit over-turned it.  Similar laws in Maine and New Hampshire have been upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, raising a circuit conflict that the Supreme Court has now decided to resolve.

The Supreme Court decision will not only impact Vermont, but all those States who are interested in regulating this area.

The question presented to the Supreme Court for answer is:

“Whether a law that restricts access to information in nonpublic prescription drug records and affords prescribers the right to consent before their identifying information in prescription drug records is sold or used in marketing runs afoul of the First Amendment.”

The case of Sorrell v IMS Health raises multiple questions that the Supreme Court will have to consider at the intersection of information technology, privacy and commerce:

  1. If pharmacists are required by law to gather prescription data that identifies individual physicians and their prescribing habits, do States have the authority to regulate the use of this information?
  2. Does pharmacy prescribing data constitute commercial speech that is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution?
  3. And if it is protected, does the Vermont law meet the standard to regulate the use of this data in the marketing and promotion of prescription drugs?

These are all difficult questions of law, and I am sure that legal scholars will be busy writing amicus briefs in support of both sides of the debate.

However, I predict the decision in this case will also have a far-reaching impact on electronic privacy rights and the extent to which data mining can be regulated, not only in the pharmaceutical industry but across all industries.

Sales of pharmaceuticals are the fuel of the industry and provide the $ for investment in R&D, but could there be life without such in-depth IMS data?  Although medical sales might be less efficient and less targeted, the industry would survive and sales would still take place.  When I lived in the United Kingdom over ten years ago, IMS only provided prescribing data on the equivalent of a zip code level, but medical reps were still effective without knowing the identity of individual prescribers.  You could still work out which areas in a territory were important, and the key practices to target.

The case of Sorrell v IMS Health is one that all U.S. biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies will be watching with great interest given the tremendous impact it could have on the industry business model.  I look forward to writing an update as the case develops and oral argument is scheduled.

The December 17, 2010 issue of “Science” has the catchy of title of “Insights of the Decade”, one of which is an article by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, “Inflammation Bares a Dark Side”, that describes the ubiquitous role of inflammation. She concludes that:

“Mediating inflammation in chronic diseases is a new frontier, its success is still uncertain.”

Inflammation has been shown to play an important role in multiple chronic illnesses such as cancer, and in type 2 diabetes it promotes insulin resistance and the death of pancreatic beta cells.  In 2007, Marc Donath and colleagues published a landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine where he used the drug anakinra, in patients with type 2 diabetes, to block interleukin-1 (IL-1), a cytokine that mediates the inflammatory response. The conclusion of the paper was that:

“The blockade of interleukin-1 with anakinra improved glycemia and beta-cell secretory function and reduced markers of systemic inflammation.”

The finding that diabetes patients whose inflammatory response was blocked did better, has led several companies to work on drug development in this area.

One of these is the biotechnology company, Xoma, whose stocked jumped 200% in the week before Christmas.  Although there was no press release or announcement of any company news, it looks like investors decided to take a gamble that the phase 2 trial results for Xoma 052 in type 2 diabetes will be positive.  As often happens, the wisdom of the crowd, led to others joining the share buying frenzy.

Source: Google Finance. Xoma had previously announced on November 4, 2010 (emphasis added) that:

Enrollment completed in Phase 2a trial of XOMA 052 in patients with Type 2 diabetes:

This randomized, placebo-controlled trial, in which 74 patients were enrolled, is designed to evaluate extended biologic activity and safety of XOMA 052. Outcomes will include diabetes measures such as hemoglobin A1c, or HbA1c, and fasting blood glucose, or FBG, and C-reactive protein, or hsCRP, a biomarker of inflammation associated with cardiovascular risk. Interim results from the first three months of treatment in this six month trial are expected to be announced in the first half of January 2011.

Enrollment completed in Phase 2b trial of XOMA 052 in patients with Type 2 diabetes: This randomized, placebo-controlled dose-ranging trial enrolled 420 patients and is designed to further evaluate the safety and efficacy of XOMA 052 dosed once monthly compared to placebo. The results will include data on measurements of HbA1c, FBG and hsCRP. Top line results are expected to be announced in the first quarter of 2011.

Xoma 052 is a high affinity monoclonal antibody that targets the inhibition of IL-1 beta.  Its ultra-high affinity allows for monthly dosing and lower dose levels which supports patient compliance in chronic diseases. Positive phase 2 results for Xoma 052 in Behcet’s Uveitis was presented in November to the American College of Rheumatology.

According to the November 2010 Xoma Corporate Presentation, the overall market size for diabetes is $22B, of which the IL-1 share is $7B, raising the possibility that Xoma 052 could be a blockbuster if shown to be safe and effective.

Source: Xoma November 2010 Corporate Presentation

Looking at the above, perhaps the rush to buy Xoma stock before the holidays, was perhaps not as much of a gamble as one might think. Xoma 052 is certainly a product to watch this year.

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World Intellectual Property Organization LogoIntellectual property (IP) rights are important in the biotechnology industry; one only has to look at a licensing, consulting or service agreement to appreciate this.

If you are a non-lawyer new to the area, and wish to gain a basic understanding of the different types of intellectual property protection such as copyright, trademarks, industrial design, patents and unfair competition, then the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Academy offers a free general course (DL-101).

The course is delivered online, twice a year, over 6 weeks.  If you are a native English speaker, it takes far less time to complete than the 50 hours suggested.  What makes the course work well is you can download the study material as PDF files. These can then be read anywhere – I used my kindle.

An additional benefit, if you have an ego wall in your den or office, is that WIPO send you a certificate after you pass a final exam.  When I lived in the UK, I put all my certificates on the wall in the downstairs toilet,  an idea I “borrowed” from Mrs Thatcher’s eye surgeon when I had dinner at his home. British understatement at its best.

Although the WIPO general course is not focused on biotechnology or the life sciences industry, it does provide a useful overview of international treaties and IP regulation to build upon.  It is worth considering if you are new to the area.

With best wishes for the New Year, may it bring you good health, happiness and prosperity.

A company I have been watching for a while is Philadelphia based Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Lilly. They have a novel imaging biomarker, florebetapir (18F-AV-45) in development for the detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

In a press release last week, Lilly announced that the FDA had assigned a priority review to the marketing application of florebetapir. The Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee of the FDA meet on January 20, 2011.

Bayer have a competitor product in development, forebetapen (BAY 94-9172). Both florebetapir and florebetapen are 18F radiolabelled imaging biomarkers that bind to amyloid plaque in the brain.  When used in conjunction with a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan, they enable the accumulation of amyloid that occurs in Alzhemeir’s disease to be visualized.

Phase 3 trial results for florebetapir published earlier this year showed that the brain amyloid burden seen in the PET scans positively correlated with the plaques seen in autoposies of the same patients.  Proof that what the imaging biomarker shows is an accurate representation of the underlying pathology.

What makes the use of florebetapen and florebetapir interesting is that it is already common practice to use imaging tracers with PET scans. Fluorodeoxyyglucose (FDG) is widely used in the diagnosis, staging and treatment of oncology patients as a result of its ability to show the intense glucose uptake that occurs with most cancers.

Both Avid and Bayer products are most likely to be approved based on the clinical data presented to date.  It will be interesting to see the prices that they intend to charge.

As for the market opportunity, they are likely to have a role to play in the early diagnosis of patients with mild cognitive impairment, since at present it is difficult to diagnose these patients and differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from other forms of dementia.  Most likely, models will be developed that look for a correlation between accumulation of amyloid plaque and decline in cognitive function, from which a probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease can be calculated.

Imaging biomarkers are likely to place an increasingly important role in the development of new products by biotechnology companies and in the design of clinical trial endpoints.

I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) in Orlando so thought I would share my general impressions (in no particular order):

Convention Center Food was Poor:

The food at the Orange County Convention Center reminded me of an airport – desperate choices, poor quality and overpriced.  As for no Starbucks or decent coffee shop, civilization has yet to reach Orlando! The Peabody hotel across the road had coffee shops that offered a $3 single espresso shot, but they ran out of pods on the Monday morning – faced with the overwhelming demand that seems to have not been anticipated!  Memo to Starbucks – look into a convention center franchise.

Cramming all the science in one day doesn’t work:

People go to a meeting such as ASH for many reasons – networking, business development, education, investigator meetings, but in the end, it is a scientific meeting.  The meeting ran from Saturday to Tuesday, yet nearly all the oral scientific program (biology and therapy) was crammed into one day of simultaneous sessions on the Monday – tough if you wanted to cover a product or pathway that targeted multiple therapeutic areas, many of which ran at the same time.

The Poster hall was like a graveyard:

You can tell I didn’t think this was a great meeting. Every time I went into the aircraft like hangar where the posters were housed, I ended up chilled to the bone. It certainly didn’t encourage spending much time there, and I was disappointed that a surprisingly high number of presenters did not attend the poster presentation receptions, when they were supposed to be available to answer questions.  Nobody seemed to check if anybody showed up, to me the whole point of a poster is being able to discuss it.

Why not publish the slides from the oral science presentations?

ASH, unlike ASCO does not make the slides of oral scientific presentations available online, so if you didn’t make notes, or break the rules (and risk being ejected) by taking an illegal picture on your phone or camera, then you missed it.  Abstracts are often submitted months in advance before the final data is analyzed, so by not making the slides available after the meeting, science to me is being hampered especially given the overlap of sessions on the Monday.  If an abstract is presented and published, the scientific information should be available to be shared. Isn’t that what science is about?  ASCO have it right, their virtual meeting program is outstanding.

Hospitality lives on – but only if you are an international doctor:

US doctors attending their annual meeting, are warned not to accept a free cup of coffee at an exhibitor booth if their state or employer prohibits the acceptance of such “gifts”, while foreign physician attendees are wined and dined.  You see signs for hospitality centers for European doctors or desks in hotels for company sponsored groups of foreign doctors – hard to believe there’s ethically not something wrong with these double standards.

A lack of quality educational materials:

While the free pen and notepad have long since gone the way of the dinosaur, this year there was noticeably fewer educational material to take away.  The debate as to whether doctors should pay for their own CME continues, but I do think many in the industry miss the opportunity by not providing educational material on the science, pathways and mechanism of action of new products.

The “Super Friday” is still alive:

Multiple industry sponsored satellite symposia (AKA “Super Friday” sessions) took place before ASH, with several at the Peabody Hotel. I have to say the food at the one I attended on personalized medicine was excellent, one of my best meals in Orlando.  They are not cheap to run: not only do 800-1000 people get fed, but a hotel room with audio-visual equipment has to be hired, a panel of experts are paid to talk about a topic, and many of the attendees come away with a glossy brochure.  Could this money be better spent elsewhere?  ASH has a large education component to it, and it was interesting to note that what the ASH education program committee chose as important topics to talk about and what the industry chose, were pretty different.  That is perhaps not surprising – after all if you choose the topic of the satellite symposia and it’s of relevance to your product, indirectly you are trying to influence prescribing behavior, otherwise why else would you fund it?  There is no such thing as a free lunch or dinner.

Multiple Myeloma was a hot topic:

There was a lot of interest in clinical trial results in MM.  The use of a maintenance therapy, and attempt to turn this into a chronic disease was a widely discussed topic, however many old drugs such as thalidomide have nasty side effect profiles such as peripheral neuropathy, while newer drugs such as lenalidomide are expensive but appear to only incrementally increase survival.  Results from multiple combinations of drugs and induction therapies were presented, I was left with the impression that although there is progress, there is still no major breakthrough in this disease area.

Nobody wants to talk about cost effectiveness:

The 800 lb gorilla in the room for hematology/oncology is the comparative effectiveness of one treatment versus another i.e. it’s cost/benefit, yet nobody wants to talk about it.  Take for example the treatment of CML, should you treat with imatinib (Gleevec) which has outstanding long-term survival data over several years thanks to the IRIS trial, or use a second-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) such as dasatinib or nilotinib that is around twice the price, more potent and slightly more effective but obviously we don’t yet know if it improves 5 or 10 year survival yet over imatinib.  Nobody wanted to talk about price – physicians currently live in an ivory tower.

If you are interested in information on what the hot scientific news was at ASH, then I encourage you to look at the excellent posts (here & here) published by my colleague on Pharma Strategy Blog.

This week’s New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has an interesting paper (Teriparatide and Osseous Regeneration in the Oral Cavity) that caught my attention on the use of teriparatide (Eli Lilly, Forteo®) in patients with chronic peridontitis, a disease that affects one in five American adults.  The total market for periodontitis services and products is estimated to grow at 6.4% to 2016, when it will be worth $1,937 m.

Teriparatide is a recombinant form of parathyroid hormone (PTH) consisting of amino acids 1-34, and is used for the treatment of osteoporosis.  In the body, PTH is the hormone that regulates the level of calcium in the blood.  Low blood calcium causes increased PTH release. The use of teriparatide has been limited by the FDA due to the risk of osteosarcoma from long-term exposure.  However, what makes it an interesting compound is its ability to stimulate osteoblasts to build bone, which is why the results from the NEJM on peridontitis are perhaps not that surprising.

As Andrew Gray in his NEJM editorial comments, because teriparatide activates bone remodelling it may have a role to play in the management of osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ). ONJ is a particularly nasty side effect that many breast, multiple myeloma and prostate cancer patients experience following any dental work.

Badros et al, point out in their Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO) paper, that bone disease effects 70% of multiple myeloma patients, many of whom take a bisphosphonate such as zoledronic acid (Novartis, Zometa®) to reduce the risk of skeletal related events (SRE). Unfortunately, a few patients subsequently end up with ONJ as a serious side effect! Clinical trial results showed that ONJ occurred with a similar frequency in breast cancer patients taking denosumab (Amgen, Prolia®) as compared to zoledronic acid.

One only has to read the patient commentary available on online forums such as breastcancer.org to realize the debilitating effect that ONJ has, not to mention the severe morbidity because of lack of delayed diagnosis and lack of effective treatments.

It is unclear whether the positive results from the NEJM in peridontitis will lead to clinical trials for the treatment of ONJ in cancer patients.  Although there is an unmet need, the market is small. In the meantime, I expect that doctors will be using teriparatide off-label to treat severe ONJ, which is less than ideal.

One biotech company banking on continued interest in Forteo® is Zelos Therapeutics, whose CEO, Dr Brian MacDonald is a fellow alumni of the University of Sheffield.  Zelos have a nasal spray formulation of teriparatide (ZT-034), which they hope will be equivalent to Ely Lilly’s product (that requires a daily injection).

Source: Zelos Therapeutics. In a press release earlier this year, Dr MacDonald commented:

“We believe that formulation of teriparatide as a nasal spray with comparable efficacy and safety to Forteo represents a simple, convenient approach to dosing that will make PTH therapy a better option for many more patients.”

Zelos’ product is currently in early stage clinical trials, so it will be interesting to see how this develops. The NDA is planned for 2012.  It is certainly a valid strategy for emerging biotechnology companies to take an existing marketed product and use a new drug delivery mechanism such as Aegis Therapeutics’ Intravail® drug delivery technology to expand the market.

Welcome to the biotech strategy blog which provides commentary and insight on current news and emerging trends in biotechnology.

As a strategy and marketing consultant with a background in clinical development I am interested in how biotechnology companies grow, manage alliances, partner with CROs and bring new products to market. I hope that you will find posts on this blog to be informative and interesting.

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