Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Strategy’

I was recently in San Francisco so thought I would continue my theme of writing about biotechnology regions that I visit around the United States.

Growing up in England, I remember listening to the radio broadcasts of the late Alistair Cooke, who from 1946 to 2004 shared his “Letter from America“; the longest running radio programme ever produced.  In the pre-internet era his mixture of anecdotes, insights and reflections reminds me of modern day blogs.

San Francisco remains a favorite city of mine. Fueled by access to venture capital and proximity to major research universities such as Stanford, University of California at Davis, Berkelely & San Francisco, start-up companies continue to thrive in the Bay area. BayBio, Northern California’s Life Science Association runs many excellent events. Their annual conference in April is focused on “Powering Global Innovation.”

The anchor tenant in the San Francisco biotech mall remains Genentech, and no other company in the area has had the same growth trajectory.  What catapults a company forward is a combination of a breakthrough product and ability to capture its value. The licensing deals and acquisitions we see today in the biotechnology industry, to some degree limit the ability of emerging biotech companies to repeat Genentech’s model. Risk sharing, partnering and the desire of venture capitalists for an early return on investment, all limit the ability of a biotech company to make it to the major leagues. In the end, even Genentech ended up being acquired by Roche.

What’s the future in San Francisco? It remains a high cost place to live but with a pool of talent in the entrepreneurial culture of the West Coast. There is also the uncertainty about the California economy and the cost of doing business, which is most likely set to increase.  In some way, my impression is that San Francisco has not quite taken off as a biotechnology city in the same way that Boston and Cambridge has. Feel free to comment if you disagree or have an opinion otherwise.

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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.

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As an update to this morning’s blog post that mentioned Vertex’s VX-770, the company have just announced their key business objectives for 2011.  Further information will be included in the presentation by Vertex at the JP Morgan Healthcare conference scheduled for later today.

The news in Cystic Fibrosis is that if the phase 3 clinical trial data is positive the NDA for VX-770 is expected in the second half of 2011.  The following are the relevant sections from the press release:

Cystic Fibrosis: Phase 3 Registration Program for VX-770 Nears Completion

VX-770 NDA Submission Planned for Second Half of 2011

  • Three trials of the novel cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator protein (CFTR) potentiator VX-770 are fully enrolled and ongoing as part of a global Phase 3 registration program focused on patients with the G551D mutation. The G551D mutation is present in approximately four percent of people with CF.
  • The first Phase 3 data for VX-770 are expected in the first quarter of 2011 and will come from the Phase 3 STRIVE trial in people aged 12 and older with at least one copy of the G551D mutation. Data from the Phase 2 DISCOVER trial, which was primarily a safety study that enrolled people aged 12 and older with two copies of the F508del mutation, are also expected in the first quarter of 2011.
  • Data from the Phase 3 ENVISION trial in people aged six to 11 with at least one copy of the G551D mutation are expected in mid-2011.
  • If positive, the results from the Phase 3 program for VX-770 could support the submission of an NDA for VX-770 in the second half of 2011.

In addition, Vertex announced that they expected interim data in the first half of 2011 from the phase 2 trial that combines VX-770 with VX-809:

Combination of Two CFTR Modulators for the Treatment of People with the Most Common Mutation of Cystic Fibrosis

  • Vertex is conducting a Phase 2a clinical trial to evaluate multiple combination regimens of its lead CFTR Modulators – VX-770, a CFTR potentiator, and VX-809, a CFTR corrector – in people with the most common mutation of CF, known as F508del. Enrollment is ongoing in Part One of the trial, which is designed to evaluate VX-809 (200 mg), or placebo, dosed alone for 14 days and in combination with VX-770 (150 mg or 250 mg), or placebo, for 7 days. Vertex expects to obtain interim data from Part One of the trial in the first half of 2011.

2011 looks to be an interesting year for Cystic Fibrosis and it is certainly positive to see biotechnology companies such as Vertex developing new products for this debilitating illness.

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One of the exciting things about the biotechnology industry is its ability to innovate and translate developments in basic science into potential new drugs.

I previously wrote about denufosol in cystic fibrosis (CF), a disease that affects about 30,000 people in the United States and 70,000 worldwide.  The disease is characterized by the accumulation of mucus that leads to bacterial overgrowth and chronic lung infections. Mucus cannot be removed from the lung in CF due to abnormal mucociliary transport resulting from impaired epithelial chloride secretion and sodium hyperabsorption.  This is now known to be due to defective cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulator (CFTR) protein. A good overview of this can be found in the 2006 New England Journal of Medicine Editorial by Felix Ratjen, “Restoring Airway Surface Liquid in Cystic Fibrosis.”

A good overview of the pipeline of new drugs in development for CF can be found on the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation web site.  Vertex in particular has two drugs  (VX-809, VX-770) in late stage development that are cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulators, aimed at increasing CFTR function.  Phase 3 registration data for VX-770 is expected in the first half of 2011. I look forward to writing about the results.

Recently, a team from Johns Hopkins led by Neeraj Vij published a paper in the January 2011 issue of Journal of Immunology on the “Critical Modifier Role of Membrane-Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator-Dependent Ceramide Signaling in Lung Injury & Emphysema.”

The researchers found that lung damage in mice was associated with changes in the amount of CFTR in the cell surface membrane.  Decreases in the amount of CFTR were associated with increased ceramide, a trigger of inflammation of cell-death. Or as the the paper describes it:

“CFTR expression inversely correlates with severity of emphysema and ceramide accumulation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease subjects compared with control subjects.”

The emergence of inflammation as a key role in chronic disease was the subject of a previous blog post about diabetes, so is interesting to see another area where it is involved.

This basic research shows that developing drugs that target CFTR and mediate ceramide may have an important role to play in the treatment of emphysema, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that affects 2 million Americans.  Translational medicine that can take basic science and apply it to clinical practice is key to the long term success of the biotechnology industry.

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Thanks to Adam Feuerstein of TheStreet for breaking the news this morning, that shares in Inspire Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISPH) have plunged following the announcement of negative data from the phase 3, TIGER-2 clinical trial for denufosol in cystic fibrosis.

According to the Chief Medical Officer at Inspire Pharma: “The analysis of the primary endpoint, key secondary endpoints and select subgroup populations in TIGER-2 indicates an absence of meaningful treatment benefit in this patient population.

I wrote a blog post last week about denufosol and the hope that this drug offered to cystic fibrosis patients despite the uncertainty about its clinical effectiveness.

The latest data is disappointing and a major setback to Inspire Pharma. It highlights the risk/reward situation that many emerging biotechnology companies face with new product development, the hope that they will make it to market, coupled with the reality that many will fail.

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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.

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Inspire Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ISPH), a North Carolina based biopharmaceutical company that focuses on products for ophthalmic and pulmonary diseases, recently announced positive results from their phase 3 trial (TIGER-1) of denufosol tetrasodium in patients with Cystic Fibrosis (CF).

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disorder that can lead to death as a result of pulmonary complications from airway obstruction, bronchial thickening and accumulation of mucous.  Lung function tests are widely used in the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with CF.  Measurement of FEV1 (Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 second) is regarded as the best predicator of mortality.  As the disease progresses and the lungs become more obstructed, FEV1 decreases.

Inspire Pharma’s denufosol is an ion-channel regulator that helps keep the airways moist and helps mucous removal in CF patients.  It increases chloride secretion via calcium-activated chloride  channels (CaCCs), inhibits sodium absorption via epithelial sodium channels (ENaCs) and stimulates ciliary beat frequency.  Conveniently for patients, it is being developed as an inhaled drug delivered direct to the lungs by nebulizer.

The phase 3 clinical trial data presented by Dr Frank Accurso at the Annual North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference, and in the paper published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM), showed an improvement in lung function after 24 weeks in patients with mild CF who received daily denusofol by means of a nebulizer.  The primary efficacy endpoint was a change in FEV1:

Source: October 21, 2010 presentation by Frank J. Accurso M.D. to North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference.  Available at Inspire Pharma.

Dr Accurso and his colleagues reported that the results demonstrated:

“Mean change from baseline to Week 24 endpoint in expiratory volume at 1 second (primary efficacy endpoint) was 0.048 L for denufosol (n=178) and 0.003 L for placebo (n=174; P=0.047).”

Despite the significant improvement in FEV1, there was no significant difference between the denufosol and placebo arms in the time to progression to first pulmonary exacerbation, suggesting that its long-term clinical effectiveness remains uncertain.

Source: October 21, 2010 presentation by Frank J. Accurso M.D. to North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference.  Available at Inspire Pharma.

Notwithstanding, these results do offer hope to patients with mild symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis.  Early treatment to maintain lung function may delay the onset of more severe physiological changes and the need for more radical treatment options such as a heart/lung transplant.

Thanks to BBC Health for writing about this topic and giving me the idea for this post.

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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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