Tensions between the White House and Big Pharma have ratcheted up after President Donald Trump announced four executive orders targeting the pharmaceutical industry. On Tuesday morning, the president fired off the latest public salvo, while Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla harshly criticized the directives in a call with investors.
Without providing evidence, Trump on Twitter accused pharma companies of airing television ads attacking him and, he says, falsely claim the policies would raise prescription drug prices for seniors. It was not clear to which ad or ads Trump was referring.
Shortly thereafter, Bourla said the president’s actions would cause “enormous destruction” as the industry collectively tries to research and develop vaccines for Covid-19, according to a CNBC report. The comments took place during a conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter earnings.
“Overall, I’m disappointed by this executive order,” Bourla reportedly said on the call. “They pose enormous distraction at a time where the industry needs to be completely focused on developing a potential COVID-19 vaccine or treatment. The international price index is radical. Not only it is imposing socialized medicine to America, it also will create uncertainty and could lead to job losses.”
The broadsides come a day after POLITICO reported that pharmaceutical executives spurned the president’s invitation to meet with him to discuss the “most-favored nations clause.” A policy that has long been scorned by the industry, the clause would tie prescription drug prices in the United States to what consumers pay abroad.
At his Friday press conference, Trump threatened to enact the order within 30 days if drugmakers did not take action to lower prescription prices on their own. Trump signed three other executive orders Friday, each aimed at curbing prescription drug costs as the November election approaches. — Max Gelman
Regeneron gets nearly $350 million Ebola BARDA contract
Regeneron has received a new contract from BARDA, and it’s not for Covid-19.
The US biodefense agency has agreed to purchase an undisclosed amount of REGN-EB3, Regeneron’s Ebola antibody cocktail, over the next 6 years. The agreement will pay Regeneron $10 million next year and approximately $67 million over each of the following 5 years.
REGN-EB3 is still awaiting FDA approval — a PDUFA date has been set, under priority review, for October 25 — but it has already proven one of two effective treatments for the deadly virus. In a landmark study completed last year, it was one of two drugs that reduced mortality to around 30%, and served as a near-cure when given early enough. The other effective drug was a single antibody developed by the NIH, in collaboration with Humabs, which is now a subsidiary of Vir. That antibody has since been licensed to the Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, which has not filed for FDA approval.
Although not directly tied to Covid-19, the agreement is part of a larger strategy to stockpile drugs that could prepare the US for potential outbreaks — a strategy already deployed for anthrax. Regeneron’s Ebola program, developed during the 2014-2016 West African crisis, was also conducted in partnership with BARDA, laying the groundwork for the current $450 million Covid-19 collaboration. — Jason Mast
Eli Casdin invests in French biotech developing EDS technology
Prominent biotech investor Eli Casdin has turned his sights on DNA Script, as Casdin Capital heads up an extended round of Series B funding for the French biotech.
DNA Script pulled in $50 million in new investments, the company announced Wednesday, and Casdin will join its board of directors. The funding extension brings DNA Script’s total Series B amount to $89 million.
Casdin is the son of the pioneering biotech analyst Jeffrey Casdin, who began investing in the field in the 1980s and soon became one of the field’s top Wall Street minds. Eli Casdin and his brother Alexander worked at their father’s Cooper Hill Partners before it shuttered in 2007, and Eli Casdin founded Casdin Capital in 2012.
The life-sciences investment firm has funded many projects over the years, about 70 percent of which have been in drug development, Casdin told Endpoints News last year. DNA Script, the latest to receive Casdin’s stamp of approval, focused on enzymatic DNA synthesis technology, and this round of funding will go specifically toward launching the company’s DNA benchtop printer.
In addition to Casdin Capital, investors included Merck KgaA’s VC arm, Danaher Life Sciences, Agilent Technologies, LSP, the Bpifrance Large Venture Fund and Illumina Ventures. — Max Gelman
AI-focused Recursion Bio purchases Vium, acquiring preclinical data collection platform
Recursion Bio, a company that billed itself as the first AI biotech to put on human trials, announced the acquisition of Silicon Valley-based Vium.
With the purchase comes Vium’s proprietary digital platform that focuses on new data tools for preclinical studies, including end-to-end in vivo research. The platform uses computer vision, machine learning and sensor technologies to non-invasively collect data. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“Bringing the fantastic team at Vium in-house will enable us to build on our core technology and vision, augmenting our huge in vitro datasets with large, complementary in vivo datasets, and advancing our mission to decode biology to radically improve patient lives,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson said in a statement.
Recursion’s claims about reaching human trials first, however, have been met with pushback from critics, and Gibson readily conceded last July that one of the company’s lead programs came out of co-founder Dean Li, who is now the head of translational research at Merck. The biotech’s other clinical stage drug was in-licensed from Ohio State. — Max Gelman