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Politics, Policy & Law

Drug pricing pressure; plus European deal trends

BioCentury’s latest podcast also features Brii’s IPO and the latest in Aduhelm

Jul 20, 2021 | 3:12 AM GMT

The ball’s in HHS’s court as the Biden administration ramps up pressure on Congress to act on drug pricing. On the latest BioCentury This Week podcast, BioCentury’s editors discuss the White House’s initiative against high drug prices as well as paying for Biogen’s Alzheimer’s therapy, biopharma trends from Europe and why Brii chose Hong Kong for its IPO.

An executive order released last week from President Joe Biden that seeks to promote competition among U.S. businesses includes a near-term deadline for HHS to develop a plan to take on drug prices.

BioCentury Washington Editor Steve Usdin believes that the agency will likely look to CMS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to come up with a plan to tackle drug prices. He also argues that a big part of the White House’s reason to put the topic back in the spotlight is to spur Congress to act while giving the administration a few tools in its back pocket.

Usdin says the policies proposed by Biden that industry will be more likely to support are “the kinds of things that go after violations of what BioCentury has called the social contract.” Examples, he says, include “evergreening” drugs or attempts to block biosimilar competition.

The current focal point of the debate over drug prices, Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm aducanumab-avwa from Biogen Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB) and Eisai Co. Ltd. (Tokyo:4523), was the subject of two meetings last week.

One, at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, invited payers to a roundtable commissioned by FDA to discuss challenges associated with covering and developing evidence for Alzheimer’s therapies.

“It’s unusual for FDA to meet with payers, and that’s what happened,” says Usdin.

Payers at the meeting, he says, were saying that “if this had been priced much, much lower, they would have swallowed their concerns about the efficacy, and they would have just paid it. But they’re really upset, and they believe that they’re being taken advantage of.”

BioCentury Editor in Chief Simone Fishburn thinks that the process of rolling out the drug will be slow, with industry awaiting readouts from the next-most advanced Alzheimer’s therapies, which are being developed by Roche (SIX:ROG; OTCQX:RHHBY) and Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE:LLY).

“So you can see this drag out until the next products from Roche and Lilly read out, and make it maybe even to approval, where those companies believe that data are going to be more robust,” she says.

Usdin adds that one way to look at FDA’s actions is that the agency is letting the marketplace determine what to do with the therapy.

“FDA said we’re willing to accept a certain amount of uncertainty about the efficacy of Aduhelm,” Usdin says. “And it’s up to the marketplace to determine whether they’re comfortable with that uncertainty.”

Turning to Europe, Fishburn delivers takeaways from BioCentury’s analysis of trends in financing and deals among European biopharmas.

She pointed to biotechs increasingly partnering with fellow biotechs, “marrying their technologies,” as an emerging trend. And in fund-raising, platform companies and immuno-oncology plays were a big draw among investors. 

BioCentury first presented the analysis in May at its annual Bio€quity Europe conference, which this year focused on “Europe’s Next Act.”

In this week’s Deal in Focus, Executive Editor Jeff Cranmer discusses last week’s IPO by Brii Biosciences Ltd. (HKEX:2137), in which the China-U.S. infectious disease company raised HK$2.5 billion ($319.6 million) to advance its 12 programs.  

Cranmer and Usdin point out Brii’s story highlights how geopolitical tensions are affecting biotechs with Chinese ties, with Brii’s offering coming amid increased regulatory scrutiny of Chinese companies hoping to list in the U.S.

CEO Zhi Hong told BioCentury the company chose to list in Hong Kong because its investors preferred a Hong Kong listing, citing the company’s therapeutics that target diseases that have a disproportionate impact in China. But China’s biotechs seeking to go public — even ones with global ambitions like Brii — are overwhelmingly leaning toward listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai, with 13 of 16 newly public biotechs going out on those exchanges so far this year.

Usdin noted that Operation Warp Speed snubbed the company’s COVID-19 program even though the antibody is partnered with San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology Inc. (NASDAQ:VIR).

Sponsorship and underwriting packages are available for BioCentury’s webinars, podcasts and surveys. For more information, please contact Eric Pierce and Josh Berlin at conferences@biocentury.com.

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