In Day 2 of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference and the Biotech Showcase 2015 in San Francisco, the biggest names in biotech and pharma continued to make plenty of news for the thousands of industry professionals and partners in attendance. (You can read BioPharma Dive's coverage of Day 1 of the conferences here).
The CEOs of Express Scripts and Regeneron, in particular, made statements that likely foretell a paradigm shift in drug pricing—one which began with Express Scripts' stunning decision to exclusively favor AbbVie's Viekira Pak over Gilead's hep C medications. Here's what you need to know:
The drug pricing wars will extend to PCSK9s—and more
There's a strong fraction of the industry that has criticized Express Scripts CEO George Paz, who leads the largest pharmacy benefits manager in the United States, for allegedly favoring cost over quality (and limiting patient choice) when his company struck an exclusive deal with AbbVie for its hep C combo drug Viekira Pak in exchange for a significant discount over Gilead's Sovaldi and Harvoni. But that criticism has done little to sway Paz—in fact, he plans to expand his use of the strategy.
Paz told JPM15 attendees on Tuesday that Express Scripts will continue to pursue a cost-centered strategy, and that PCSK9s and cancer drugs will be among the next major therapeutic classes on the price-chopping block. "The big one, of course, is these cholesterol-lowering drugs that are coming to market," he said.
That means some of the most-talked about drugs of 2014 and biggest expected launches of 2015, including PD-1 inhibitor drugs like Keytruda and Opdivo and PCSK9 cholesterol products from Regeneron/Sanofi, Amgen, and Pfizer, will face even more daunting marketing landscapes.
Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer acknowledged the pricing reality and even referenced Express Scripts specifically. He asserted that Sanofi/Regeneron's LDL-lowering (and likely game-changing) alirocumab would have an advantage over Amgen's evolocumab because the latter product will not have as many dosing options. In short: the pricing wars are here to stay. And biopharma had better get ready.
Pfizer will pursue a PCSK9 'franchise'
As if there weren't already enough PCSK9 news for the day, Pfizer told Reuters at JPM15 that the company would take a "franchise" approach to its own PCSK9 products, pursuing candidates that go beyond just inhibition. In fact, the company plans to begin human trials some time this year on a new oral drug that directly targets PCSK9. Animal trials have reportedly already shown significant promise.
That could change the dynamic of the PCSK9 battle, especially considering that Pfizer's original inhibitor is further from approval compared to Regeneron's and Amgen's products.
Shire has no intentions of slowing down
Fresh off of a bold $5.2 billion purchase of NPS Pharma, Shire CEO Flemming Ornskov showed no signs of slowing down on Tuesday. The company plans to embark on yet another hiring binge after already picking up more than 1,000 new employees last year.
And NPS Pharma is likely not the last company that Shire will target for acquisition in the wake of its own scuttled mega-deal with AbbVie. Ornskov has been adamant that the company will spend money to strengthen Shire's rare disease franchise, and it sounds like he plans on following through with that strategy.
Gilead testing out more Sovaldi cocktails
This one doesn't come as much of a surprise, but the recent controversy over HCV drug quality and pricing give it a special significance: Gilead is pursuing new cocktails with Sovaldi and other drugs in several phase II/III studies.
FiercePharma reports that one of the cocktails involves Sovaldi and GS-5816 across all genotypes (phase III), and those two drugs protease in combination with the protease inhibitor GS-9857 (phase II).
Tantalizing question of the day
Aisling Capital's Dennis Purcell: Could a big biotech like Gilead make a move for a big pharma like Eli Lilly sometime soon?
Stay tuned. There's plenty more to come.