Greetings, readers. This is Sy once again taking over for Cliff. But don’t worry, he’ll be back tomorrow morning with some thoughts on the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, which is currently winding down in San Francisco.
Speaking of the conference – more than 100 biopharma executives signed a fascinating open letter released Wednesday imploring the industry to get its act together when it comes to gender diversity. What’s even more interesting is that it contains actual suggestions for how to do so, such as by setting up mentor programs that connect female employees and candidates with executives.
Of course, increasing the ranks of women in the life sciences has to begin with encouraging girls to get involved in STEM fields at an early age. But the breadth of the letter’s signatories suggests that plenty of major players got a bit of a wake-up call after an unfortunate incident at last year’s J.P. Morgan confab (more on that below).
Read on for the day’s news.
Arizona gets ready to sue Theranos. Theranos, which recently announced that it’s lopping off 41% of its remaining work force, may soon be facing a lawsuit in the state where it conducted almost all of its business, the Wall Street Journal reports. While no suit has been officially filed, bidding documents from the Attorney General’s office indicate that the state is preparing to hire outside counsel for “commencing legal action against Theranos, Inc. and its closely related subsidiaries for violations of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act arising out of Theranos Inc.’s long-running scheme of deceptive acts and misrepresentations relating to the capabilities and operation of Theranos blood testing equipment.” Most of Theranos’ blood testing centers were concentrated in Arizona, a state where the company was eventually forced to void thousands of blood tests for inaccurate results. Theranos is already facing consumer lawsuits over the issue. (Wall Street Journal)
FDA chief and National Coordinator for Health IT are headed for the exits. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf will be leaving his perch at the agency after less than a year on the job, and Vindell Washington, who oversees the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, is joining him at the exit. Washington tells Politico that he actually submitted his resignation in December but has yet to hear back from the Trump transition team. However, he also doesn’t believe that there will be a marked departure in the direction of federal health IT policy under the new administration since the issues surrounding interoperability and record-sharing are largely bipartisan. (Politico)
More than 100 biopharma execs urge more gender diversity in the life sciences. The world of the life sciences and digital health isn’t exactly known for its gender diversity. And more than 100 leaders in the field are saying it’s time to make a change in an open letter posted during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare confab in San Francisco. The letter urges five overall guiding principles and 10 best practices in order to get more women into the field generally and leadership positions, including: getting executives and boards to make gender diversity a priority; establishing mentorship programs that connect women with life sciences executives; and doing a better job tracking where female talent goes within biopharma firms, among other suggestions. This year’s letter echoes a blistering one issued during last year’s conference after a huge backlash to the communications firm LifeSci Advisors’ party featuring scantily-clad women as cocktail waitresses to “entertain” the largely male crowd. Signatories this year include Sarepta Therapeutics chief Edward Kaye, Biogen R&D EVP Michael Ehlers, AbbVie vice president Lisa Olson, and Teva SVP of corporate development Ivana Magovčević-Liebisch, among many others. (Fortune)
Another drug maker says it will voluntarily limit drug price hikes. The entire biopharma industry got some collective heartburn yesterday after President-elect Donald Trump’s comments that drug makers are “getting away with murder” on pricing sent biotech stocks plummeting. It’s clear that the drug price issue isn’t going away; the question is, how will the industry respond to it? Allergan chief Brent Saunders and Danish diabetes giant Novo Nordisk have both already volunteered to limit their price increases on drugs to less than 10% (note: a 9% price hike on a drug is still pretty high relative to inflation). And now they’re being joined by AbbVie chief Richard Gonzalez, who pledged that his company will also keep price hikes in the single digits going forward during a round table discussion at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Wednesday. But will this new trend of self-policing on prices actually make a dent in health care spending, or reflect the “pay-for-performance” ethos that an increasing number of biopharma chiefs are ostensibly adopting? After all, as Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer pointed out, pricing a drug to its value would suggest that its price shouldn’t have to be raised year after year, even if it’s by the single digits. (FiercePharma)
Bayer says it had a “productive” meeting with Trump over Monsanto deal. Bayer may not have the toughest regulatory road ahead in its quest for a $66 billion mega-merger with Monsanto; but it’s hoping the proposed acquisition will have an even better chance under President-elect Trump’s Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department appointees. Trump met with the CEOs of Bayer and Monsanto on Wednesday in New York, his transition team announced. “It was a productive meeting about the future of agriculture and the need for innovation,” said a Bayer spokesman, declining to elaborate. The main regulatory issues surrounding Bayer-Monsanto center on combining seeds and agricultural chemicals titans; some critics argue that the combined market share of such a company in seeds and chemicals would be so high that it would drag down R&D efforts in the field. (Fortune)
The EpiPen gets a double whammy of bad news. Mylan is about to get some serious competition on its flagship product, the life-saving epinephrine injector EpiPen. CVS is now selling a generic version of Adrenaclick, a brand name EpiPen competitor from Impax Labs, for just $110 for a two-pack. That’s compared with the $600 that Mylan’s been charging for an EpiPen two-pack. While the drug maker has responded to the massive backlash over its extravagant price increase on the device by boosting its patient assistance programs and introducing an authorized generic EpiPen version at half the cost, CVS’ topline price will still be significantly cheaper. And it’s available immediately across 9,600 CVS pharmacies. The other bit of bad news for Mylan? Insurance giant Cigna is dropping coverage of the the EpiPen in favor of Adrenaclick.
THE BIG PICTURE
The Senate takes the first step toward repealing Obamacare in the dead of night. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the U.S. Senate passed a budget resolution that now formally kicks off the Obamacare repeal process in a 51-48 vote. The resolution, which contains instructions for key health care-related committees to begin drafting legislation to undo the health law, must also be passed by the House of Representatives (and is expected to get a vote there this week). As always, the question comes down to the repeal timeline. An increasing number of GOP senators are insisting that a repeal effort be accompanied by a simultaneous replacement plan for Obamacare (more on that below), and President-elect Trump actually echoed that same sentiment this week. Trump also said that he’ll be putting his own replacement plan forward at some point, but offered no details of what it might contain. (Fortune)
What the Republicans balking at a hasty Obamacare repeal have in common. Speaking of GOP lawmakers getting skittish about hastily pulling coverage away from 20 million Americans – there’s a common thread to most of the Republican senators who have come out advocating a repeal process that’s done in tandem with a replacement: almost all of them hail from states where Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion has had an outsize effect on reducing the uninsurance rate. Senators like Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, Ohio’s Rob Portman, and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy all hail from purple-to-deep-red states that embraced the expansion. Before Obamacare, Medicaid programs were primarily geared towards working poor families with children, leaving many poor childless adults without an affordable public health plan. (Fortune)
Tech CEOs Present $1 Trillion Savings Plan to Trump Administration, by Robert Hackett
Rudy Giuliani Joins Donald Trump’s Cybersecurity Team, by The Associated Press
|Produced by Sy Mukherjee|