– MedImmune Starts Phase I Clinical Trial to Investigate an Antibody Developed Under a Collaboration with Humabs for the Treatment of Influenza A –
Humabs BioMed SA, a leading Swiss antibody therapeutics company, today announced that a novel antibody developed through its proprietary Cellclone technology will be investigated for the treatment of influenza A in a Phase I trial being conducted by MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca.
The investigational antibody, which has broad influenza-neutralizing properties, was isolated by Humabs from human memory B cells and further optimized for higher potency by MedImmune. The resulting antibody, MEDI8852, is exclusively licensed to MedImmune. The Phase I trial (NCT02350751) is designed to evaluate the safety and pharmacokinetics of MEDI8852 in healthy adults.
MEDI8852 binds to a novel site in the hemagglutinin stem region that is shared in viruses from all 18 Influenza A subtypes. This region is highly conserved and is considered to be the “Achilles’ heel” of the virus.
Humabs discovers and develops antibodies directly derived from individuals whose immune systems have successfully responded to major diseases. While the concept of isolating antibodies directly from recovered patients is not new, Humabs has developed a unique, comprehensive scheme for screening and selecting naturally occurring antibodies. Its proprietary technology platforms use immortalized donor B cells or cultured plasma cells with unmatched, stable secretion rates. This allows Humabs to perform sophisticated functional screens to rapidly discover antibodies able to opsonize or kill bacteria, block viral entry, or eliminate virus-infected and cancer cells. Instead of looking for binders to predefined targets, the Humabs functional approach is target-agnostic. Within weeks, it leads to ultra-potent antibodies, which can subsequently be developed for therapeutic, diagnostic, or research purposes, including the identification of novel targets or vaccines.
Germany’s new Law on the Reorganization of the Pharmaceutical Market (AMNOG), which came into force January 1 this year, has substantially changed the rules for the introduction of new medicines on the German market. The akampioneer already has reported on the novel regulations and procedures – now it is time to look at the consequences AMNOG has had already.
Since the beginning of 2011, 18 dossiers for the required benefit assessment have been filed with the Federal Joint Committee G-BA, the highest decision-making body of the joint self-government of physicians, dentists, hospitals and health insurance funds in Germany. G-BA is then assessing the “additional patient-related benefit” of a novel drug, either itself or by assigning Germany’s Institute for Quality and Efficacy in Health Care (IQWiG). If G-BA identifies an additional benefit, the umbrella organization for the statutory health insurance funds and the pharmaceutical company negotiate the reimbursement price as a discount on the original selling price within six months. If negotiations fail to reach an agreement, an arbitration commission defines the reimbursement price using the European price level as a standard.
Most cases are still pending. In one of the 18 cases (the statin pitavastatin marketed by Merckle Recordati in Germany) , the manufacturer itself requested the drug to become reimbursed under the fixed price system. In two cases, marketing was halted in Germany by the manufacturer following a negative G-BA assessment: Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly decided not to market linagliptin, a DPP4 inhibitor for the treatment of type II diabetes; the companies think G-BA chose the wrong therapy for comparison and assessment of the additional benefit.
Novartis removed Rasilamlo from the market, effective September 1. The oral drug is a combination of aliskiren and amlodipine, which was approved in April this year for the treatment of high blood pressure patients not adequately controlled by either aliskiren or amlodipine alone. The company could not get to terms with G-BA on the data required for the assessment of the additional patient-related benefit.
The decision not to market a drug in Germany if the assessment is negative and the setting of a low price is imminent certainly reduces sales; on the other hand it prevents the setting of a lower price in other European countries that use Germany’s drug prices as reference.
The first completed assessment regards AstraZeneca’s platelet aggregation inhibitor ticagrelor, which was approved in December 2010 for the prevention of thrombotic events in patients with acute coronary syndrome or myocardial infarction with ST elevation, and is intended to be used in combination with acetyl salicylic acid (ASS). G-BA had assigned IQWiG with an assessment that deviated from the design of the studies used for approval and from the comparator therapy G-BA originally had agreed upon with the manufacturer. For approval, the drug had been compared to clopidogrel (plus ASS). IQWiG, however, defined subgroups and compared ticagrelor plus ASS with clopidogrel plus ASS in patients with unstable angina pectoris and myocardial infarction (with and without ST elevation) and prasugrel plus ASS as a comparator for patients with ST elevation, which had received a coronary bypass or a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) .
As a result, G-BA ruled that the drug has an additional benefit only in patients with myocardial infarction without ST elevation and in patients with unstable angina pectoris. In these cases, G-BA sees a moderate additional benefit. IQWiG had stated that the data provided by the manufacturer to support efficacy in patients with ST elevation did not sufficiently prove additional benefit in this subgroup.
While it certainly is a good idea to ask whether a novel drug not only meets regulatory requirements but also translates into patient benefit, the process of assessing this benefit and the degree of improvement as compared to existing therapies is a mess in Germany.
One important point is transparency. The crucial selection of the comparative therapy for the assessment takes place behind closed doors in G-BA’s pharmaceutical subcommittee. G-BA does not even disclose the subcommittee’s members – however, it is known that the members are picked from the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians and from the Statutory Healthcare System. The cheaper the comparative therapy chosen, the bigger is the hurdle to meet the cost/benefit ratio.
Second, as compared to the NICE procedure in the UK as an example, manufacturers are not involved in the process once it has started (except that they may be asked to submit more data), and if they are not happy with a decision the only possible procedural intervention is taking G-BA to court. Otherwise, they may wait for a year after which they can file an application for submitting novel data – which may be granted by G-BA or not.
Third, it is often very difficult to prove an additional benefit of an innovative medication immediately – except maybe for an antibiotic. Therapies for chronic diseases lead to measurable improvements often in the long or medium run only, and regulatory studies often are not large or long enough to meet the strict “evidence-based” criteria of IQWiG and G-BA. In addition, elderly patients often suffer from multiple diseases, making an assessment even more difficult.
Last not least, for the reference price system the devil is in the details. Will all European countries, including the poor economies of the former communist countries in Southeastern Europe, be included – or only the richer economies of the old European heartland?
All in all, the new regulations already have led to a slowing-down of novel drugs reaching the German market – a development that IQWiG’s new director Juergen Windeler in a recent interview declared as “expected”. He might as well have said “welcomed” as he added that of the about 60,000 drugs on the market in Germany, 95% were dispensable: “Experience shows that good medical care is possible with 2,000 to 3,000 drugs only.”
In a recent article (“Simply Obscene”) the influential German news magazine “Der Spiegel” (20/2010, May 17, 2010) stated the pharma industry was using “with the unscrupulousness of a stock jobber” a loophole in Germany’s highly regulated health care system to charge extremely high prices for basically useless cancer medications. In particular, the article featured Yondelis by Pharma Mar, Nexavar by Bayer, Hycamtin and Tyverb by GlaxoSmithKline, Erbitux by Merck KGaA, Sutent by Pfizer, Iressa by AstraZeneca, Avastin, Xeloda, Mab-Thera and Herceptin by Roche and Alimta by Lilly as examples for cancer drugs providing only marginal survival benefits at enormous costs and stated this was “lawful looting of the health care system”. The only exception according to the authors of the article was Novartis’ Gleevec.
This week, the Competence Network Malignant Lymphomas published an open “letter to the editor” (only available in German) stating that in the case of lymphoma therapy the authors of the article had done “obviously sloppy work”: “Therapy costs of lymphocyte-specific antibody Rituximab [MabThera] amount to €24,000, not €134,000 per year. Several independent studies have demonstrated that overall survival in both follicular and diffuse large B cell lymphoma is prolonged on average by several years (!), in fact without substantial side effects.” Der Spiegel had stated extension of survival in these two indications was “not proven”.
The letter also said that administrative costs for studies to optimize therapies had increased by a a factor of 10 in the last couple of years due to legal requirements.
The article of Spiegel magazine is available online in German, however without the tables featuring treatment costs and extension of survival for the drugs mentioned.