Thursday, September 10, 2020

AMR and Europe - What Happened?

 Like many of you, I recently received a notification from John Rex and Kevin Outterson regarding the fact that many recently approved antibiotics will not be marketed in Europe. At first glance, I assumed that these products were simply unable to obtain a price that would provide for a return on investment leading the companies to abandon the European marketplace. But, based on the information provided by Rex and Outterson, its more complicated and more discouraging than that.


To go back in time, during the struggles at the FDA starting around 2000, Europe almost seemed like a haven of regulatory bliss for antibiotic developers.  Many of you will remember how antibiotics almost always were approved in Europe one or more years after their approval in the US during the last part of the last century. We viewed Europe as slow, cumbersome and driven by inconsistent and often academic concerns. But these perceived faults were clearly overcome when Europe became a regulatory haven as an alternative to an FDA that had lost its way. 


During my consulting years, that covered the worst of the FDA antibiotic crisis, I often advised my clients to work through European regulators primarily and put the FDA aside or at least on a lower priority in terms of trying to negotiate clinical trial designs that could lead to approval. My clients, perhaps correctly, noted that they would have a difficult time obtaining a return on their investment without the US market and as such, the FDA became a key hurdle for them to overcome. Unfortunately, years were lost in that struggle as were several of my clients. 


Then, in 2012, the FDA awoke from their state of hibernation realizing that the antibiotic pipeline had all but disappeared under their regulatory restrictions – especially for antibiotics targeting pneumonia and other serious infections. They quickly established new regulatory pathways that are more efficient and rapid for new antibiotics addressing resistant infections. 


And here we are in 2020.  Our antibiotic pipeline remains in shambles mainly due to a lack of a sufficient marketplace. But we must remember that “sufficient” depends on costs to get there and stay there. And costs, often, still depend greatly on the regulators. 


Nabriva will not market Lefamulin in Europe partly because it is unable to find a commercial partner to drive sales.  But more ominous in their recent SEC filing is the statement that they may not be able to continue to survive at all given marketing restrictions associated with covid plus outstanding obligations and debt. 


Plazomicin has been withdrawn from Europe apparently because the costs of the pediatric trials required in Europe “exceed all estimates of potential sales” in the region. 


Eravacycline is the victim of the financial difficulties of its parent company, Tetraphase, its limited indication and its relatively poor advantages compared to competing products. 


Paratek's omadacycline was withdrawn from consideration in Europe because the EMA insisted on a second trial in community-acquired pneumonia. Omadacycline was approved in the US based on two successful trials in skin infection and a single trial in pneumonia consistent with FDA guidelines for approval in both indications. FDA approved omadacycline for both indications but requested a second pneumonia study as a post-approval obligation. 


In the case of both omadacycline and plazomicin, the regulators have doomed the products for the European market. Some may argue that these products do not deserve to be marketed given the availability of other agents.  In fact, for omadacycline, that almost seems to be what the EMA is saying. On the other hand, the regulatory hurdles to the marketplace in Europe now become yet another nail in the coffin of new antibiotic investment in research and development. After placing so much hope in European regulators, I find I am profoundly disappointed in their actions. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Too Little is not Enough


Those of you who joined the recent AMR conference or who receive John Rex’s very useful emails or who follow his website AMR Solutions will doubtless know that there have been recent advances in reimbursement programs in Europe for antibiotics. With all of the deepest respect for John and for Kevin Outterson in this regard, no one should believe that these tiny baby steps represent significant progress in the effort to fix the antibiotic marketplace. 


Germany, for example, recently allowed “reserve” antibiotics special exclusion from their general hospital diagnosis related reimbursement so the antibiotics can be reimbursed at a higher level. John and Kevin explain that this is a reversal from their previous stance that required new antibiotics to be reimbursed at levels similar to generic drugs unless they had shown superiority in clinical trials – something that can occur only rarely for antibiotics. They point out that France also has a DRG carve-out for antibiotics and that the US is contemplating one in the form of the DISARM Act currently before congress (as it has been for eons it seems). (Currently the US 
has a partial carve-out available through their NTAP program that I’m not sure anyone uses). Kevin and John note that Sweden has announced which antibiotics will benefit from their pilot study of a subscription payment model similar to what is contemplated by the UK. 


Is this all good news? I pose this question to myself and to you my readers. Some of this seems like national health authorities are motivated to do something to correct the antibiotic market but don’t want to do more than their country’s “fair share.”  This is similar to the DRIVE AB estimate of Europe’s “share” or “obligation” within the context of a global effort to provide a pull incentive for antibiotic R&D. But the major fallacy with all of these approaches is that there is no global effort to establish an appropriate pull incentive for antibiotic R&D. If the major economies of Europe, like Sweden and the UK, want to base a subscription model just on the need within their own population, we will ever get anywhere. Europe has to be Europe and provide for the needs of all its members from richest to poorest. 


And where does the US fit in all this?  Nowhere! Even DISARM, that is so enthusiastically supported by almost every antibiotic biotech I know will not, in my humble opinion, be nearly enough of a pull incentive. It is just another baby step limited by the rather small population who require targeted or even empiric therapy with new antibiotics active against resistant pathogens. 


DRG carve-outs and subscription models limited to today's needs of various national populations will not provide the kind of pull incentives we need unless all countries participate. To expect that they will is, at best, na├»ve and at worst, irresponsible. 


These approaches are hamstrung by the population at risk for resistant infections today. We need an approach today that looks forward to tomorrow.  None of these achieves that goal. We need incentives today that project our needs 10 years from now. We need to see this as an investment in the future, not a make-up payback for today. 


The optimists see the glass as half full. I see a desert with no water in sight. The optimists say this is progress.  We weren’t even contemplating DRG carve outs and subscription models or any pull incentive 10 years ago, they say.  True.  Ten years ago, the US did not even have a clear path for the clinical development of needed new antibiotics because the FDA was lost. Ten years ago, we were all focused on the FDA. 


So, you ask – what IS enough? We need a country or a region to take a leadership role and come up with a pull incentive for the world – for all of us. Otherwise, by the time a significant pull incentive comes from everyone’s desire to pay only their “fair share” we will have lost most or all of the antibiotic companies that remain.  We will be without protection when the resistance pandemic arrives. 


Too little is not enough!