After two full days packed with sessions, meetings, networking, and drinking, the energy levels at the Westin on Wednesday were visibly lagging. “I feel like a traveling salesman,” a junior banker remarked to his friend as he recharged his laptop and ate a limp apple walnut salad.
However, the coffee was flowing, the sun made an unexpected mid-afternoon appearance, and people seemed to be getting their second wind by the time political power couple James Carville and Mary Matalin gave their off-the-record keynote over lunch. Keep reading for a few takeaways from day three of the industry’s largest annual conference.
In his morning session, Amarin CEO John Thero dedicated a lot of time to Vascepa, the company’s fish-oil-derived cardiovascular treatment that, when combined with statins, lowers the risk of a heart attack or major cardiovascular event by 25%. “Cholesterol management is not enough,” he said. Approved for high-risk patients with high triglycerides, the company is pursuing an expanded indication for cardiovascular risk prevention.
Thero said he expects annual sales of the drug to increase by 50% to $350 million this year. In a breakout session, he hinted that this might be a conservative estimate, which sent shares soaring on Wednesday.
A day earlier, Amgen CEO Bob Bradway discussed Repatha, the company’s PCSK9 inhibitor. Billed as a potential blockbuster when it launched in 2015, the drug fizzled as payers placed onerous requirements on coverage, effectively blocking access even for high-risk patients for whom statins were not as effective.
Amgen slashed the price of the drug in October from an annual cost of $14,100 to $5,850. As a result, access has increased. Upwards of 50% of commercial patients can be prescribed the drug with “physician attestation only,” Bradway said, while 80%of current Repatha Medicare patients have access to the treatment at the new, lower list price through their plans.
JP Morgan presents something of a challenge for pharma CEOs. On one hand, they are cognizant of public perception, and just how far their stock has fallen in the eyes of a public fed up with continued price increases. On the other, they are trying to convince a roomful of investors that they’ll deliver record profits. Patients, as some noted on Twitter, are absent from the invite-only conference.
These competing narratives were on full display at AbbVie’s morning session. More than 65% of the company’s annual revenue comes from a single drug: the best-selling, and enormously expensive, Humira. Thanks to its litigious streak, the company has kept generics at bay, preserving profits for shareholders but keeping the drug price high and therefore inaccessible for many patients.
Prescription digital therapeutics
To a standing-room-only audience, Pear Therapeutics CEO Corey McCann described his company’s products as software validated through clinical trials and prescribed by physicians.
In 2017, the company’s reSET app was authorized by the FDA to treat substance use disorder, becoming the first software app approved for clinical use to treat substance use disorder. Last month, Pear’s reSET-O program to treat opioid use disorder, which pairs cognitive behavioral therapy with buprenorphine, was also approved by the agency.
During his session, McCann repeatedly stressed that Pear’s operations, approval process, and pipeline look like that of your standard pharma company, only that the therapies in question are software-based rather than new medical components.
The company, which raised $64 million in Series C funding this month, is developing app-based treatments for insomnia, schizophrenia, and multiple sclerosis. It has also paved the way for a new class of health-tech companies that, unlike many of their predecessors, take the regulatory process seriously, marrying devices and software with rigorous outcome data.
“We do not do health and wellness,” McCann said pointedly.
For highlights from day one, click here.
For highlights from day two, click here.
This story was updated on January 12 to clarify language about reSET’s FDA approval.