Johnson & Johnson Reveals Its Drug-Development Plans

J&J’s overhaul will see it tackling conditions like lung cancer, eye disease, RSV and more. A top company scientist said J&J expects multi-billion-dollar income from new drugs by 2025. Separately, CVS will close 900 stores across the U.S.

J&J Split: What The New Drug Company Will Focus On After Breakup

Johnson & Johnson will focus on developing drugs for conditions such as lung cancer and eye disease as it prepares to make its pharmaceutical and medical-devices business an independent entity. The 135-year-old health giant faces its greatest-ever overhaul as it readies for a spin-out of its consumer unit, following a path trod by rivals such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Pfizer Inc. In her first-ever interview, Jennifer Taubert, J&J’s executive vice president and worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals, told Bloomberg News that the company will invest in new areas of interest. (Griffin, 11/18)

J&J Sees Potential For 14 New Multibillion-Dollar Drugs By 2025

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) expects to file for approval of 14 new drugs by 2025, and has projected average peak sales of $4 billion a year for each, a top J&J scientist said ahead of a strategy review of the company’s pharmaceuticals unit on Thursday. Among the top pipeline assets, Mathai Mammen, global head of research for J&J’s Janssen pharmaceutical division, pointed to a drug combination for non-small cell lung cancer, an anticoagulant it is developing with partner Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY.N) and a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). (Erman and Steenhuysen, 11/18)

In news on CVS, Lasik, Biogen, Northwestern Medicine and Mass General Brigham —

Modern Healthcare:
CVS To Close 900 Stores In Big Retail Strategy Shift

Big changes are coming for CVS Health, the company announced Thursday. Over the next three years, CVS Health plans to shutter 900 pharmacies and intensify its efforts to reconceive its retail locations as sites for more comprehensive healthcare services. The company, which also operates Aetna health insurance and CVS Caremark pharmacy benefit management subsidiaries, announced a related senior executive leadership shakeup. (Devereaux, 11/18)

The Wall Street Journal:
Dominant Eye Surgery Chain LasikPlus Put Profits Over Patient Care, Some Doctors Say

Since the laser surgery that can fix nearsightedness was approved in the 1990s, one firm, called LasikPlus, has grown into the U.S. industry’s dominant force by using low prices as a draw and vacuuming up rival players. Along with its growth, LasikPlus has accumulated critics, including some of its own doctors, current and former, who alleged in lawsuits and interviews that they were pressured by corporate management to follow practices that they felt put the company’s profits over patient care. Some said they were expected to perform so many procedures each day they worried they couldn’t keep up. “It felt like we were in a war zone all the time,” said Therese Alban, who quit LasikPlus two years ago after 15 years there, part of an exodus of about 20% of the chain’s then 40 or so doctors to a rival firm or private practice. (Maremont, 11/18)

Insurers Balk at Paying for Biogen’s $56,000-a-Year Alzheimer’s Treatment

U.S. health insurers say they want more proof before paying for Biogen Inc.’s Aduhelm, stalling sales of the costly new Alzheimer’s therapy that the company hailed as a breakthrough for patients. None of the 25 large insurers that responded to a Bloomberg News survey judged the $56,000-a-year drug “medically necessary,” a term used to describe treatments that are needed for specific ailments and meet medical standards. Most have deemed Aduhelm experimental, while some say they’re still evaluating it. (Tozzi, LaVito and Dave, 11/18)

Crain’s Chicago Business:
Northwestern Medicine Launches Lung Treatment Center

Northwestern Medicine has launched the Canning Thoracic Institute with a $20 million donation from Madison Dearborn Partners founder John Canning and his wife Rita to meet the growing demand for lung transplants and lung treatments due to COVID-19 and lung cancer, the health system said today. Since July 2020, Northwestern Medicine surgeons have performed more than 30 double-lung transplants on COVID patients, the most of any health system in the world, Northwestern said in a statement. And with more than 47 million Americans having already contracted COVID, demand for inpatient and outpatient pulmonary care is expected to grow, the statement said. In addition, nearly a million people in the Chicago area, or about 10% of the population, suffer from some sort of chronic lung disease, the statement said. (Asplund, 11/18)

Chicago Tribune:
With COVID-19 Continuing To Damage Patients’ Lungs, Northwestern Announces New Institute Focused On Lung Care, Thanks To $20 Million Donation 

With COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc on the lungs of its victims, Northwestern Medicine is doubling down on its efforts to be a national leader in lung care with the launch of an institute dedicated to the field. Northwestern announced the opening of its Canning Thoracic Institute on Thursday — named for John and Rita Canning, who donated $20 million to get the institute off the ground. John Canning is the chairman and founder of private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners. (Schencker, 11/18)

The Boston Globe:
Healey Concerned Mass General Brigham’s Expansion Would Bring Higher Health Care Costs

Attorney General Maura Healey is warning that Mass General Brigham’s proposal to build three new surgery centers is likely to increase health care costs across Massachusetts, turning up the pressure on the state’s largest health care provider as it pursues a long-planned and significant expansion. Healey, after reviewing documents from MGB, released a report Wednesday that said the project would have broad implications for the health care market. It would allow Mass General Brigham to draw new patients not just to its outpatient clinics, but to its hospitals as well, through referrals from doctors. (Dayal McCluskey, 11/18)

In other industry news —

Biotech Companies Scramble To Find Scientists To Manage Troves Of Data

Nikhil Munshi’s lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has accumulated an overwhelming amount of data — over a thousand terabytes of intel on healthy cells and cancer cells that could help researchers unlock new secrets about health and disease — what he called the “unbelievable complexity of how cells remain normal and become abnormal.” “It’s very, very exciting. We can do things we could not do literally two years ago or five years ago. A petabyte of data sounds like a Star Trek number, but a lot of people have [more],” Munshi, an oncology researcher, said. There’s just one problem: “There’s so much demand for informatics, the supply is not there yet. There really is a shortage of good bioinformaticians.” (Chen, 11/19)

Gilead Licenses Cancer Drugs From Arcus, A Bet On Its Cancer Business

Gilead Sciences said Thursday that it has exercised an option to license four cancer drugs from Arcus Biosciences, including an immunotherapy that works against a closely followed anti-cancer target called TIGIT. In exchange for licensing rights to the four cancer drugs, Gilead is paying Arcus $725 million. The two companies will co-develop the drugs, share costs, and if approved, split profits in the U.S., the companies said. For Gilead, the Arcus deal represents another potentially lucrative but risky effort to grow its cancer business, which has struggled to gain traction apart from its bespoke CAR-T therapies. (Feuerstein, 11/18)

GSK’s Walmsley Predicts A ‘Landmark’ 2022 For The Company

Next year will be a “landmark” one for GlaxoSmithKline, according to CEO Emma Walmsley — though many of the biggest changes she forecasted may not become evident until next year. On next year’s agenda: fresh data from clinical trials of a vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, a very common childhood illness; a Food and Drug Administration decision for daprodustat, GSK’s experimental treatment for a type of anemia; and the de-merger of GSK’s consumer business from its pharmaceutical arm — twenty-one years after the massive merger that created GlaxoSmithKline in the first place. (Sheridan, 11/18)

Boston Globe:
Generate Biomedicines Raises $370m To Use Machine Learning In Research

Cambridge biotech Generate Biomedicines said Thursday it has raised $370 million in venture capital from investors keen on its plan to use machine learning in drug discovery, money that will enable the startup to expand its workforce more than sixfold. Generate, which was founded in 2018 by venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, has about 80 employees at 26 Landsdowne St. and expects to hire some 420 more in the next two years, according to top executives. The company plans to move soon to two new buildings, totaling 140,000 square feet, in Andover and Somerville. (Saltzman, 11/18)

By Selling Bonds Tied To Drug Access And Climate Goals, Teva Takes Pharma In A New Direction 

In a first-of-its-kind move by a drug maker, Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA) recently sold $5 billion in bonds that are tied directly to its progress in achieving goals linked to climate change and making medicines accessible in certain low and middle-income countries. The goal is to increase the cumulative number of marketing applications submitted to regulators in low and middle-income countries — as well as the volume of donated medicines — by 150% by 2025, compared with the previous five-year period. The treatments must be considered essential medicines by the World Health Organization and would be used for diabetes and heart disease, among other ailments. (Silverman, 11/18)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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