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Roche aims to 'underwhelm' on SMA drug price to challenge rivals

Tue 14th January, 2020 9:32am
ZURICH/SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker
Roche  ROG.S  plans to price its oral spinal muscular atrophy
drug (SMA) risdiplam aggressively to challenge two of the
world's most expensive medicines, Biogen's  BIIB.O  Spinraza and
Novartis's  NOVN.S  gene therapy Zolgensma. 
    Spinraza's list price is $750,000 in the first year, and
$375,000 thereafter, while Novartis's gene therapy for the
genetic muscle wasting disease lists at $2.1 million, making it
the drug industry's most expensive one-time treatment. 
    Third-to-market risdiplam is due for a U.S. Food and Drug
Administration decision by May 24. 
    While Roche has not released risdiplam's price, drug chief
Bill Anderson said the Basel-based company will price the drug
much as it did its haemophilia A medicine Hemlibra in 2017, when
it undercut traditional therapies made by rivals NovoNordisk and
Takeda  4502.T  to help win patients. 
    "With Hemlibra, we priced at about half of bypassing agent,"
Anderson said in an interview on Monday at the JP Morgan
Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. "We aim to underwhelm
with our price" with risdiplam, he added.
    Hemlibra costs around $500,000 a year. Treatment that
includes bypassing agents given to stop bleeding in haemophilia
patients with resistance to traditional clotting factor
treatments can top $1 million.
    Experts see Zolgensma becoming the treatment of choice for
newborn patients who test positive for SMA, because gene therapy
may offer infants yet to exhibit symptoms hope for normal
    Risdiplam, seen by analysts as topping $1 billion in annual
sales, and Spinraza, already a roughly $2 billion per year
seller, are seen competing for older patients. Oral, daily
risdiplam may be less complicated, given Spinraza is given every
four months via an infusion in the spine. 
    Zolgensma is also being tested in older patients with a
spinal infusion, though the trial has been halted due to safety
concerns. Novartis is awaiting the FDA's go-ahead to restart.*:nL8N27H56K
    Novartis also is developing an oral drug, branaplam, though
its chief researcher, Jay Bradner, in December indicated the
company had cooled to the medicine, saying he did not "see a big
opportunity for oral therapy there, or we would develop this
molecule further".*:nL8N28F4JO
    Novartis has since clarified its stance, saying its trial of
branaplam would continue, with a decision to be made after the
study produces data later this year.

 (Reporting by Robin Respaut in San Francisco and John Miller in
Zurich; Editing by Susan Fenton)
 ((; +41 58 306 7734; Reuters
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