A Gaithersburg pharmaceutical company with significant Baltimore operations has acquired the maker of Narcan, a widely used opioid overdose reversal drug, and said it plans to develop more products to combat the nation’s opioid addiction and overdose epidemic.
Emergent Biosolutions will pay $735 million in cash and stock to acquire Adapt Pharma, the Dublin, Ireland-based maker of Narcan. Officials of the Maryland company said Narcan, the brand name for the nasal spray version of naloxone, fits into its business of developing and producing countermeasures for biological, chemical and infectious disease threats for government and other customers.
Narcan is used to revive users of heroin and other opioids who are suspected of having overdosed. Since its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late 2015, its ease of use has led to extensive distribution, in many cases without a prescription, to lay people in places like Baltimore that have been hard hit by drug overdoses.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 42,000 people died of an opioid overdose in 2016, and the federal government has since declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.
“The acquisition of Adapt Pharma, and with it the Narcan Nasal Spray, the leading community use emergency treatment for opioid overdose, is directly in line with our mission — to protect and enhance life,” said Emergent CEO Daniel J. Abdun-Nabi in a statement. “Adding this important life-saving product to our portfolio of preparedness solutions allows us to apply our experience gained from two decades of partnering with the U.S. government to safeguard public health against biological and chemical threats to address the devastating increase in deaths due to opioid overdoses, one of the most serious public health threats facing the nation today.”
Two Baltimore firms will work to develop and manufacture a vaccine for the Lassa virus, a deadly emerging virus threat in Africa, under a $36 million grant from a global disease preparedness organization.
Emergent Biosolutions develops and manufactures its own drugs as well as produces drugs for other pharmaceutical firms and the U.S. government.
After the Adapt Pharma acquisition, Narcan will become one of its largest products behind only the anthrax vaccine it makes.
Emergent has 1,300 employees at 13 locations including Baltimore, Gaithersburg and Rockville. In Baltimore, its plant by the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center makes vaccines and other therapies. A plant on South Paca Street near M&T Bank Stadium fills syringes, cartridges and vials with drugs.
Despite Emergent’s significant manufacturing operations in Baltimore, it plans to continue Adapt Pharma’s current relationships with other firms that manufacture Narcan.
Since naloxone was approved by the FDA, its cost and availability has become an issue with public health officials.
An analysis led by Yale University researchers that was published in December in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the cost was a threat to efforts to reduce overdose deaths.
There are three manufacturers of naloxone, including injection versions and Narcan, the only approved nasal spray. The researchers found that Evzio, an auto-injector easily used by people without medical training, cost $690 in 2014 but was $4,500 two years later.
Narcan costs $150 for two doses, and the price was unchanged from the year before.
The Baltimore City Health Department like most other public health programs buys the less expensive Narcan for a negotiated price of $75 for a two-dose kit, but struggles to round up state, federal and private grants to maintain its stocks.
Dr. Leana Wen, the city health commissioner, said if the city followed the U.S. surgeon general’s recommendation that everyone have the drug on hand for emergencies, then Baltimore would have to spend $49 million, which is twice the city’s entire public health budget.
“We couldn’t afford that every year,” she said. “Naloxone is sold by the pennies in other countries, and it doesn’t make sense in the middle of a public health crisis that we are still having to ration this important medication.”
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Wen said the city has different levels of the drug on hand at any time and couldn’t say how many doses the department would hand out this year, though officials handed out thousands last year. She did say that 45,000 people have been trained to use naloxone in Baltimore and that the drug is credited with saving 2,816 lives in the past three years.
She said she hopes Emergent officials consider the urgent need going forward.
Doug White, head of Emergent’s Business Device Unit, said the company is concerned about access and affordability.
He said in addition to continuing the drug discounts for public health departments and first responders, the company plans to work with federal officials to ensure there is a steady stream of grant money to offset the costs and make funding more predictable.
White also said Emergent will continue to invest in Adapt’s work to improve Narcan and its dispenser, as well as develop new drugs for addiction and overdose. Some products, he said, already are in the pipeline.
“As a business,,” White said, “we will be continuing to expand on their success and focusing on awareness, making sure communities are aware of the product, and making sure it’s easily accessible through public health programs and the pharmacy, and making sure it’s affordable.”