$1.3B Keytru­da wind­fall will be used to ac­cel­er­ate trans­la­tion­al drug R&D in the UK

Trans­la­tion­al re­search in the UK is get­ting a ma­jor boost.

The non­prof­it LifeArc has struck a deal to sell a large block of its Keytru­da roy­al­ties to a pen­sion firm for $1.3 bil­lion it will now use to sup­port sci­en­tists at work de­vel­op­ing new drugs and de­vices. The rich UK R&D scene has been a fer­tile ground for ear­ly-stage work. And this wind­fall of block­buster cash will now bol­ster LifeArc’s work in the field.

Aca­d­e­m­ic re­searchers, in par­tic­u­lar, were pay­ing close at­ten­tion.

“This lev­el of fund­ing will come as a huge sur­prise to re­searchers and, more than that, it will re­al­ly boost morale,” Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don in­ves­ti­ga­tor Robin Ali told the Fi­nan­cial Times.

Robin Ali

In ad­di­tion to back­ing aca­d­e­mics, LifeArc — which has a mar­quee in-house group work­ing on an­ti­body en­gi­neer­ing — has al­so oc­ca­sion­al­ly backed promis­ing UK biotechs like Spring­Works Ther­a­peu­tics. And more start­up sup­port is like­ly al­so in the works. A few weeks ago LifeArc joined hands with Can­cer Re­search UK and Ono Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal to launch a new ef­fort fo­cused on find­ing new tar­gets for im­muno-on­col­o­gy.

The re­search char­i­ty was born just two years ago out of the Med­ical Re­search Coun­cil’s com­mer­cial­iza­tion arm, which cashed in $150 mil­lion of its Keytru­da roy­al­ties to get things start­ed. Sci­en­tists at MRC Tech­nol­o­gy helped do the hu­man­iza­tion work on Mer­ck’s an­ti­body, which was trans­formed in­to a huge suc­cess as the lead­ing PD-1/PD-L1 gen­er­ates bil­lions of cash from an­nu­al sales.

Melanie Lee

LifeArc is one of many ex­am­ples of the surg­ing UK biotech scene, which has been helped by the grow­ing lev­el of fi­nan­cial sup­port avail­able to back new de­vel­op­ers. Long rec­og­nized as one of the world’s top aca­d­e­m­ic are­nas in the in­dus­try, new com­pa­nies in the UK have been com­ing along to help cre­ate a thriv­ing lo­cal hub.

“This agree­ment with CP­PIB al­lows us to in­crease our sup­port for new ap­proach­es and col­lab­o­ra­tions and bol­ster ac­cess to our ex­per­tise and re­sources,” not­ed LifeArc CEO Melanie Lee.

Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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Saqib Islam. CheckRare via YouTube

Spring­Works seeks $115M to push Pfiz­er drugs across fin­ish line while Sat­suma sells mi­graine play in $86M IPO

SpringWorks and Satsuma — both biotech spinouts that have closed B rounds in April — are loading up with IPO cash to boost their respective late-stage plans.

Bain-backed SpringWorks is the better-known company of the two, and it’s gunning for a larger windfall of $115 million to add to $228 million from previous financings. In the process, the Stamford, CT-based team is also drawing the curtains on the partnerships it has in mind for the pair of assets it had initially licensed from Pfizer.

Mi­nor­i­ty racial groups con­tin­ue to be dis­mal­ly rep­re­sent­ed in can­cer tri­als — study

Data reveal that different racial and ethnic groups — by nature and/or nurture — can respond differently in terms of pharmacokinetics, efficacy, or safety to therapeutics, but this disparity is not necessarily accounted for in clinical trials. A fresh analysis of the last decade of US cancer drug approvals suggests the trend continues, cementing previous research that suggests oncology trials are woefully under-representative of the racial makeup of the real world.

Van­da shares slide af­ter FDA spurns their big end­point and re­jects a pitch on jet lag re­lief

Back in the spring of last year, Vanda Pharmaceuticals $VNDA served up a hot stew of mixed data for a slate of endpoints related to what they called clear evidence that their melatonin sleep drug Hetlioz (tasimelteon) could help millions of travelers suffering from jet lag.

Never mind that they couldn’t get a planned 90 people in the study, settling for 25 instead; Vanda CEO Mihael H. Polymeropoulos said they were building on a body of data to prove it would help jet-lagged patients looking for added sleep benefits. And that, they added, would be worth a major upgrade from the agency as they sought to tackle a big market.

Jim Mellon [via YouTube]

Health­i­er, longer lifes­pans will be a re­al­i­ty soon­er than you think, Ju­ve­nes­cence promis­es as it clos­es $100M round

Earlier this year, an executive from Juvenescence-backed AgeX predicted the field of longevity will eventually “dwarf the dotcom boom.” Greg Bailey, the UK-based anti-aging biotech’s CEO, certainly hopes so.

On Monday, Juvenescence completed its $100 million Series B round of financing. The company is backed by British billionaire Jim Mellon — who wrote his 400-page guide to investing in the field of longevity shortly after launching the company in 2017. Bailey, who served as a board director for seven years at Medivation before Pfizer swallowed the biotech for $14 billion, is joined by Declan Doogan, an industry veteran with stints at Pfizer $PFE and Amarin $AMRN.

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.