23andMe finds a buy­er for its IL-36 bis­pe­cif­ic in Almi­rall; Neu­ro­crine, Idor­sia re­vise epilep­sy drug deal

→ The first fruits of 23andMe’s ef­forts to gen­er­ate new drugs off the in­sights it gained from a mas­sive amount of ge­net­ic da­ta are tak­ing shape, and Almi­rall is sign­ing up to ripen one of them. The Span­ish der­ma­tol­ogy drug­mak­er has li­censed a bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body that blocks three cy­tokines in the IL-36 cy­tokine fam­i­ly, which are tied to skin con­di­tions such as pso­ri­a­sis and lu­pus, in ad­di­tion to oth­er in­flam­ma­to­ry ail­ments such as ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, and Crohn’s dis­ease.

“As a leader in med­ical der­ma­tol­ogy, we felt Almi­rall was the best com­pa­ny to take this pro­gram for­ward and ul­ti­mate­ly de­vel­op an ef­fec­tive ther­a­py for pa­tients,” Ken­neth Hillan, who suc­ceed­ed Genen­tech vet Richard Scheller as head of ther­a­peu­tics at 23andMe, said in a state­ment.

While it start­ed out as a di­rect-to-con­sumer test­ing ser­vice, 23andMe has moved deep­er in­to the ther­a­peu­tic space in re­cent years, most no­tably through a $300 mil­lion part­ner­ship with Glax­o­SmithK­line.

→ We now know the iden­ti­ty of Idor­sia’s mys­tery part­ner from last year. The Swiss biotech — spun out from J&J’s Acte­lion buy­out — had an­nounced that it pock­et­ed a $5 mil­lion pay­ment from an undis­closed par­ty to score a li­cens­ing op­tion on ACT-709478, a brain pen­e­trat­ing T-type cal­ci­um chan­nel block­er. Now we learn that Neu­ro­crine will pay $45 mil­lion if it ex­er­cis­es the op­tion and up to $365 mil­lion in mile­stones.

“We are ex­cit­ed to lever­age the sci­en­tif­ic ex­per­tise of Idor­sia in T-type cal­ci­um chan­nel in­hi­bi­tion to po­ten­tial­ly ad­vance a Phase 2 ready com­pound to help peo­ple suf­fer­ing from epilep­sy. In ad­di­tion to the treat­ment of epilep­sy, the mod­u­la­tion of the cal­ci­um chan­nel may be use­ful for the treat­ment of oth­er dis­or­ders such as es­sen­tial tremor and pain,” Kevin Gor­man, the CEO at Neu­ro­crine, said in a state­ment.

Phase­Bio has found a deep-pock­et­ed be­liev­er in its blood thin­ner re­ver­sal agent: SFJ Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which has of­fered up to $120 mil­lion to sup­port the clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of PB2452. First li­censed from As­traZeneca, the “break­through” drug is de­signed to can­cel the ef­fects of tica­grelor, an an­ti­co­ag­u­lant, in ur­gent or sur­gi­cal sit­u­a­tions. Backed by Black­stone Life Sci­ences and Abing­worth, SFJ will al­so take over the bulk of the clin­i­cal and reg­u­la­to­ry work out­side of the US. In ex­change, Phase­Bio will pay an­nu­al lump sums once (and if) they win ap­provals.

Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund and Dutch in­vestor PPF are lead­ing a $22 mil­lion Se­ries C round for Basel, Switzer­land-based NBE Ther­a­peu­tics to bankroll ear­ly clin­i­cal tri­als of its lead as­set. Rid­ing on re­newed en­thu­si­asm for an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates, NBE said their plat­form tech is both more pow­er­ful and safer than the ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions of ADC, be­ing im­mune-stim­u­la­to­ry and em­ploy­ing an an­thra­cy­cline pay­load. NBE-002 tar­gets ROR1 in triple-neg­a­tive breast can­cer and lung can­cer, to be fol­lowed by oth­er sol­id can­cer types and lym­phomas.

→ While await­ing an FDA de­ci­sion on its sec­ond shot at an ap­proval, Aca­cia Phar­ma has in-li­censed a short-act­ing, re­versible in­tra­venous seda­tive/anes­thet­ic from Cos­mo Phar­ma. The €10 mil­lion up­front pay­ment will take the form of an eq­ui­ty sale, with an­oth­er €30 mil­lion due up­on US ap­proval of the drug, By­Fa­vo, and more com­mer­cial mile­stones. “Hav­ing a sec­ond prod­uct that shares the same call­ing points and at­trac­tive com­mer­cial mes­sage as Barhem­sys will make the in­vest­ment in our sales and mar­ket­ing teams more ef­fi­cient,” CEO Mike Bolin­der said in a state­ment.

→ Eye-fo­cused gene ther­a­py de­vel­op­er Eye­ven­sys has scored $30 mil­lion in Se­ries B fund­ing with the help of lead in­vestor Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund. Pon­tif­ax, Bpifrance, CapDe­cisif, In­serm Trans­fert, the Glob­al Health Sci­ences Fund and Pure­os Bioven­tures al­so joined to boost their R&D ef­forts, fea­tur­ing a lead Phase II-ready pro­gram for chron­ic non-in­fec­tious uveitis.

→ The cell ther­a­py ex­perts at Jasper Ther­a­peu­tics have brought in an ex­tra $14.1 mil­lion for their Se­ries A, adding Roche Ven­ture Fund to their ros­ter of mar­quee in­vestors. The new cash will help ex­pand the lead clin­i­cal pro­gram, a CD117-tar­get­ed an­ti­body con­ceived as an al­ter­na­tive con­di­tion­ing reg­i­men be­fore stem cell trans­plants.

→ Fol­low­ing the close of its $1 bil­lion-plus sec­ond fund, GHO Cap­i­tal Part­ners has ac­quired Bel­gian CD­MO Ar­de­na, which is fo­cused on ear­ly-stage drug de­vel­op­ment, from Men­tha Cap­i­tal.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Take­da snaps up the Japan­ese rights to an old Shire cast-off; Boehringer In­gel­heim ac­quires Abexxa Bi­o­log­ics

A week before the FDA is set to decide on Mirum Pharmaceuticals’ lead liver disease drug — an old Shire cast-off called maralixibat — Takeda is swooping in to secure the rights in Japan.

Maralixibat’s roots trace back to Lumena, which was snapped up by Shire for $260 million-plus back in 2014. While the candidate had failed mid-stage studies at Shire, Mirum believes better trial design and patient selection will deliver the wins it needs. The drug is currently in development for Alagille syndrome (a condition called ALGS in which bile builds up in the liver), progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC, which causes progressive liver disease) and biliary atresia (a blockage in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder).

When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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