A mon­ster dis­cov­ery deal be­tween Ab­b­Vie and Google’s Cal­i­co gets a new lease on the lab, with $1B more to back ag­ing re­search

Near­ly 4 years af­ter Ab­b­Vie and Google’s fledg­ling Cal­i­co stepped up to the al­tar of drug sci­ence and com­mit­ted them­selves to a $1.5 bil­lion part­ner­ship on de­vel­op­ing a pipeline of an­ti-ag­ing drugs, they’ve de­cid­ed to re­new their vows.

Bob Co­hen

And this time they’re back­ing it up with a joint $1 bil­lion pledge — $500 mil­lion each — to keep the al­liance go­ing for some years to come, with an eye to slow­ly step­ping up the re­la­tion­ship in a move to­ward the clin­ic. In a rare pub­lic dis­play of af­fec­tion, the two com­pa­nies are tout­ing the ad­vance of more than two dozen late dis­cov­ery projects, with a spe­cial fo­cus on cel­lu­lar stress that they be­lieve has some pro­found long term im­pli­ca­tions for hu­man health. 

An­oth­er piece of in­fo: The fa­mous­ly qui­et Cal­i­co has built a big team of 150-plus around an HQ base in South San Fran­cis­co, with plans to add more.

But that’s about it. If they are work­ing on a rev­o­lu­tion in drug de­vel­op­ment aimed at putting more life in­to lengthy spans of liv­ing, don’t ex­pect any claims along the way about cur­ing can­cer, or di­a­betes or arthri­tis in mice. This new deal ex­tends their first pact by three years, with Cal­i­co re­spon­si­ble for re­search and ear­ly de­vel­op­ment un­til 2022. The Google-backed biotech will take projects through Phase IIa over the next nine years, with an op­tion on man­ag­ing late-stage ef­forts and com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

Prof­its — if they come — will be split.

Press ex­ecs on what they’ve been work­ing on, though, and you get point­ed to a long line­up of pa­pers Cal­i­co has pub­lished on their work, but no specifics on the most promis­ing tar­gets in their cho­sen field. How about the bud­get? Did they spend the $1.5 bil­lion?

Noth­ing.

Jim Sul­li­van

“We’re not go­ing to be spe­cif­ic about mol­e­c­u­lar tar­gets,” says Cal­i­co’s Bob Co­hen, a Genen­tech vet and can­cer spe­cial­ist. “It hasn’t been in our na­ture to hype about what we have.”

That’s ex­act­ly how Cal­i­co got things start­ed in 2014, tak­ing more of a tech ap­proach to bunker­ing in their labs as they work on drugs that can bend and stretch the span and qual­i­ty of an av­er­age life. At that time they had 10 staffers. That’s changed a lot, but you still won’t find ex­ecs talk­ing loose­ly about their spe­cif­ic fo­cus­es.

“What I can tell you is that we are very pleased with the progress of the col­lab­o­ra­tion,” says Jim Sul­li­van, the head of dis­cov­ery at Ab­b­Vie. “We have a num­ber of po­ten­tial vi­able clin­i­cal pro­grams.” There are un­spec­i­fied tar­gets for aug­ment­ing check­point in­hibitors, neu­ro­sciences is a big fo­cus. And tar­get­ing cel­lu­lar stress sys­tems is key.

Jonathan Lewis

“Our in­ter­est in ag­ing goes to the ba­sic roots of ag­ing,” says Co­hen. And that in­cludes us­ing a va­ri­ety of an­i­mal mod­els, from mice to naked mole rats and worms — on to yeast.

This next bil­lion should pave the way to the clin­ic, he adds, where hu­mans can get in­volved in one of the biggest, longest run­ning dis­cov­ery col­lab­o­ra­tions in the in­dus­try. Ab­b­Vie and Cal­i­co be­lieve they are defin­ing a new field of R&D. And they’re think­ing in decade-long time spans to reach some im­por­tant goals — af­ter spend­ing a con­sid­er­able amount of mon­ey.

“It’s al­so im­por­tant to bear in mind that it takes many years to get things for­ward,” says Jonathan Lewis, the vice pres­i­dent of BD at Cal­i­co. “We are con­fi­dent we won’t need to raise more fund­ing.”

(Or not. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Cal­i­co  fol­lowed up to say that “fu­ture fund­ing needs will be dri­ven by the suc­cess of these pro­grams.”)

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Overview
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck

#ASH19: Here’s why Mer­ck is pay­ing $2.7B to­day to grab Ar­Qule and its next-gen BTK drug, lin­ing up Eli Lil­ly ri­val­ry

Just a few months after making a splash at the European Hematology Association scientific confab with an early snapshot of positive data for their BTK inhibitor ARQ 531, ArQule has won a $2.7 billion buyout deal from Merck.

Merck is scooping up a next-gen BTK drug — which is making a splash at ASH today — from ArQule in an M&A pact set at $20 a share $ARQL. That’s more than twice Friday’s $9.66 close. And Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter heralded a deal that nets “multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors.”

This is the second biotech buyout pact today, marking a brisk tempo of M&A deals in the lead-up to the big JP Morgan gathering in mid-January. It’s no surprise the acquisitions are both for cancer drugs, where Sanofi will try to make its mark while Merck beefs up a stellar oncology franchise. And bolt-ons are all the rage at the major pharma players, which you could also see in Novartis’ recent $9.7 billion MedCo buyout.

ArQule — which comes out on top after their original lead drug foundered in Phase III — highlighted early data on ‘531 at EHA from a group of 6 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who got the 65 mg dose. Four of them experienced a partial response — a big advance for a company that failed with earlier attempts.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Am­gen puts its foot down in shiny new South San Fran­cis­co hub as it re­or­ga­nizes R&D ops

Amgen has signed up to be AbbVie’s neighbor in South San Francisco as it moves into a nine-story R&D facility in the booming biotech hub.

The arrangement gives Amgen 240,000 square feet of space on the Gateway of Pacific Campus, just a few minutes drive from its current digs at Oyster Point. The new hub will open in 2022 and house the big biotech’s Bay Area employees working on cardiometabolic, inflammation and oncology research.

Ab­b­Vie, Scripps ex­pand part­ner­ship, for­ti­fy fo­cus on can­cer drugs

Scripps and AbbVie go way back. Research conducted in the lab of Scripps scientist Richard Lerner led to the discovery of Humira. The antibody, approved by the FDA in 2002 and sold by AbbVie, went on to become the world’s bestselling treatment. In 2018, the drugmaker and the non-profit organization signed a pact focused on developing cancer treatments — and now, the scope of that partnership has broadened to encompass a range of diseases, including immunological and neurological conditions.

South Ko­rea jails 3 Sam­sung ex­ecs for de­stroy­ing ev­i­dence in Bi­o­Log­ics probe

Three Samsung executives in Korea are going to jail.

The convictions came in what prosecutors had billed as “biggest crime of evidence destruction in the history of South Korea”: a case of alleged corporate intrigue that was thrown open when investigators found what was hidden beneath the floor of a Samsung BioLogics plant. Eight employees in total were found guilty of evidence tampering and the three executives were each sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Nick Plugis, Avak Kahvejian, Cristina Rondinone, Milind Kamkolkar and Chad Nusbaum. (Cellarity)

Cel­lar­i­ty, Flag­ship's $50M bet on net­work bi­ol­o­gy, mar­ries ma­chine learn­ing and sin­gle-cell tech for drug dis­cov­ery

Cellarity started with a simple — but far from easy — idea that Avak Kahvejian and his team were floating around at Flagship Pioneering: to digitally encode a cell.

As he and his senior associate Nick Plugis dug deeper into the concept, they found that most of the models others have developed take a bottom-up approach, where they assemble the molecules inside cells and the connections between them from scratch. What if they opt for a top-down approach, aided by single-cell transcriptomics and machine learning, to gauge the behavior of the entire cellular network?

Left top to right: Mark Timney, Alex Denner, Vas Narasimhan. (The Medicines Company, Getty, AP/Endpoints News)

In a play-by-play of the $9.7B Med­Co buy­out, No­var­tis ad­mits it over­paid while of­fer­ing a huge wind­fall to ex­ecs

A month into his tenure at The Medicines Company, new CEO Mark Timney reached out to then-Novartis pharma chief Paul Hudson: Any interest in a partnership?

No, Hudson told him. Not now, at least.

Ten months later, Hudson had left to run Sanofi and Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan was paying $9.7 billion for the one-drug biotech – the largest in the string of acquisitions Narasimhan has signed since his 2017 appointment.

The deal was the product of an activist investor and his controversial partner working through nearly a year of cat-and-mouse negotiations to secure a deal with Big Pharma’s most expansionist executive. It represented a huge bet in a cardiovascular field that already saw two major busts in recent years and brought massive returns for two of the industry’s most eye-raising names.

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