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.”)

Oxitec biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in Piracicaba, Brazil in 2016 [credit: Getty Images]

In­trex­on unit push­es back against claims its GM mos­qui­toes are mak­ing dis­ease-friend­ly mu­tants

When the hysteria of Zika transmission sprang into the American zeitgeist a few years ago, UK-based Oxitec was already field-testing its male Aedes aegypti mosquito, crafted to possess a gene engineered to obliterate its progeny long before maturation.

But when a group of independent scientists evaluated the impact of the release of these genetically-modified mosquitoes in a trial conducted by Oxitec in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, they found that some of the offspring had managed to survive — prompting them to speculate what impact the survivors could have on disease transmission and/or insecticide resistance.

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[via AP Images]

Pur­due threat­ens to walk away from set­tle­ment, asks to pay em­ploy­ees mil­lions in bonus­es

There are two updates on the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, as the Sackler family threatens to walk away from their pledge to pay out $3 billion if a bankruptcy judge does not stop outstanding state lawsuits against them. At the same time, the company has asked permission to pay millions in bonuses to select employees.

Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week as part of its signed resolution to over 2,000 lawsuits. The deal would see the Sackler family that owns Purdue give $3 billion from their personal wealth and the company turned into a trust committed to curbing and reversing overdoses.

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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Aerial view of Genentech's campus in South San Francisco [Credit: Getty]

Genen­tech sub­mits a plan to near­ly dou­ble its South San Fran­cis­co foot­print

The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City. 

The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.