Kevin Conroy (Exact Sciences)

A month af­ter Il­lu­mi­na's big Grail buy­out, Ex­act Sci­ences scoops up liq­uid biop­sy ri­val Thrive for a rel­a­tive bar­gain

Il­lu­mi­na is go­ing to have a lot of work to do to prove Grail was worth those $8 bil­lion.

To­day, Ex­act Sci­ences an­nounced that it will ac­quire Thrive, Grail’s chief ri­val among the ear­ly can­cer de­tec­tion star­tups, for a size­able but rel­a­tive­ly mod­er­ate $2.15 bil­lion. The yawn­ing gap in part re­flects the vast dif­fer­ences in cap­i­tal that have been in­vest­ed to date in each com­pa­ny.  But both have gone toe-to-toe over the last year and a half, with Grail hav­ing pub­lished da­ta in over 50 can­cers but Thrive re­cent­ly beat­ing them to a key test for liq­uid biop­sy com­pa­nies.

In­vestors greet­ed the Thrive buy­out with more en­thu­si­asm than they did the Grail buy­out. While Il­lu­mi­na lost $8 bil­lion in mar­ket cap af­ter news of a like­ly Grail buy­out broke, Ex­act shares have surged 18% — $19 — this morn­ing.

The two liq­uid biop­sy com­pa­nies have now sold for a com­bined $10 bil­lion in a lit­tle over a month. The col­lec­tive bet re­flects a deep faith in cor­ners of the di­ag­nos­tic and se­quenc­ing worlds in the pow­er of a tech­nol­o­gy now years in the mak­ing.

The field has moved for­ward sub­stan­tial­ly since both com­pa­nies launched. In April, Thrive pub­lished re­sults in Sci­ence that showed for the first time that a blood test could help doc­tors de­tect and treat mul­ti­ple types of can­cer in oth­er­wise healthy peo­ple, hit­ting a long-await­ed mile­stone for a sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing field, where the most vo­cif­er­ous back­ers think it can even­tu­al­ly save lives and re­make on­col­o­gy.

Still, al­though they’ve been dis­cussed in the same breath for years, both Grail and Thrive have tried to down­play the ri­val­ry. Both have point­ed out that they will need to se­cure in­sur­ance cov­er­age and re­im­burse­ment for a field that does not yet ex­ist. Hav­ing mul­ti­ple tests on the mar­ket could aid in that fight. If one test fails, it could sig­nif­i­cant­ly ham­per the ef­fort.

Ex­act Sci­ences makes for a more like­ly buy­er than Il­lu­mi­na. The di­ag­nos­tic com­pa­ny is best known for Co­lo­guard, their stool-based test for col­orec­tal can­cer, and they’ve been ag­gres­sive over the last year, ac­quir­ing Ge­nom­ic Health for $2.6 bil­lion and sign­ing ad­vanced mar­ket­ing agree­ments with Pfiz­er. The com­pa­ny en­vi­sions Thrive’s even­tu­al mar­ket as worth over $25 bil­lion.

“The ac­qui­si­tion of Thrive is a gi­ant leap to­ward en­sur­ing blood-based, mul­ti-can­cer screen­ing be­comes a re­al­i­ty and even­tu­al­ly, the stan­dard of care,” CEO Kevin Con­roy said in a state­ment. “We couldn’t be more ex­cit­ed that Ex­act Sci­ences will be at the fore­front of this in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­ni­ty to serve pa­tients.”

The deal is worth $1.7 bil­lion in up­front, paid in 65% Ex­act stock and 35% cash. An­oth­er $415 mil­lion is avail­able through in­cen­tives.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data is messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data is exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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David Livingston (Credit: Michael Sazel for CeMM)

Renowned Dana-Far­ber sci­en­tist, men­tor and bio­phar­ma ad­vi­sor David Liv­ingston has died

David Livingston, the Dana-Farber/Harvard Med scientist who helped shine a light on some of the key molecular drivers of breast and ovarian cancer, died unexpectedly last Sunday.

One of the senior leaders at Dana-Farber during his nearly half century of work there, Livingston was credited with shedding light on the genes that regulate cell growth, with insights into inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations that helped lay the scientific foundation for targeted therapies and earlier detection that have transformed the field.

David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er throws its weight be­hind LNP play­er eye­ing mR­NA treat­ments for CF, PCD

David Lockhart did not see the meteoric rise of messenger RNA and lipid nanoparticles coming.

Thanks to the worldwide fight against Covid-19, mRNA — the genetic code that can be engineered to turn the body into a mini protein factory — and LNPs, those tiny bubbles of fat carrying those instructions, have found their way into hundreds of millions of people. Within the biotech world, pioneers like Alnylam and Intellia have demonstrated just how versatile LNPs can be as a delivery vehicle for anything from siRNA to CRISPR/Cas9.

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Bris­tol My­ers pledges to sell its Ac­celeron shares as ac­tivist in­vestors cir­cle Mer­ck­'s $11.5B buy­out — re­port

Just as Avoro Capital’s campaign to derail Merck’s proposed $11.5 billion buyout of Acceleron gains steam, Bristol Myers Squibb is leaning in with some hefty counterweight.

The pharma giant is planning to tender its Acceleron shares, Bloomberg reported, which add up to a sizable 11.5% stake. Based on the offer price, the sale would net Bristol Myers around $1.3 billion.

To complete its deal, Merck needs a majority of shareholders to agree to sell their shares.

Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

Ex­clu­sive: Athi­ra CEO Leen Kawas re­signs af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds she ma­nip­u­lat­ed da­ta

Leen Kawas, CEO and founder of the Alzheimer’s upstart Athira Pharma, has resigned after an internal investigation found she altered images in her doctoral thesis and four other papers that were foundational to establishing the company.

Mark Litton, the company’s COO since June 2019 and a longtime biotech executive, has been named full-time CEO. Kawas, meanwhile, will no longer have ties to the company except for owning a few hundred thousand shares.

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Hedge fund jumps in with Avoro ac­tivists in an at­tempt to de­rail Mer­ck­'s $11B Ac­celeron buy­out

Avoro Capital, which made its bones blowing up the Seagen-Immunomedics deal and then selling the smaller biotech for $21 billion, is getting an assist in its quest to derail Merck’s $11 billion buyout of Acceleron $XLRN.

Wednesday morning one of Acceleron’s biggest investors joined the opposition. Darwin Global Management, a hedge fund which owns about 4% of Acceleron, blasted the Merck deal, saying the Big Pharma is getting the company for billions less than what it’s worth. Earlier, Holocene Advisers, reportedly a top-20 investor in Acceleron, said it would not tender its stock after criticizing the $180-per-share deal.

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Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL, foreground) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Sen­a­tors back FDA's plan to re­quire manda­to­ry pre­scriber ed­u­ca­tion for opi­oids

Three Senate Democrats are backing an FDA plan to require mandatory prescriber education for opioids as overdose deaths have risen sharply over the past decade, with almost 97,000 American opioid-related overdose deaths in the past year alone.

While acknowledging a decline in overall opioid analgesic dispensing in recent years, the FDA said it’s reconsidering the need for mandatory prescriber training through a REMS given the current situation with overdoses, and is seeking input on the aspects of the opioid crisis that mandatory training could potentially mitigate.

Suresh Katta, Saama CEO (via YouTube)

As AI con­tin­ues to en­tice Big Phar­ma, a Car­lyle-led drug­mak­er syn­di­cate shells out $430M for cloud com­put­ing play­er

The AI revolution permeating Big Pharma took a big financial step forward Wednesday, with VCs and major drugmakers coming together to acquire a cloud-focused company.

Led by the Carlyle Group, the investors will put up $430 million for a majority stake in Saama, a company that collects patient data to help speed along the drug development process. The investment arms of Pfizer, Merck, Amgen and McKesson all participated in the financing, in addition to other prominent life sciences VCs like Northpond.

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