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.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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News brief­ing: Gilead part­ner Gala­pa­gos sells off CRO for $37M; Polyphor bags $3.3M from CF Foun­da­tion

Close Gilead ally Galapagos is selling off one of its contract research organizations to a Polish pharma company.

Galapagos has agreed to sell 100% of the outstanding shares in the CRO Fidelta to Selvita, in a deal worth roughly $37 million expected to close in the first week of January. The acquisition is expected to nearly double Selvita’s revenues, the company says, as well as expand its drug discovery efforts.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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Gen­mab ax­es an ADC de­vel­op­ment pro­gram af­ter the da­ta fail to im­press

Genmab $GMAB has opted to ax one of its antibody-drug conjugates after watching it flop in the clinic.

The Danish biotech reported Tuesday that it decided to kill their program for enapotamab vedotin after the data gathered from expansion cohorts failed to measure up. According to the company:

While enapotamab vedotin has shown some evidence of clinical activity, this was not optimized by different dose schedules and/or predictive biomarkers. Accordingly, the data from the expansion cohorts did not meet Genmab’s stringent criteria for proof-of-concept.

Michelle Longmire, Medable CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Med­able gets $91M for vir­tu­al clin­i­cal tri­als, bring­ing to­tal raise to $136M

As biotechs look to get clinical studies back on track amid the pandemic, Medable returned to the venture well for the second time this year, bagging a $91 million Series C to build out its virtual trial platform.

The software provider recently launched three new apps for decentralizing clinical trials, and saw a 500% revenue spike this year. And it isn’t alone. Back in August, Science 37 secured a $40 million round for its virtual trial tech, with support from Novartis, Sanofi Ventures and Amgen. Patients and researchers are taking a liking to the online approach, suggesting regulators could allow it to become a new normal even after the pandemic is over.

PhRMA sues Trump gov­ern­ment over drug im­por­ta­tion rule — days be­fore it's set to be ef­fec­tive

Ever since President Donald Trump floated the idea of using state-sponsored importation to lower drug prices, PhRMA has made its opposition abundant. Not only is the proposal dangerous and futile,  but the trade group has also argued that it may even be illegal.

Now that the FDA has issued its final rule permitting states to bring certain drugs from Canada, PhRMA is taking the government to court — just a few days before the rule is slated to take effect.

Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.