Ab­b­Vie scores speedy re­view for RA drug upadac­i­tinib; Mer­ck KGaA wins CRISPR patent

→ Ab­b­Vie $AB­BV has high hopes, pro­ject­ing peak po­ten­tial sales of $6.5 bil­lion, for its oral JAK1 in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib for rheuma­toid arthri­tis, which is up against well-en­trenched ri­vals. On Tues­day, the drug­mak­er said FDA had re­ward­ed the drug — which is al­so un­der EU re­view — pri­or­i­ty re­view, and that the US health reg­u­la­tor is ex­pect­ed to makes its de­ci­sion by the third quar­ter of 2019.

Pfiz­er has nabbed the Eu­ro­pean green light for its Avastin copy­cat — its sec­ond on­col­o­gy biosim­i­lar in the con­ti­nent— in a slate of can­cer in­di­ca­tions from car­ci­no­ma of the colon or rec­tum to non-small cell lung can­cer. The launch of Zirabev would fol­low a trail blazed by Am­gen and Al­ler­gan with Mvasi, which was ap­proved by the EU last year and by the FDA a few months pri­or.

→ While the CRISPR IP land­scape is as con­tentious as ever with the cus­tom­ary play­ers bat­tling it out, Ger­many’s Mer­ck has swooped in with a patent for proxy-CRISPR, an im­proved ver­sion of tra­di­tion­al CRISPR that makes the gene-edit­ing tech­nique “more ef­fi­cient, flex­i­ble and spe­cif­ic by open­ing the genome for mod­i­fi­ca­tion of DNA.”

In oth­er CRISPR news, Gami­da Cell $GM­DA has joined forces with Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine $ED­IT to ed­it NAM-NK cells — nat­ur­al killer cells that have been ex­pand­ed us­ing Gami­da Cell’s nicoti­namide-based, or NAM, tech­nol­o­gy — to im­prove the treat­ment of blood can­cers and sol­id tu­mors. The fi­nan­cial terms of the deal were not dis­closed. Gami­da Cell’s NAM-NK im­munother­a­py is cur­rent­ly un­der de­vel­op­ment in Phase I tri­als for use pa­tients with re­frac­to­ry non-Hodgkin lym­phoma and mul­ti­ple myelo­ma.

Si­mon Mo­roney

Ger­man can­cer drug­mak­er Mor­phoSys $MOR is los­ing one of its founders. CEO Si­mon Mo­roney, who has led the com­pa­ny for 27 years, has told the com­pa­ny’s board he in­tends to re­tire. Mo­roney will step down when his cur­rent con­tract ex­pires on June 30, 2020, or when a suc­ces­sor is ap­point­ed, whichev­er comes soon­er. In 2017, Trem­fya, sold by J&J $JNJ for use in plaque pso­ri­a­sis, be­came the first drug based on Mor­phoSys’s an­ti­body tech­nol­o­gy to re­ceive reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval.

Is­raeli biotech Bioblast Phar­ma $ORPN has sold its Tre­halose clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­grams to See­los Ther­a­peu­tics $SEEL for $3.5 mil­lion in two in­stall­ments, and up to $17 mil­lion in mile­stone pay­ments.

Apart from Ar­a­digm $ARDM and Im­mune Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $IM­NPPernix Ther­a­peu­tics $PTX has al­so filed for Chap­ter 11 to un­der­take its re­struc­tur­ing and sale process, which it hopes to con­clude by May.

→ Gilead’s $GILD CAR-T ther­a­py Yescar­ta has notched an­oth­er ap­proval, this time in Cana­da for re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry large B-cell lym­phoma in adult pa­tients who have un­der­gone at least two sys­temic ther­a­pies.

Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.