Acor­da is shift­ing in­to sur­vival mode. And it’s go­ing to start by ax­ing more than 100 staffers.

PHO­TO: Co­hen at BIO 2016


One month af­ter a US dis­trict court tossed four key patents on its flag­ship drug Ampyra, leav­ing it with one to stand on in­to next year, Acor­da $ACOR is chop­ping 20% of its staff as it scram­bles to re­struc­ture while gam­bling that it can field new drugs in short or­der. Those cuts will fall dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly on the com­pa­ny’s R&D staff, CEO Ron Co­hen tells me, as Acor­da cir­cles its wag­ons around its two late-stage drugs while con­serv­ing its mar­ket­ing mus­cle.

The shift calls for a move away from the ear­ly-stage clin­i­cal work at the biotech, which leaves an ar­ray of pro­grams on the ta­ble for pos­si­ble deals as Co­hen’s team takes a look at mon­e­tiz­ing as­sets, in­clud­ing its ex­ist­ing roy­al­ty streams. And there are oth­er op­er­at­ing cost cuts be­ing planned as well. But the CEO leaves no doubt that it’s the staff cuts that hurt.

“This is trau­mat­ic for the en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion,” he says. But it’s up to the lead­ers in the group now to “hold it to­geth­er and keep fo­cused so we can move ahead.”

Co­hen couldn’t spec­i­fy ex­act­ly how many staffers are be­ing cut in the re­struc­tur­ing, but said the com­pa­ny had 500 to 600 staffers and is cut­ting 20% of them. That cut will save the com­pa­ny $21 mil­lion a year.

Not on the chop­ping block: The mar­ket­ing team. If the com­pa­ny does lose patent pro­tec­tion on Ampyra in the sum­mer of 2018, says the CEO, the team can shift “seam­less­ly” to CVT-301 — pro­vid­ed it wins an ap­proval on sched­ule af­ter be­ing filed lat­er in this quar­ter.

Their mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Ampyra wasn’t just Acor­da’s main drug, it was a life­line and sup­port for every­thing the com­pa­ny was plan­ning for its pipeline. The ther­a­py pro­vid­ed $493 mil­lion out of $520 mil­lion in rev­enue last year. And with gener­ics loom­ing as ear­ly as 2018 – though the com­pa­ny is ap­peal­ing the court rul­ing and hasn’t giv­en up the fight — all re­main­ing hands will be on deck hus­tling up a loom­ing NDA for its lead ther­a­py while push­ing a fol­low-up drug, tozadenant, for Parkin­son’s through late-stage test­ing in ear­ly 2018.

Acor­da has $159 mil­lion in cash to help fund the tran­si­tion stage.

The re­or­ga­ni­za­tion can’t come as a sur­prise. Co­hen has blunt­ly told an­a­lysts on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions that he was pre­pared to cut, and cut deep, to pre­serve the com­pa­ny in the event of a set­back on the patent front.

Among the as­sets Co­hen will look to part­ner or li­cense out:

— rHIgM22, a re­myeli­nat­ing an­ti­body be­ing stud­ied for the treat­ment of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis in a sec­ond Phase I study.

— BTT1023, a ful­ly hu­man mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body that tar­gets VAP-1 (vas­cu­lar ad­he­sion pro­tein-1). That’s an as­set from Bi­otie.

— Tozadenant has al­so aroused some in­ter­est in its us­es in on­col­o­gy, which could help kin­dle a pact.

Co­hen would like to keep SYN0120, though, a dual-mech­a­nism drug which could have broad us­es in psy­chosis and cog­ni­tion that ex­tend fur­ther than its im­me­di­ate in­ter­est in Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

It’s not what he want­ed for Acor­da, but Co­hen sounds re­solved to do what he has to to get through un­cer­tain times.

“The fact that a sin­gle judge can com­plete­ly up-end every­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions is a pro­found risk,” says Co­hen. And in biotech, risks tran­scend any one area, stretch­ing from a huge risk of clin­i­cal fail­ure through reg­u­la­to­ry risk, re­im­burse­ment risk and on to patent risk.

“It reem­pha­sizes just how risky this busi­ness is,” says the CEO. Build­ing a com­pa­ny in biotech re­quires some hard choic­es in nav­i­gat­ing risk and ad­vanc­ing new prod­ucts. And Acor­da is at a cross­roads.

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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What does $6.9B buy these days in on­col­o­gy R&D? As­traZeneca has a land­mark an­swer

Given the way the FDA has been whisking through new drug approvals months ahead of their PDUFA date, AstraZeneca and their partners Daiichi Sankyo may not have to wait until Q2 of next year to get a green light on trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201).

The pharma giant this morning played their ace in the hole, showing off why they were willing to commit to a $6.9 billion deal — with $1.35 billion in a cash upfront — to partner on the drug.

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Large advertisements for the drug Vivitrol decorate the walls of Grand Central Station on June 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein via Getty)

FDA slaps down Alk­er­mes for mis­lead­ing Viv­it­rol ads — don't for­get vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to opi­oid over­dose

The ads piqued interest as soon as they started appearing in 2016: at Grand Central Station, on the Red Line in Cambridge, and on a billboard off the New Jersey Turnpike. All showed a young person, generally with his or her arms crossed, and the question, “what is Vivitrol?”

Vivitrol’s maker, Alkermes, was in the midst of a marketing and lobbying campaign to promote the anti-opioid addiction drug — a campaign that would face significant backlash for tarnishing competitors despite little evidence for Vivitrol’s superiority.

FDA in-house re­view spot­lights an is­sue with one of Hori­zon's end­points but notes ef­fi­ca­cy for lead drug

The FDA in-house review highlights a disagreement of investigators’ use of a key endpoint by Horizon Pharma in the late-stage trial for the top drug in its pipeline, but largely agreed that the antibody was effective.

Horizon submitted a BLA for thyroid eye disease (TED) drug teprotumumab in March, less than two years after they bought the drug (and the rest of a division) from Narrow River for $145 million upfront. With breakthrough status, priority review, orphan designation and in-house sales projections of up to $750 million, the one-time Roche reject became the marquee pipeline asset for a company that’s developed some of the world’s most expensive drugs.

Seat­tle Ge­net­ics de­tails pos­i­tive OS and PFS da­ta for tu­ca­tinib in breast can­cer

Seattle Genetics $SGEN is showing off more positive data around tucatinib, its pivotal-stage drug for HER2 positive breast cancer.

A month after hearing about solidly upbeat hazard ratios, we learned today that the estimated progression-free survival rate at one year was 33% in the tucatinib arm compared to 12% for patients taking trastuzumab and capecitabine alone.

Median PFS was 7.8 months (95% CI: 7.5, 9.6) in the tucatinib arm, compared to 5.6 months (95% CI: 4.2, 7.1) in the control arm.

Bat­tered, cash hun­gry In­tec feels the burn of No­var­tis re­jec­tion

It’s a case of some bad timing for Intec.

Just when a key trial testing the company’s Accordion drug delivery tech imploded in Parkinson’s disease, they handed Novartis data from a successful PK study of a custom Accordion pill engineered to deliver a Novartis compound to entice the Swiss drugmaker into signing a licensing agreement.

Novartis said thanks, but no thanks.

For the cash-strapped Israeli drug developer, the failure to clinch the deal marks a big blow. As of the third quarter, the company has $15.7 million in cash and equivalents, which HC Wainwright analysts estimate will keep the lights on into mid-2020.

Bris­tol-My­ers shows off a low-pro­file AML con­tender it gained from Cel­gene buy­out — and they’re tak­ing it straight to the FDA

Bristol-Myers Squibb reaped an enormous pipeline with its much-criticized $64 billion megadeal to buy Celgene. And it got a few hidden gems in the deal.

One of those gems was brought out for display on Tuesday, with a late-breaker at ASH on CC-486, which is now being prepped for regulatory filings at the FDA and elsewhere.

Celgene top-lined the positive results in a maintenance setting for acute myeloid leukemia a few months ago, but at ASH investigators pulled back the curtains on the all-important data they believe will give them an advantage in the commercial wars to come.

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De­sert­ed by Astel­las and Mer­ck, lit­tle Cor­re­vio still can't win over FDA pan­el con­cerned with its AFib drug's safe­ty

When the FDA spurned Astellas’ pitch for atrial fibrillation drug vernakalant in 2008, regulators made it abundantly clear that it wasn’t the efficacy they had a problem with — two Phase III trials had shown the drug successfully restored 52% of patients’ heartbeat from irregular to normal — but the cardio safety issues for a drug that was to compete with well established, low-risk options. One licensing deal, one clinical hold and several studies later, the chances of approval aren’t looking any better.