Af­ter a short stint at In­ter­cept, Rachel McMinn makes the leap from biotech an­a­lyst to biotech CEO

Over a 13-year ca­reer as a biotech an­a­lyst at Piper Jaf­fray, Cowen and Bank of Amer­i­ca Mer­rill Lynch, Rachel McMinn learned a lot about the in­dus­try. Enough to think that maybe she should be the one run­ning the com­pa­ny rather than just ask­ing ques­tions — and dis­cussing op­tions — re­lat­ed to its per­for­mance.

“Over time I felt I was giv­ing a lot of com­pa­nies free ad­vice,” McMinn says. “I felt that maybe I could do it.”

Rachel McMinn

But she didn’t feel pre­pared to make the leap in one jump. In­stead, she com­plet­ed a 3.5-year stint as chief busi­ness and strat­e­gy of­fi­cer at In­ter­cept, where she was able to plunge di­rect­ly in­to the nit­ty grit­ty of biotech busi­ness.  (Af­ter she once gave the com­pa­ny $ICPT an, er, bull­ish $872 price ob­jec­tive on the stock. But she al­so had plen­ty of suc­cess­es to boast about.) And to­day she’s for­mal­ly launch­ing a new biotech of her own af­ter an im­pres­sive $68.5 mil­lion Se­ries A raise.

The broad out­lines of the com­pa­ny — Neu­ro­gene, tak­ing its place in the bur­geon­ing biotech hub of New York — will sound fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s been ob­serv­ing the biotech scene over the past decade. 

McMinn and the 20 staffers at the biotech are tack­ling rare neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions with a pipeline of gene ther­a­pies us­ing AAV tech. Just a few days ago the com­pa­ny out­lined mouse da­ta from a pre­clin­i­cal study of a gene ther­a­py out of UT South­west­ern for AGU, or as­partyl­glu­cosamin­uria, a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease trig­gered by a rogue AGA gene. An­oth­er re­searcher from The Jack­son Lab out­lined re­sults from a mouse study of Neu­ro­gene’s pro­gram for Char­cot-Marie-Tooth dis­ease, type 4J (CMT4J) syn­drome.

Those aren’t the on­ly 2 gene ther­a­pies they’re work­ing on, McMinn tells me. Oth­ers are in the works as well. And aside from an an­nounce­ment on her new chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ed­in­burgh’s Stu­art Cobb, the new­ly mint­ed CEO starts to put the brakes on the specifics.

Not un­usu­al­ly, Neu­ro­gene wants to keep the unique as­pects of their work un­der wraps for awhile. The key to mak­ing the lat­est gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to hit the scene a suc­cess, she adds, will re­volve around some of the new tech they’re fo­cused on re­lat­ed to vec­tors and genes. Some of these healthy genes they’re try­ing to load up for de­liv­ery aren’t easy to get in­to the tiny ve­hi­cles. And get­ting the dose and de­liv­ery right will be es­sen­tial to tack­ling the rare con­di­tions on their radar.

But the de­tails will have to wait. So will time­lines. McMinn is not in­ter­est­ed at this time in broad­cast­ing sched­ules for mov­ing in­to the clin­ic. How long is their run­way? Time will tell.

Why rare neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions? 

McMinn traces her in­spi­ra­tion to Avex­is and the re­mark­able da­ta they put to­geth­er for SMA, be­fore No­var­tis bought them out. And there’s a fam­i­ly tie as well.

“I re­al­ly want­ed to re­vis­it the idea of do­ing some­thing that was mean­ing­ful for me per­son­al­ly,” says McMinn, cit­ing an old­er, autis­tic broth­er. 

What’s the goal? To build a gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny that can steer one new prod­uct to the mar­ket every year, McMinn replies.

She’s set a high mark for Neu­ro­gene. Now they be­gin.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three ma­jor buy­outs an­nounced: Take­da/Shire; Bris­tol-My­ers/Cel­gene and now Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan. And with this lat­est deal it’s in­creas­ing­ly clear that the sharp fall from grace suf­fered by high-pro­file play­ers which have seen their share prices blast­ed has cre­at­ed an open­ing for the growth play­ers in big phar­ma to up their game — in sharp con­trast to the pop­u­lar bolt-on deals that have been dri­ving the growth strat­e­gy at No­var­tis, Mer­ck, Roche and oth­ers.

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UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

SQZ, Ery­tech kick off $57M cell ther­a­py part­ner­ship; Jean-Paul Kress lands new CEO gig at Mor­phoSys

→ In a mar­riage of two tech­nolo­gies meant to make cell ther­a­pies more pow­er­ful, SQZ Biotech is team­ing up with France’s Ery­tech Phar­ma for a col­lab­o­ra­tion, with $57 mil­lion re­served for the first project and $50 mil­lion for each sub­se­quent ap­proval (prod­uct or in­di­ca­tion). Hav­ing ac­cess to Ery­tech’s method of fash­ion­ing ther­a­peu­tics from red blood cells, the Cam­bridge, MA-based com­pa­ny said, will am­pli­fy SQZ’s cell en­gi­neer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and al­low them to de­vleop a new class of im­munomod­u­la­to­ry ther­a­pies. Its own tech — so far ap­plied in can­cer but al­so has po­ten­tial in di­a­betes — tem­po­rary dis­rupts the cell mem­brane by squeez­ing the cell, thus cre­at­ing a brief win­dow for tar­get ma­te­ri­als such as anti­gens to en­ter.

FDA re­jects Ac­er's rare dis­ease drug, asks for new tri­al — shares crater

Ac­er Ther­a­peu­tics’ bid to re­pur­pose celipro­lol — a be­ta-block­er on the mar­ket for hy­per­ten­sion — as a treat­ment for a rare, in­her­it­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der has hit a se­vere set­back. The New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny on Tues­day said the FDA re­ject­ed the drug and has asked for an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $AC­ER cratered near­ly 77% to $4.47 in Tues­day morn­ing trad­ing.

Tasly Bio­phar­ma pitch­es long-await­ed IPO — will it trig­ger an­oth­er $1B gold rush on HKEX?

In the run up to the Hong Kong stock ex­change’s an­tic­i­pat­ed rule change — open­ing the door for Chi­nese pre-rev­enue biotechs to go pub­lic clos­er to home — more than a year ago, Tasly Bio­phar­ma was one of the big play­ers whose ru­mored in­ter­est helped stoke en­thu­si­asm for the new list­ing venue. The com­pa­ny has since kept the drum­roll rum­bling in the back­ground, rais­ing a pre-IPO round and con­vinc­ing part­ner Trans­gene to swap own­er­ship in a joint ven­ture for eq­ui­ty. Now the oth­er shoe has fi­nal­ly dropped as ex­ecs out­line plans for a pipeline dom­i­nat­ed by car­dio­vas­cu­lar drugs.

With 4 more biotech IPOs due to wrap up Q2, how is the class of 2019 far­ing?

With 22 biotech IPOs on the books and four more set to price in the last week of June, in­vest­ment ad­vis­er Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal has tak­en the pulse of the re­cent rush.

By the IPO ex­perts’ count, 25 out of 32 health­care of­fer­ings this year have been from biotechs — dif­fer­ing slight­ly from Brad Lon­car’s tal­ly — and the over­all pic­ture is one of un­der­per­for­mance. While they av­er­aged a first-day re­turn of 9.0%, col­lec­tive­ly they have trad­ed down to a 5.9% re­turn. Turn­ing Point $TP­TX and Cor­texyme $CRTX emerged on top at the half-year mark, ris­ing 135% and 109% re­spec­tive­ly.

Eye­ing a $500M peak sales pot, Almi­rall dou­bles down on le­brik­izum­ab as Der­mi­ra lines up PhI­II

With eyes on what it be­lieves is a $500 mil­lion peak rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ty in Eu­rope, Barcelona-based Almi­rall has stepped up with $50 mil­lion in cash to take up the op­tion on Der­mi­ra’s IL-13 an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug le­brik­izum­ab just ahead of the start of Phase III. And there’s an­oth­er $30 mil­lion due as the late-stage pro­gram gets geared up.

That shouldn’t be long from now, as Der­mi­ra ex­pects to be­gin the late-stage tri­al work for atopic der­mati­tis be­fore the end of this year as it fol­lows a trail that ex­ecs in­sist leads to block­buster re­turns. Along the way, they’ll need to take on the 600-pound go­ril­la in atopic der­mati­tis: the IL-13/IL-4 drug Dupix­ent, from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. Ri­vals al­so in­clude Leo Phar­ma, in its piv­otal with tralok­izum­ab, and Anap­tys­Bio in the hunt with a mid-stage pro­gram for etokimab, pre­vi­ous­ly re­ferred to as ANB020.