Af­ter a slate of small, tack-on ac­qui­si­tions, is Mer­ck ready to pull the trig­ger on a big M&A deal?

Ken Frazier onstage at a dealmakers event in New York City,November 2018 The New York Times


Like any good big pharma CEO, Merck’s Ken Frazier likes to paint a big, positive picture when he talks with analysts about R&D. But in his latest quarterly sit-down with the Wall Street crowd, Cowen’s Steve Scala offered an unusual pushback on Frazier’s assertion that Merck — a storied outfit with a long list of blockbusters to its credit — has one of the broadest pipelines it’s seen in more than 20 years.

“What are we missing externally that Merck sees internally?” asked Scala.

Frazier came back with their 3 top cancer programs for Keytruda, Lynparza (partnered with AstraZeneca) and Lenvima. He went on to cite “a formidable internal pipeline of assets in oncology over 20 unique mechanisms” and highlighted vaccines and an antibiotic extension program.

The exchange underscores some growing tension on Wall Street that Merck has too many eggs in one very large — and increasingly competitive — basket. After building up its oncology arm around its star $7 billion-and-growing oncology franchise for Keytruda — recently augmented by their big deal with AstraZeneca on Lynparza — the mighty Merck doesn’t have a whole lot of late-stage R&D work to boast about. And it definitely has the numbers to go biggish if it wants to, particularly as GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Bristol-Myers and Roche and others in the big pharma class start picking up assets in blockbuster acquisition packages.

Here’s the multibillion-dollar question:

Should Merck be thinking big about a major M&A deal around the late-stage pipeline? Maybe something in the $10 billion bolt-on range? Maybe one that isn’t ultimately all about Keytruda and immuno-oncology?


On March 7, just a few days from now, R&D chief Roger Perlmutter will celebrate the 6th anniversary of his appointment. So we decided to take a look at all the buyouts and collaborations the company has done during his tenure, and before, to get a close look at what the BD team there has been doing. Chris Dokomajilar at DealForma has pulled every M&A deal, commercial and R&D pact over the past decade, and it offers a clear road map on where the money has been going.

You can see it all in precise detail in the charts below.

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Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

Hal Barron [File photo]

Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.

Jonathan Symonds [via HSBC]

GSK to tap Jonathan Symonds as chair­man, lever­ag­ing Big Phar­ma ex­pe­ri­ence for con­sumer biz deal

Six months into its search for a new board chairman, GlaxoSmithKline has apparently found the perfect candidate in a seasoned executive groomed at AstraZeneca and Novartis. Jonathan Symonds is in the final stages of being appointed, Bloomberg reports.

In January Sir Philip Hampton announced his intention to step down and make way for a new leader to oversee the consumer health joint venture GSK is setting up with Pfizer. The deal — announced a month prior — would spin out the unit formerly headed by GSK CEO Emma Walmsley and merge it with the equivalent division at Pfizer to create a new entity to be listed separately.

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen, No­var­tis scrap Alzheimer's stud­ies — is BACE fi­nal­ly dead or will Bio­gen and Ei­sai car­ry on?

The BACE theory of controlling Alzheimer’s died with failed pivotal projects at Merck, Eli Lilly and their partners at AstraZeneca. Now Amgen and Novartis have come along to bulldoze it under a mound of safety threats — leaving only Biogen and Eisai to carry on with a less than zero chance of success — with the notable addition that they may actually be doing harm to patients.

After the market closed Thursday, Amgen and Novartis announced that they were dumping two pivotal programs underway with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute on their BACE drug CNP520 (umibecestat) after an independent review of the data indicated that patients’ cognitive abilities were actually worsening at a faster pace than the placebo arm.

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Christi Shaw at JP Morgan 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Fresh out of Eli Lil­ly, Christi Shaw sur­faces as Daniel O'­Day's new CEO at CAR-T pi­o­neer Kite

Well, that didn’t take long. 

We found out Thursday evening that Christi Shaw has given up her top post as the head of the Bio-Medicines group at Eli Lilly for the helm at CAR-T pioneer Kite. New Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day, a Roche veteran, had made finding a Kite CEO a top priority on his arrival at Gilead. And he went right for a headliner.

O’Day was clearly excited about the coup.

“We conducted an extensive search for a new leader at Kite and we believe that Christi’s unique set of skills will allow us to continue to build on our leadership position in cell therapy,” he said in a prepared statement. “Christi’s vast experience across complex therapeutic areas, and particularly in oncology, will serve Kite very well. She is clearly a leader who will bring teams and individuals together and I am confident she will build upon the entrepreneurial spirit at Kite as we seek to help more people with cancer around the world.”

Christi Shaw at JP Morgan 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Eli Lil­ly's Christi Shaw bows out of top post at the Bio-Med­i­cines unit

Less than 3 years after Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks recruited Novartis vet Christi Shaw to run their big Bio-Medicines business, she’s out.

In a statement put out Thursday morning, Lilly said that Shaw’s last day will come at the end of August. Patrik Jonsson, currently president and general manager of Lilly Japan, will succeed Shaw once he gets the paperwork sorted out.

Lilly’s shares dropped 4% on the news.

Jeff Poulton

Al­ny­lam’s Maraganore switch­es ‘per­haps the best CFO in mid-cap biotech’ with Shire vet Jeff Poul­ton

There’s a new CFO taking charge of the numbers at RNAi pioneer Alnylam.

Alnylam chief John Maraganore says that CFO Manmeet S. Soni is leaving in the proverbial pursuit of new opportunities. And he’s being replaced by ex-Shire CFO Jeff Poulton, not long after the Takeda takeover obliterated that position.

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