Af­ter build­ing ex­pec­ta­tions, the UK’s life sci­ences plan falls short of the hype

Mer­ck’s re­cent an­nounce­ment of a new re­search cen­ter in Lon­don like­ly whet­ted the UK life sci­ences sec­tor’s ap­petite for even big­ger news from the gov­ern­ment’s new in­dus­try plan, out to­day. But de­spite a con­sid­er­able amount of loy­al cheer­ing about post-Brex­it prepa­ra­tions, it doesn’t amount to near­ly enough to tip the eco­nom­ic scales in bio­phar­ma’s fa­vor.

And to be fair, what kind of of­fi­cial eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment plan, salt­ed with cor­po­rate projects, can do that, any­way?

Af­ter hear­ing some heat­ed ru­mors of a ma­jor fund com­ing in on a bil­lion-dol­lar biotech start­up plan, the gov­ern­ment’s out­line in­cludes a com­mit­ment from Ap­ple Tree Part­ners to launch a new com­pa­ny. Good news from an ac­tive firm with $1.6 bil­lion un­der man­age­ment, but not earth shak­ing. There is a round of com­mit­ments from the big lo­cal play­ers — GSK and As­traZeneca — to back the lo­cal play­ers. GSK has al­so come up with a £40 mil­lion com­mit­ment to ex­pand se­quenc­ing plans at the UK Biobank from the 50,000 an­nounced ear­li­er in the year to 500,000.

That won’t hurt.

Pas­cal So­ri­ot

As­traZeneca is al­ready do­ing its bit with a ma­jor in­vest­ment in a new re­search cen­ter and head­quar­ters in Cam­bridge, an­nounced soon af­ter Pas­cal So­ri­ot took the helm. And the UK gov­ern­ment hap­pi­ly threw that in­to the pot, with­out men­tion­ing how far be­hind sched­ule it is, along with every oth­er up­beat an­nounce­ment made in the field in the last few years.

J&J and Ox­ford will col­lab­o­rate on new clin­i­cal tri­al plat­form mod­els, look­ing to si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly study var­i­ous neu­ro­science drugs. That’s in­trigu­ing, pos­si­bly point­ing to de­vel­op­ment mod­els that may well at­tract var­i­ous bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies look­ing for a more ef­fi­cient way to study high-risk pro­grams. I’ll be cu­ri­ous to see how that may in­flu­ence sim­i­lar ef­forts around the world.

But the gov­ern­ment plan — which in­cludes added fi­nan­cial sup­port from tax­pay­ers — falls short of the high ex­pec­ta­tions cre­at­ed in re­cent weeks. State, fed­er­al and lo­cal plans in the US of­ten start with the same hoopla, and al­so pre­fer to claim every shred of pos­i­tive news as ev­i­dence of its cer­tain suc­cess while leav­ing out any hard re­al­i­ties.

It’s tax poli­cies and reg­u­la­to­ry re­spon­sive­ness, though, that lay the ground­work for life sci­ences growth — the rest is up to the com­pa­nies and the en­tre­pre­neurs.

The UK has a lot go­ing for it, with two ma­jor phar­ma com­pa­nies, a world-class sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty based in stel­lar in­sti­tu­tions and a small but en­thu­si­as­tic biotech group still in need of more fi­nan­cial sup­port from pri­vate in­vestors skilled at com­pa­ny cre­ation and tal­ent build­ing.

They’ll all be get­ting some ad­di­tion­al help, but all the hard work re­mains. So ac­tu­al­ly not much has changed.

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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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.

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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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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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.