Af­ter promis­ing M&A and buy­backs to re­vive long-term prospects, Bio­gen re­fresh­es board with three ap­point­ments to en­thuse in­vestors

Bruised by the ti­tan­ic fail­ure of its Alzheimer’s drug ad­u­canum­ab and ahead of gene ther­a­py com­pe­ti­tion for its flag­ship SMA treat­ment Spin­raza, Bio­gen is for­ti­fy­ing its board with three new ap­point­ments to pla­cate its in­creas­ing­ly dis­en­chant­ed share­hold­er base that has seen the US drug­mak­er cul­ti­vate its pipeline around the now aban­doned ad­u­canum­ab.

Je­sus Man­tas

Last Wednes­day, com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives at­tempt­ed to put a Band-Aid on the burn by telling an­a­lysts in a post-earn­ings con­fer­ence call that they felt an “oblig­a­tion to re­bound” and in­tend­ed to do so by en­gag­ing in M&A and buy­ing back shares with the $42 bil­lion they have in the bank, over the next five years.

John Chimin­s­ki

On Mon­day, Bio­gen said it was hir­ing Catal­ent chief John Chimin­s­ki; se­nior ad­vi­sor to life sci­ences PE firm EW Health­care Part­ners William Hawkins; and man­ag­ing part­ner of IBM Glob­al Ser­vices Je­sus Man­tas. “We have heard the calls from our share­hold­ers and have act­ed…” Bio­gen chair­man Ste­lios Pa­padopou­los said in a state­ment.

Ste­lios Pa­padopou­los

Ear­li­er in the first quar­ter, Bio­gen scrapped two large Phase III stud­ies of ad­u­canum­ab dis­sat­is­fied by the drug’s im­pact on the course of Alzheimer’s — and last week the com­pa­ny al­so dis­closed it had shelved a late-stage study test­ing the drug’s abil­i­ty to pre­vent on­set of the dis­ease, ef­fec­tive­ly dis­card­ing the drug. But it is still tak­ing a wait-and-see po­si­tion on its oth­er amy­loid be­ta Alzheimer’s drug BAN2401 — in stark con­trast to part­ner Ei­sai who quick­ly ini­ti­at­ed a new tri­al for the ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ment even as Wall Street and neu­ro ex­perts have ef­fec­tive­ly de­clared the amy­loid strat­e­gy of tar­get­ing the tox­ic clus­ters in the brain dead, fol­low­ing a spate of fail­ures.

Bio­gen record­ed a spike in first-quar­ter rev­enue dri­ven by Spin­raza, but No­var­tis’ $NVS gene ther­a­py Zol­gens­ma is un­der reg­u­la­to­ry re­view, and com­pe­ti­tion from Roche/PTC Ther­a­peu­tics $PTCT oral SMA med­i­cine-in-de­vel­op­ment ris­diplam could in­flict some dam­age to Spin­raza’s cur­rent mo­nop­oly. On Wednes­day, Bio­gen chief Michel Vounatsos dis­missed the like­li­hood that an­oth­er ther­a­py will push Spin­raza off its perch any­time soon, but the com­pa­ny’s shares slipped, sig­nal­ing a con­sen­sus that in­vestors were un­con­vinced by man­age­ment’s up­beat tone.

Michel Vounatsos

“While the stock ap­pears some­what dis­count­ed…it is hard to make a com­pelling case for own­er­ship, par­tic­u­lar­ly since many of the foun­da­tions of their port­fo­lio face es­ca­lat­ing com­pet­i­tive pres­sures in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture (MS – new orals, patent lit­i­ga­tion, CD20 – biosim­i­lars, Spin­raza – gene ther­a­py and ris­diplam). Bio­gen’s board and man­age­ment have still not fi­nal­ly for­sworn be­ta amy­loid as a de­vel­op­ment tar­get, and con­tin­ue to fund large piv­otal tri­als with their part­ner Ei­sai. In the next few months we would ex­pect the com­pa­ny to make fi­nal (dis­con­tin­u­a­tion) de­ci­sions on these pro­grams, and to se­vere their col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ei­sai and ab­sorb what­ev­er charges, penal­ties, write-offs and or­ga­ni­za­tion­al changes such de­ci­sions en­tail,” SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges wrote in a note last week.

Ge­of­frey Porges

Jef­feries an­a­lysts sug­gest­ed that in the near term, Spin­raza sales may be in­su­lat­ed, de­spite com­pe­ti­tion.

“We do think ‘base’ of Spin­raza is OK near-term as gene ther­a­py pri­mar­i­ly im­pacts on­ly ‘de no­vo’ new in­fants, but new pa­tient share loss im­pacts the ‘tail’ and oral could al­so be a pre­ferred op­tion over time par­tic­u­lar­ly for kids/ado­les­cents giv­en no need for spinal tap in­fu­sion,” they wrote in a note.

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.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes more than a week af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.

Alex­ion wins pri­or­i­ty re­view for Ul­tomiris' aHUS in­di­ca­tion; FDA ex­pands ap­proval of Ver­tex's Symdeko

→ Alex­ion $ALXN has scored a speedy re­view for Ul­tomiris for pa­tients with atyp­i­cal he­molyt­ic ure­mic syn­drome (aHUS) af­ter post­ing pos­i­tive da­ta from a piv­otal study in Jan­u­ary. The drug is the rare dis­ease com­pa­ny’s shot at pro­tect­ing its block­buster blood dis­or­der fran­chise that is cur­rent­ly cen­tered around its flag­ship drug, Soliris, which is a com­ple­ment in­hibitor typ­i­cal­ly ad­min­is­tered every two weeks. Ul­tomiris has a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism of ac­tion but re­quires less-fre­quent dos­ing — every eight weeks. The de­ci­sion date has been set to Oc­to­ber 19. Late last year, Ul­tomiris se­cured ap­proval for noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria (PNH) pa­tients.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.

Ab­b­Vie gets a green light to re­sume re­cruit­ing pa­tients for one myelo­ma study — but Ven­clex­ta re­mains un­der a cloud

Three months af­ter reg­u­la­tors at the FDA forced Ab­b­Vie to halt en­rolling pa­tients in its tri­als of a com­bi­na­tion us­ing Ven­clex­ta (vene­to­clax) to treat drug-re­sis­tant cas­es of mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, the agency has green-light­ed the re­sump­tion of one of those stud­ies, while keep­ing the rest on the side­lines.

The CANO­VA (M13-494) study can now get back in busi­ness re­cruit­ing pa­tients to test the drug for a pop­u­la­tion that shares a par­tic­u­lar ge­net­ic bio­mark­er. To get that per­mis­sion, Ab­b­Vie — which is part­nered with Roche on this pro­gram — was forced to re­vise the pro­to­col, mak­ing un­spec­i­fied changes in­volv­ing risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, pro­to­col-spec­i­fied guide­lines and an up­dat­ed fu­til­i­ty cri­te­ria.