Agenus touts blockchain tech to roll out new ‘dig­i­tal se­cu­ri­ty’ for its PD-1, but will it work?

Be­set with set­backs, a once cash-poor Agenus had some­thing to cheer late last year when be­he­moth Gilead signed on as a part­ner on up to five of its im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­grams. On Tues­day, the biotech of­fered in­vestors an in­trigu­ing pro­pos­al: fund the de­vel­op­ment of a sin­gle drug, while pre­serv­ing share­hold­er eq­ui­ty.

In per­haps the first in­stance of a bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny con­duct­ing such a ‘dig­i­tal se­cu­ri­ty’ of­fer­ing, Agenus said it was launch­ing a to­ken  de­signed to en­able qual­i­fied in­vestors to di­rect­ly in­vest in a sin­gle biotech prod­uct – in this case, the to­kens is­sued will rep­re­sent a por­tion of po­ten­tial fu­ture US sales of AGEN2034, Agenus’ late-stage an­ti-PD-1 an­ti­body.

Biren Amin

“I have nev­er seen this type of arrange­ment. I think there may be lim­i­ta­tions in terms of par­tic­i­pa­tion from in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors who may not be able to par­tic­i­pate,” Jef­feries’ Biren Amin, who cov­ers Agenus $AGEN, told End­points News.

The Agenus to­ken is pow­ered by blockchain tech­nol­o­gy, which was was in­vent­ed by an uniden­ti­fied de­vel­op­er in 2008 to pow­er Bit­coin, but is now used across a num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions. Es­sen­tial­ly, it is a se­quence of blocks or groups of trans­ac­tions that are chained to­geth­er and dis­trib­uted among users, map­ping an un­al­ter­able record of trans­ac­tions that are not de­pen­dent on an ex­ter­nal au­thor­i­ty to val­i­date da­ta.

In­vestors will be el­i­gi­ble to pur­chase the Agenus’ to­kens un­der pre­ferred terms in the ini­tial stage of the of­fer­ing, which is slat­ed for mid-Feb­ru­ary. The Lex­ing­ton, MA-based com­pa­ny ex­pects to raise up to $100 mil­lion to de­vel­op and sell AGEN2034.

“Agenus an­tic­i­pates the in­dus­try will adopt this fi­nanc­ing mod­el as an at­trac­tive means of ob­tain­ing cap­i­tal in com­ing years. BEST (Agenus’ to­ken) is ex­pect­ed to lead to the emer­gence of a new mar­ket­place for as­set-spe­cif­ic se­cu­ri­ties pro­vid­ing in­vestors with unique fund­ing al­ter­na­tives and op­tions for man­ag­ing risk,” the can­cer drug de­vel­op­er said in a state­ment on Tues­day.

Brad Lon­car, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Lon­car In­vest­ments which runs the Lon­car Can­cer Im­munother­a­py ETF, sug­gest­ed a num­ber of peo­ple in the in­dus­try were work­ing on such fund­ing arrange­ments.

Brad Lon­car at the US-Chi­na Bio­phar­ma In­no­va­tion and In­vest­ment Sum­mit in Shang­hai on Oc­to­ber 23, 2018; End­points News, Pharm­Cube

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion


“Set­ting aside the specifics of this Agenus PD-1, I do think the con­cept has po­ten­tial. It would al­low com­pa­nies to raise funds for sin­gle as­sets with­in their pipelines and for in­vestors to back in­di­vid­ual projects. It’s a very unique and ap­peal­ing con­cept.”

But the fresh ap­proach to fund­ing comes with fresh ques­tions. For in­stance, gov­er­nance. “These would all be in­di­vid­ual se­cu­ri­ties so how do you en­sure there is ap­pro­pri­ate in­vestor ed­u­ca­tion and trans­paren­cy through­out the drugs’ de­vel­op­ment?,” Lon­car said.

Then there is the ques­tion about liq­uid­i­ty. “These are like­ly to be small projects so it re­mains to be seen if these will be liq­uid as­sets that are priced ef­fi­cient­ly,” Lon­car not­ed, adding that if in­vestors elect to sell to­kens they will pre­sum­ably do so on the sec­ondary mar­ket like any oth­er to­ken.

There are a laun­dry list of oth­er hy­po­thet­i­cals to pon­der: since each to­ken will rep­re­sent a slice of fu­ture US sales of AGEN2034, what hap­pens if the drug is re­ject­ed? In con­trast, if the drug is ap­proved, what im­pact does this strat­e­gy have on any po­ten­tial part­ner­ships Agenus may want to ink in or­der to com­mer­cial­ize?

End­points has con­tact­ed Agenus for com­ment.

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Af­ter 4 years of furor, the FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. And this time they plan to squash it

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition.

Patrik Jonsson, the president of Lilly Bio-Medicines

Who knew? Der­mi­ra’s board kept watch as its stock price tracked Eli Lil­ly’s se­cret bid­ding on a $1.1B buy­out

In just 8 days, from December 6 to December 14, the stock jumped from $7.88 to $12.70 — just under the initial $13 bid. There was no hard news about the company that would explain a rise like that tracking closely to the bid offer, raising the obvious question of whether insider info has leaked out to traders.

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Short at­tack­er Sahm Ad­ran­gi draws crosshairs over a fa­vorite of Sanofi’s new CEO — with PhII da­ta loom­ing

Sahm Adrang Kerrisdale

Kerrisdale chief Sahm Adrangi took a lengthy break from his series of biotech short attacks after his chief analyst in the field pulled up stakes and went solo. But he’s making a return to drug development this morning, drawing crosshairs over a company that’s one of new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s favorite collaborators.

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UP­DAT­ED: Ac­celeron of­fers thumbs up on a PhII suc­cess for would-be block­buster drug — and shares rock­et up

There’s no public data yet, but Acceleron $XLRN says that its first major trial readout of 2020 is a success.

In a Phase II study of 106 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Acceleron’s experimental drug sotatercept hit its primary endpoint: a significant reduction in pulmonary vascular resistance. The drug also met three different secondary endpoints, including the 6-minute walking test.

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Civi­ca and Blue Cross Blue Shield launch new ven­ture to low­er gener­ic prices

Five years after Martin Shkreli put a smug face to the volatile prices companies can charge even for generic drugs, payers and governments are coming up with outside-the-box solutions.

The latest fix is a new venture from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 18 of its members and Civica, the generics company founded in 2018 by hospitals fed up with high prices for drugs that had long-since lost patent protection. While Civica focused on drugs that hospitals purchased, the new company will aim to lower prices on drugs that, like Shkreli’s Daraprim, are purchased by individuals.

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Merck Invests in State-Of-The-Art Biotech Development Facility in Switzerland

Mer­ck KGaA match­es lofty R&D goals with €250M in­vest­ment in­to a new clin­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Switzer­land

As Merck KGaA strives to prove itself as a capable biopharma R&D player, it has begun construction on a €250 million facility dedicated to developing and manufacturing drugs for use in clinical trials.

The German drugmaker chose a location at Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, where it already has a commercial manufacturing site, in order to “bridge together research and manufacturing.”

“This investment in the Merck Biotech Development Center reflects our commitment to speed up the availability of new medicines for patients in need, and confirms the importance of Switzerland as our prime hub for the manufacturing of biotech medicines,” CEO Stefan Oschmann said at the groundbreaking ceremony, according to a statement.

Breast can­cer ap­proval in tow, As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi armed an­ti­body scores in key gas­tric can­cer study

AstraZeneca kicked off Monday with a flurry of good news. Apart from unveiling positive results on its stroke trial testing its clot-fighter Brilinta, and welcoming its experimental IL-23 inhibitor brazikumab back from Allergan — the British drugmaker also disclosed some upbeat gastric cancer data on its HER2-positive oncology therapy it is collaborating on with Daiichi Sankyo.

Buoyed by the performance of its oncology drugs, last March AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot bet big to partner with Daiichi on the cancer drug, with $1.35 billion upfront in a deal worth up to roughly $7 billion. Roughly 8 months later, as 2019 drew to a close, the FDA swiftly approved the drug — trastuzumab deruxtecan — for use in breast cancer, months ahead of the expected decision date.

Sor­ren­to shrugs off an anony­mous pri­vate eq­ui­ty group’s $1B of­fer to buy the com­pa­ny

San Diego-based Sorrento Therapeutics isn’t going the M&A route — at least not today.

The biotech caused quite a stir when it put out word a few weeks ago that an unidentified private equity group was bidding a billion dollars-plus for the company. The news drove a quick spike in the company’s share price as investors hooked up for the ride — that didn’t happen.

The update sparked a 5% drop in the share price $SRNE ahead of the bell. It’s now trading just above $4, without any evidence that the $7 price looked like it was firm.