Alessan­dro Ri­va ex­its top No­var­tis on­col­o­gy post, heads to a trou­bled — but wealthy — Gilead

Alessan­dro Ri­va

With its pipeline mired in bad da­ta and se­r­i­al set­backs and an­a­lysts de­mand­ing some sort of co­her­ent strate­gic re­sponse to the omi­nous down­turn in its hep C fran­chise, Gilead $GILD has man­aged to re­cruit one of the top names in on­col­o­gy drug de­vel­op­ment to head up its can­cer R&D ef­forts.

Alessan­dro Ri­va is turn­ing in his Big Phar­ma cre­den­tials at No­var­tis $NVS to move in­to the big biotech, which has tak­en a drub­bing at the hands of dis­ap­point­ed an­a­lysts this year.

In the can­cer field, Gilead was forced to halt a slate of 6 stud­ies for Zy­delig in the spring of 2016 due to safe­ty is­sues. And that came af­ter the drug was clear­ly los­ing a race with Im­bru­vi­ca from J&J and Ab­b­Vie on leukemia and lym­phoma. Ab­b­Vie and Roche’s vene­to­clax, mean­while, is ex­pect­ed to gain mar­ket ground in CLL.

Then in No­vem­ber came sub­par da­ta for mo­melo­tinib, which has been strug­gling to dis­tin­guish it­self from Jakafi for myelofi­boris.

Clin­i­cal set­backs, though, are all the rage at Gilead, which has been rack­ing up fail­ures through­out 2016, in­clud­ing 4 straight flops late in the year.

What Gilead does have is cash, and plen­ty of it. Ri­vas may have less to do in the clin­ic right now than at the deal ta­ble, where Gilead may yet spend a sig­nif­i­cant amount of its cash re­serves on M&A and li­cens­ing. Gilead clear­ly needs to do more in on­col­o­gy/hema­tol­ogy.

Bri­an Abra­hams at Jef­feries thinks that could be the case. He not­ed:

We be­lieve the rel­a­tive­ly high-pro­file heme/onc chief hire sig­nals an in­creas­ing fo­cus in on­col­o­gy, a wel­come de­vel­op­ment, and ex­pect GILD to more ag­gres­sive­ly pur­sue BD to build out a broad­er can­cer pipeline– some­thing not sub­stan­tial­ly baked in­to most ex­pec­ta­tions but which we be­lieve could help im­prove sen­ti­ment around the name and LT rev­enue prospects. We ex­pect spec­u­lat­ed (s)mid-cap M&A can­di­dates like IN­CY could al­so trade up on this an­nounce­ment.

“I have al­ways ad­mired Gilead for its sci­en­tif­ic fo­cus and da­ta-dri­ven ap­proach to drug de­vel­op­ment,” Ri­va said in a state­ment. “I look for­ward to work­ing along­side Gilead’s ded­i­cat­ed and pas­sion­ate col­leagues through­out the R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion to tack­le the can­cer re­search and de­vel­op­ment chal­lenge with a goal of im­prov­ing the lives of pa­tients.”

Robert Forrester, Verastem

Ve­rastem CEO For­rester steps to the ex­it as the board hunts com­mer­cial-savvy ex­ec for the be­lea­guered biotech

Robert For­rester is step­ping down as CEO of Ve­rastem On­col­o­gy $VSTM just 8 months af­ter the com­pa­ny nabbed an ap­proval for du­velis­ib, a PI3K drug with a sto­ried past — and what ap­pears as not much of a fu­ture.

The biotech put out word this morn­ing that For­rester will take an ad­vi­so­ry role with Ve­rastem while COO Dan Pa­ter­son steps up to take charge of the lead­er­ship team and the board looks around for a new CEO.

Ken Frazier appears before the Senate Committee on Finance for a hearing on prescription drug pricing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 26, 2019. Chris Kleponis for CNP via AP Images

Who’s next in line to suc­ceed Ken Fra­zier as CEO of the Keytru­da-blessed Mer­ck?

When Merck waved off a looming forced retirement for Ken Frazier last September, the board cited flexibility in CEO transition as a key factor in the decision. Having Frazier — who’s also chairman of the company — around beyond his 65th birthday in 2019 would ensure they install the best person at the best time, they said.

The board has evidently begun that process with a clear preference for internal candidates, sources told Bloomberg. CFO Robert Davis, chief marketing officer Michael Nally, and chief commercial officer Frank Clyburn are all in the running, according to an insider.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Chica­go biotech ar­gues blue­bird, Third Rock 'killed' its ri­val, pi­o­neer­ing tha­lassemia gene ther­a­py in law­suit

Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

In starved an­tibi­ot­ic field, Melin­ta soars as FDA grants speedy drug re­view

Such is the state of af­fairs in an­tibi­ot­ic land that the FDA agree­ing to pri­or­i­ty re­view an ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­pand the use of an an­tibi­ot­ic can rock­et up a stock more than two-fold.

On Wednes­day, Melin­ta Ther­a­peu­tics said its ap­proved an­tibi­ot­ic Baxdela had been grant­ed pri­or­i­ty re­view for use in com­mu­ni­ty-ac­quired bac­te­r­i­al pneu­mo­nia (CAPB). The FDA is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by Oc­to­ber 24. Shares of the Con­necti­cut drug­mak­er $ML­NT cat­a­pult­ed, clos­ing up near­ly 224% at $6.41.

Brent Saunders at an Endpoints News event in 2017 — File photo

An­a­lyst call with Al­ler­gan ex­ecs stokes an­tic­i­pa­tion of a plan to split the com­pa­ny in ‘a month or two’

So what’s up at Al­ler­gan?

Ear­li­er this week the ubiq­ui­tous Ever­core ISI an­a­lyst Umer Raf­fat was on the line with com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives to probe in­to the lat­est on the num­bers as well as CEO Brent Saun­ders’ re­cent de­c­la­ra­tion that he’d be do­ing some­thing de­fin­i­tive to help long-suf­fer­ing in­vestors who have watched their shares dwin­dle in val­ue.

He came away with the im­pres­sion that a sig­nif­i­cant com­pa­ny split is on the way. And not on some dis­tant time hori­zon.