Alex­ion gam­bles on an ear­ly-stage drug for rare dis­eases, bag­ging Ap­ple Tree-backed Syn­tim­mune in $1.2B buy­out

Alex­ion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals is adding a clin­i­cal-stage as­set to the pipeline, buy­ing Syn­tim­mune for $400 mil­lion up­front with an­oth­er $800 mil­lion on the ta­ble for mile­stones.

The big prize here is the an­ti­body SYNT001, which is be­ing stud­ied for rare IgG-me­di­at­ed dis­eases. The lead pro­gram is a Phase Ib/IIa study that is ex­am­in­ing its ef­fi­ca­cy in warm au­toim­mune he­molyt­ic ane­mia (WAI­HA) and in pa­tients with pem­phi­gus vul­garis (PV) or pem­phi­gus fo­li­aceus. 

Jean-Paul Kress

Alex­ion’s new ex­ec­u­tive crew, brought in to do a com­plete makeover of the com­pa­ny, has some proof-of-con­cept da­ta it can re­ly on for now show­ing the drug’s abil­i­ty to re­duce IgG, a key bio­mark­er for these dis­eases. The drug works by in­ter­fer­ing with the in­ter­ac­tion of FcRn with Im­munoglob­u­lin G.

New York City-based Syn­tim­mune re­cruit­ed bio­phar­ma vet Jean-Paul Kress — out of Bio­gen and Sanofi — to run the com­pa­ny at the be­gin­ning of the year. That move fol­lowed the biotech’s $50 mil­lion raise in 2017; most of that mon­ey came from Ap­ple Tree Part­ners.

David de Graaf

“I think we have the abil­i­ty to go all the way,” for­mer CEO David de Graaf told me af­ter the raise. The new cash in­fu­sion was de­signed to get the com­pa­ny to a reg­is­tra­tion study, when they could dis­cuss the fu­ture. 

But they won’t need to dis­cuss any­thing now.

“Tar­get­ing FcRn holds great promise in trans­form­ing the treat­ment of IgG-me­di­at­ed dis­eases. SYNT001 has suc­cess­ful­ly demon­strat­ed proof of mech­a­nism – the abil­i­ty to rapid­ly low­er IgG lev­els – in ear­ly clin­i­cal stud­ies and has the po­ten­tial to treat a num­ber of rare IgG-me­di­at­ed dis­eases,” said Alex­ion CEO Lud­wig Hantson. “The ac­qui­si­tion of Syn­tim­mune rep­re­sents a crit­i­cal step in re­build­ing Alex­ion’s pipeline and fur­ther di­ver­si­fy­ing the com­pa­ny’s clin­i­cal-stage rare dis­ease port­fo­lio. It of­fers a strong strate­gic fit with Alex­ion’s ex­ist­ing rare dis­ease fran­chis­es and pro­vides the op­por­tu­ni­ty to trans­form pa­tient care in dis­eases like warm au­toim­mune he­molyt­ic ane­mia, where SYNT001 is the first, and cur­rent­ly the on­ly, an­ti-FcRn ther­a­py in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.”

Im­age: Lud­wig Hantson. ALEX­ION

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck

#ASH19: Here’s why Mer­ck is pay­ing $2.7B to­day to grab Ar­Qule and its next-gen BTK drug, lin­ing up Eli Lil­ly ri­val­ry

Just a few months after making a splash at the European Hematology Association scientific confab with an early snapshot of positive data for their BTK inhibitor ARQ 531, ArQule has won a $2.7 billion buyout deal from Merck.

Merck is scooping up a next-gen BTK drug — which is making a splash at ASH today — from ArQule in an M&A pact set at $20 a share $ARQL. That’s more than twice Friday’s $9.66 close. And Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter heralded a deal that nets “multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors.”

This is the second biotech buyout pact today, marking a brisk tempo of M&A deals in the lead-up to the big JP Morgan gathering in mid-January. It’s no surprise the acquisitions are both for cancer drugs, where Sanofi will try to make its mark while Merck beefs up a stellar oncology franchise. And bolt-ons are all the rage at the major pharma players, which you could also see in Novartis’ recent $9.7 billion MedCo buyout.

ArQule — which comes out on top after their original lead drug foundered in Phase III — highlighted early data on ‘531 at EHA from a group of 6 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who got the 65 mg dose. Four of them experienced a partial response — a big advance for a company that failed with earlier attempts.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Am­gen puts its foot down in shiny new South San Fran­cis­co hub as it re­or­ga­nizes R&D ops

Amgen has signed up to be AbbVie’s neighbor in South San Francisco as it moves into a nine-story R&D facility in the booming biotech hub.

The arrangement gives Amgen 240,000 square feet of space on the Gateway of Pacific Campus, just a few minutes drive from its current digs at Oyster Point. The new hub will open in 2022 and house the big biotech’s Bay Area employees working on cardiometabolic, inflammation and oncology research.

Ab­b­Vie, Scripps ex­pand part­ner­ship, for­ti­fy fo­cus on can­cer drugs

Scripps and AbbVie go way back. Research conducted in the lab of Scripps scientist Richard Lerner led to the discovery of Humira. The antibody, approved by the FDA in 2002 and sold by AbbVie, went on to become the world’s bestselling treatment. In 2018, the drugmaker and the non-profit organization signed a pact focused on developing cancer treatments — and now, the scope of that partnership has broadened to encompass a range of diseases, including immunological and neurological conditions.

South Ko­rea jails 3 Sam­sung ex­ecs for de­stroy­ing ev­i­dence in Bi­o­Log­ics probe

Three Samsung executives in Korea are going to jail.

The convictions came in what prosecutors had billed as “biggest crime of evidence destruction in the history of South Korea”: a case of alleged corporate intrigue that was thrown open when investigators found what was hidden beneath the floor of a Samsung BioLogics plant. Eight employees in total were found guilty of evidence tampering and the three executives were each sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Nick Plugis, Avak Kahvejian, Cristina Rondinone, Milind Kamkolkar and Chad Nusbaum. (Cellarity)

Cel­lar­i­ty, Flag­ship's $50M bet on net­work bi­ol­o­gy, mar­ries ma­chine learn­ing and sin­gle-cell tech for drug dis­cov­ery

Cellarity started with a simple — but far from easy — idea that Avak Kahvejian and his team were floating around at Flagship Pioneering: to digitally encode a cell.

As he and his senior associate Nick Plugis dug deeper into the concept, they found that most of the models others have developed take a bottom-up approach, where they assemble the molecules inside cells and the connections between them from scratch. What if they opt for a top-down approach, aided by single-cell transcriptomics and machine learning, to gauge the behavior of the entire cellular network?

Sanofi’s big week in­cludes a promis­ing PhI­II for an or­phan dis­ease drug, with plans for a pitch to the FDA

The biopharma R&D food chain is paying off with a plan at Sanofi to pitch regulators on a new drug for an orphan disease called cold agglutinin disease.

The pharma giant ushered out a statement Tuesday morning — after it spelled out plans to radically restructure the company, abandoning cardio and diabetes research altogether — saying that their C1s inhibitor sutimlimab had cleared the pivotal study.