Alex­ion lines up a $60M op­tion to buy Fortress-in­cu­bat­ed biotech fo­cused on a lu­cra­tive rare blood dis­ease

Now that Alex­ion has se­cured an FDA ap­proval for Ul­tomiris, the fol­low-on for its flag­ship drug Soliris, the biotech is back on the hunt for po­ten­tial ad­di­tions to its rare blood dis­or­der port­fo­lio.

One of them will be a tar­get­ed ther­a­py for light chain amy­loi­do­sis, which Alex­ion has las­soed with a buy­out op­tion in its col­lab­o­ra­tion deal with Caelum Bio­sciences. Alex­ion is hand­ing over $60 mil­lion for a mi­nor­i­ty stake and an ex­clu­sive op­tion to ac­quire the rest — a de­ci­sion they will make when the Phase II da­ta are ripe for re­view.

John Orloff

Start­up in­cu­ba­tor Fortress Biotech launched Caelum in 2017 af­ter li­cens­ing the an­ti-amy­loid an­ti­body they now call CAEL-101 from Co­lum­bia based on re­search by Alan Solomon of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ten­nessee Grad­u­ate School of Med­i­cine. Break­ing from the old ap­proach, which fo­cus­es on block­ing pro­duc­tion of new amy­loids, he de­signed the ther­a­py to break up pre-ex­ist­ing amy­loid de­posits clog­ging up in tis­sues to dam­age pa­tients’ or­gans, par­tic­u­lar hearts and kid­neys.

“CAEL-101 ap­pears to have a unique ca­pa­bil­i­ty of bind­ing to both kap­pa and lamb­da mis­fold­ed pro­teins,” Caelum CEO Michael Spec­tor said in a state­ment. “Da­ta from the Phase 1a/1b study in­di­cate that CAEL-101 is a well-tol­er­at­ed ther­a­py that leads to a rapid and clin­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant or­gan re­sponse, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the heart and kid­neys. Fur­ther, CAEL-101 showed a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment from base­line in glob­al lon­gi­tu­di­nal strain, an end­point that has been cor­re­lat­ed with sur­vival in pa­tients with AL amy­loi­do­sis.”

For Alex­ion, this will be an op­por­tu­ni­ty to tap in­to a fa­tal dis­ease with no ap­proved ther­a­pies, R&D chief John Orloff said. Prothena took a stab at it but late-stage fail­ures forced it to scrap its en­tire lead pro­gram.

Michael Spec­tor

Whether Prothena’s fail­ure had to do with its drug (as Alex­ion be­lieves) or the en­tire hy­poth­e­sis about tar­get­ing AL amy­loid is to be borne out, Stifel an­a­lysts wrote in a note, mak­ing this a cheap bet with not just high po­ten­tial re­ward but al­so “fair­ly high risk.”

“Alex­ion’s ar­gu­ment here is that CAEL-101 ben­e­fits from a much stronger mech­a­nis­tic ra­tio­nale, though NEOD001 pre­clin­i­cal da­ta paint a dif­fer­ent pic­ture,” they wrote. “In a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 2018 In­ter­na­tion­al Sym­po­sium on Amy­loi­do­sis, a pre­clin­i­cal poster sug­gest­ed that NEOD001 binds an epi­tope on kap­pa and lam­da light-chain pro­teins that in their view is “unique­ly ex­posed dur­ing mis­fold­ing and ag­gre­ga­tion”. It’s plau­si­ble (but how would we know) that this was not re­ca­pit­u­lat­ed in pa­tients.”

Alex­ion will now play a part in shap­ing the Phase II pro­gram for CAEL-101 as Caelum re­mains re­spon­si­ble for the ex­e­cu­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing. If the da­ta hold up, the buy­out deal will amount to as much as $500 mil­lion.

The deal adds to a steady stream of ear­ly-stage as­sets Alex­ion has been bring­ing in­to its pipeline, in­clud­ing a pre­clin­i­cal C6 com­ple­ment in­hibitor from an­oth­er op­tion deal with Com­ple­ment Phar­ma and a (much more ex­pen­sive) drug for rare IgG-me­di­at­ed dis­eases, which it bagged when ac­quir­ing Syn­tim­mune for $400 mil­lion up­front.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

Pfiz­er, Sarep­ta and two oth­ers sug­gest Duchenne drug safe­ty is­sues tied to "class ef­fect"

Since the first experimental Duchenne gene therapy programs came about, the space has proven rife with safety issues and patient deaths in clinical trials. Pfizer and three biotechs now think they’ve found a reason why.

The four companies suggested there may be a “class effect” causing the adverse events in Duchenne gene therapies, they wrote in a new study. They specifically highlighted how side effects in five patients across three trials, who all showed muscle weakness with cardiac involvement, were “strikingly similar.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

De­spite fed­er­al ef­forts to di­ver­si­fy clin­i­cal tri­als, progress re­mains 'stag­nan­t' — re­port

While calls to diversify clinical trials have grown louder in recent years — gaining support from federal agencies such as the FDA and NIH — progress has largely stalled, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Swaths of patients in racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as LGBTQIA+, pregnant and older adult populations continue to be left out of clinical trials. While some advances have been made in the last 30 years — women now account for roughly half of clinical trial participants — growth in other areas remains stagnant, according to the report, which was mandated by Congress and sponsored by the NIH.

Paul Chaplin, Bavarian Nordic president and CEO

Bavar­i­an Nordic se­cures BAR­DA con­tract for small­pox vac­cine

It seems that smallpox vaccination production is weighing on the mind of the US government. And manufacturer Bavarian Nordic is the latest company to benefit.

Just a few days after Emergent, a company that has made government contracts its lifeblood, acquired the exclusive rights to Tembexa from Chimerix, with a $225 million cash payment and an expected BARDA contract, the agency has offered a contract for smallpox vaccine production.

Lina Khan, FTC chair (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)

New FTC com­mis­sion­er could turn the tide for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to PBMs

The Senate last week voted along party lines, 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaker, to make President Biden appointee Alvaro Bedoya the deciding vote on a split 2-2 Federal Trade Commission.

The addition of Bedoya to the FTC could not only spell more trouble for biopharma M&A activity, as he may align with his Democrat partners to break the FTC ties, but it may also mean that FTC Chair Lina Khan has what she needs to move forward on a study around the pharma middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers.

Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­ate user fee reau­tho­riza­tion bill omits ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval re­forms, shows wide gaps with House ver­sion

The Senate health committee on Tuesday released its first version of the bill to reauthorize all the different FDA user fees. But unlike the House version, there are only a few controversial items in the Senate’s version, which does not address either accelerated approval reforms or clinical trial diversity (as the House did).

While it’s still relatively early in the process of finalizing this legislation (the ultimate statutory deadline is the end of September), the House and Senate, at least initially, appear to be starting off in different corners on what should be included.

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Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO

Berk­shire Hath­away pulls out of Ab­b­Vie, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb in­vest­ments

It looks like Warren Buffett is sticking to ice cream and railroads for the moment.

The billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway backed out of two major holdings in the pharma industry, Forexlive first reported, including a $410 million investment in AbbVie and a $324.4 million stake in Bristol Myers Squibb.

The move comes after Berkshire abandoned its Teva shares just last quarter, Bloomberg reported.

Long-ex­pect­ed UK lay­offs im­mi­nent for No­var­tis fol­low­ing sale

Nearly a year ago, more than 200 workers at Novartis’ Grimsby, UK, facility were able to hang on to their jobs after the pharma closed a Switzerland site as a part of its workforce restructuring plan. Now, it looks like those employees’ time is up, as the site has been sold, Grimsby Telegraph reported today.

The manufacturing site has been sold to Humber Industrials, a subsidiary of International Process Plants. None of the current staff members will be working with the new owners, however.