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.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: J&J faces ques­tions on old­er adults, asymp­to­matic in­fec­tion, long-term im­mu­ni­ty

The FDA adcomm has advanced to the free-for-all question stage of the hearing and, as they did for Moderna and Pfizer, committee members are raising questions about the lingering issues surrounding the vaccine.

In J&J’s case, one of those unknowns is a group of participants who appeared to respond worse to the vaccine: those over 60 with comorbidities. In that group, the vaccine was only 42% effective at stopping disease starting 28 days after vaccination.