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.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.

UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

Donald Trump, AP

Covid-19 roundup: Trump sug­gests Pfiz­er vac­cine could be first ap­proved; VBI Vac­cines inks de­vel­op­ment deal with Cana­da

President Donald Trump commented Monday morning that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate could be the first to win approval by regulators.

During an interview on a Fox News’ morning show, the president said Pfizer was doing “very well” when asked which candidate could be approved, according to a Reuters report. He added that J&J could follow up afterward, saying “they’ll probably be a little later.”

Is­raeli biotech rais­es $57M to go where cur­rent BRAF in­hibitors can't, with back­ing from No­var­tis, SR One

For the blockbuster potential of Novartis’ Tafinlar and Pfizer’s Braftovi, all the BRAF inhibitors on the market so far only target V600 mutations — which accounts for roughly 50% of patients.

Israeli biotech Novellus now has $57 million to develop a drug that they say can help the other 50% who have everything else.

The Series C will fund a Phase II trial for PLX-8394, a “paradox breaker” that could block RAF without activating MAPK signaling. In a Phase I trial, a patient with a BRAF fusion saw their tumor go away after taking the drug, allowing Novellus to hit the ground running.