Alex­ion takes its first step re­build­ing the pipeline, adding a rare dis­ease drug in $855M cash buy­out

Biotech buy­outs are all the rage these days. To­day, it’s Alex­ion’s $ALXN turn to score with a deal that adds a Phase III drug for a rare dis­ease to its pipeline — mark­ing the new ex­ec­u­tive crew’s “first step” in re­or­ga­niz­ing the pipeline.

Alex­ion struck a deal to buy Stock­holm-based Wil­son Ther­a­peu­tics for $855 mil­lion in cash, of­fer­ing its back­ers a rich pay­day af­ter gath­er­ing a set of mid-stage da­ta demon­strat­ing their drug can flush ex­cess cop­per from the blood of pa­tients with Wil­son dis­ease.

Jonas Hans­son, Wil­son CEO

Wil­son’s last pub­lic ven­ture raise came 4 years ago, when Abing­worth and MVM Life Sci­ence Part­ners stepped up with a $40 mil­lion B round with found­ing in­vestor Health­Cap. And the num­bers in­di­cate that they made out hand­some­ly with the buy­out deal to­day.

Their drug, WTX101, binds to cop­per and al­bu­min, al­low­ing it to be cleared. And Alex­ion had time to con­sid­er proof-of-con­cept num­bers on its safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy — with a dis­play planned at EASL this week — as they swooped in to nab the Phase III pro­gram.

The ac­qui­si­tion deal puts Alex­ion on track to play a role in a high-pro­file de­bate over the cost of drugs in the US. Wil­son dis­ease is treat­ed with a drug called Syprine, which was ac­quired by Valeant — and which then spiked the price in a clas­sic price-goug­ing move that Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are help­less to pre­vent. Te­va re­cent­ly came along with a gener­ic, but caused out­rage when they set the price at $18,375 for a bot­tle of 100 pills, which the New York Times re­port­ed is 21 times what the orig­i­nal brand­ed drug cost in 2010.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Wil­son Ther­a­peu­tics’ board, Alex­ion wasn’t the on­ly bid­der, with Lazard gath­er­ing bids in a com­pet­i­tive process launched ear­ly this year.

But it was the most ea­ger.

The deal comes on the heels of a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion at Alex­ion af­ter Lud­wig Hantson stepped in to lead the com­pa­ny last year, bring­ing in a new crew and mak­ing plans to re­lo­cate to Boston. Hantson made it crys­tal clear that aside from the big fran­chise drug Soliris and a next-gen fol­lowup, he didn’t find much to get ex­cit­ed about. That fol­lowup drug, though, wasn’t good enough to prove su­pe­ri­or to Soliris, which could leave the com­pa­ny vul­ner­a­ble as ri­vals gath­er with late-stage tests of their own.

The buy­out al­so spot­lights the M&A spree now un­der­way in biotech, com­ing fast af­ter No­var­tis’ $8.7 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of AveX­is on Mon­day. A busy start to Q2 fol­lows a big M&A fren­zy in Q1, with Sanofi buy­ing Biover­a­tiv and Abl­ynx and Cel­gene bag­ging Juno. And more deals are like­ly to fol­low as top play­ers snap up fresh as­sets af­ter a drought of deals last year.

“Wil­son dis­ease is a rare dis­or­der that can lead to se­vere liv­er dis­ease, in­clud­ing cir­rho­sis and acute liv­er fail­ure, as well as de­bil­i­tat­ing neu­ro­log­i­cal mor­bidi­ties such as im­paired move­ment, gait, speech, swal­low­ing, and psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders. WTX101 is an in­no­v­a­tive prod­uct that ad­dress­es the un­der­ly­ing cause of the dis­ease and has the po­ten­tial to de­fine a new stan­dard of care in treat­ing Wil­son dis­ease, an area that has not had a new treat­ment in over two decades,” said Hantson in a state­ment. “The ac­qui­si­tion of Wil­son Ther­a­peu­tics is a strong strate­gic fit for Alex­ion giv­en the over­lap with our cur­rent clin­i­cal and com­mer­cial fo­cus on meta­bol­ic and neu­ro­log­ic dis­or­ders, and is an im­por­tant first step in re­build­ing our clin­i­cal pipeline.”


Im­age: Lud­wig Hantson, Alex­ion CEO.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.