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.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

John Oyler, BeiGene CEO (Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bris­tol My­ers wants to pull out of its Abrax­ane deal in Chi­na. BeiGene says no way

A year and a half after Chinese officials ordered BeiGene to stop selling Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abraxane in the wake of an alarming inspection of a US facility, the manufacturing issues at the root of the import suspension still appear unresolved.

And Bristol Myers wants to axe the Abraxane supply deal altogether.

But BeiGene, which is currently in arbitration proceedings against its Big Pharma partner, won’t let it off the hook so easily.

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FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

Madhu Natarajan, Takeda rare disease development head

Drawn to the idea of turn­ing B cells in­to 'pro­tein fac­to­ries,' Take­da jumps in­to a mile­stone-heavy, $900M pact

Madhu Natarajan can trace his fascination with the idea of taking B cells and turning them into protein factories back 20 years, when he had his own lab at UT Southwestern. So when Natarajan, now the rare disease development head for Takeda, sat down for a meet-up with execs from Seattle-based Immusoft at the last in-person JP Morgan conference, they went straight into a brainstorming session.

“That B cells can take up residence and do what they do for a long time,” says Natarajan, pumping out proteins and “leveraging it into a therapeutic context,” hits his sweet spot for discovery deals. And he was deeply impressed by what he heard.

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