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.

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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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.

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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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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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.

Mark Mal­lon charts post-Iron­wood course by tak­ing CEO job at NeoGe­nomics; Glax­o­SmithK­line vet Feng Ren joins In­sil­i­co as CSO

Mark Mallon steps aside at Ironwood on March 12 after close to two years at the helm, and he already has a new change of scenery squared away. Beginning April 19, Mallon takes charge as CEO of cancer-focused genetic test maker NeoGenomics out of Fort Myers, FL while his predecessor, Douglas VanOort, is retiring after 12 years as NeoGenomics’ chairman and CEO.

It’s a fresh start for Mallon after what will amount to a tumultuous 23 months as Ironwood’s chief executive. Last year was marked by trial failures that spelled double trouble, leaving the Ironwood cupboard bare: first, a Linzess reformulation for irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D) in May, and then the drug IW-3718 for persistent acid reflux in September. After IW-3718’s discontinuation, Ironwood chopped its staff by 35%. On Feb. 8, Mallon announced his departure at Ironwood, with president Tom McCourt getting bumped up to interim CEO.

Covid-19 roundup: Mer­ck­'s $356M sup­ply deal on hold as FDA asks for more da­ta; FDA ap­proves Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine stor­age at stan­dard freez­er temps

Merck is pushing back plans to supply the US government with a Covid-19 drug after the FDA asked for more data to support an emergency use authorization.

The antibody, MK-7110, had looked promising in a Phase III study conducted by OncoImmune before Merck came along and bought the biotech for $425 million. At the interim analysis, investigators looked at data from 203 patients and concluded that a single dose of the drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50% among severe patients. And those taking the drug had a 60% higher chance of improvement in clinical status compared to placebo.

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CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

Fatty liver conceptual image, 3D illustration showing fatty liver silhouette made from micrograph of liver steatosis (Shutterstock)

The path to NASH: un­der­stand­ing the role of se­vere obe­si­ty in a com­plex, mul­ti-sys­tem dis­ease

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We often think a person’s transition from a healthy to a diseased state is binary. But that’s often not the case. In reality, the onset of a disease is not something that occurs overnight, and the majority lie on a continuum that is impacted by a multitude of factors. Some of these factors are in a patient’s control. Others are not.

This is the case in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), two of the most complex diseases that “live” on this proverbial continuum. The clinical onset of NAFLD — and ultimately NASH — is a complex process that is closely related to obesity, insulin resistance and impaired adipose tissue metabolism.