Am­gen ponies up $240M for Michi­gan dis­cov­ery out­fit's den­drit­ic cell tar­get­ing mol­e­cules for au­toim­mune dis­or­ders

In the mas­sive im­munol­o­gy mar­ket, some of phar­ma’s biggest play­ers are look­ing for nov­el path­ways to treat dis­ease ar­eas al­ready packed with big-name drugs. Now, with an im­munol­o­gy block­buster of its own in Ote­zla, Am­gen is pony­ing up to part­ner with a Michi­gan dis­cov­ery out­fit look­ing to tar­get den­drit­ic cells to churn up im­mune tol­er­ance.

Am­gen will pay $240 mil­lion in up­front cash and mile­stone pay­ments for mol­e­cules tar­get­ing au­toim­mune con­di­tions from Ann Ar­bor, MI-based Evoq Ther­a­peu­tics, a spin­off of re­search from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, the biotech said Wednes­day.

Greg Bar­rett

Evoq, named for the tar­get­ed den­drit­ic cells the com­pa­ny us­es to “evoke” im­mune tol­er­ance in reg­u­la­to­ry T cells, is the prod­uct of re­search from co-founders James Moon and An­na Schwen­de­man, who meld­ed minds while work­ing to­geth­er at the uni­ver­si­ty, pres­i­dent Greg Bar­rett told End­points News. The pair cre­at­ed a high-den­si­ty lipopro­tein plat­form, dubbed Nan­oDisc, that they spec­u­lat­ed could be used to di­rect­ly de­liv­er pep­tides more ef­fec­tive­ly in­to the lymph nodes.

With their re­search used as the ba­sis for a new com­pa­ny, Moon and Schwen­de­man, now chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer and VP of pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, re­spec­tive­ly, ini­tial­ly tar­get­ed on­col­o­gy but quick­ly piv­ot­ed to in­flam­ma­to­ry au­toim­mune dis­eases af­ter re­con­noi­ter­ing a jam-packed can­cer space and turn­ing out pos­i­tive pre­clin­i­cal da­ta, Bar­rett said.

“As is of­ten the case, evok­ing an im­mune re­sponse and evok­ing im­mune tol­er­ance is the oth­er side of the same coin,” Bar­rett said. “So when we looked at the im­muno-tol­er­ance space, we were re­al­ly sur­prised by the num­bers that were com­ing up.”

An­na Schwen­de­man

Those high marks in the ear­ly stages us­ing what Bar­rett called “gold stan­dard an­i­mal mod­els” caught the eyes of in­vestors and phar­ma play­ers, in­clud­ing Am­gen, which de­cid­ed to jump on board with its es­tab­lished pres­ence in the im­munol­o­gy space — most no­tably with new­ly ac­quired Ote­zla.

Bar­rett couldn’t di­vulge what cut of the $240 mil­lion pact will be in up­front cash and what will be in biobucks, but he did say a “sig­nif­i­cant” chunk of change will be used to ad­vance Am­gen’s tar­get­ed mol­e­cules as well as Evoq’s in-house port­fo­lio, with two mol­e­cules tar­get­ing MOG an­ti­body dis­ease, a new­ly coined con­di­tion that can cause neu­ro-spinal swelling and is usu­al­ly mis­di­ag­nosed as mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, and type 1 di­a­betes.

James Moon

That range of po­ten­tial ther­a­peu­tic use shows Evoq’s plat­form isn’t just a “one-trick pony,” Bar­rett said. How­ev­er, the ex­tent of Am­gen’s in­ter­est couldn’t be dis­closed; Bar­rett said the phar­ma gi­ant was look­ing at “se­lect­ed dis­ease spaces” for Evoq’s po­ten­tial mol­e­cules.

As part of the pact, Evoq and Am­gen will co-de­vel­op any pre­clin­i­cal can­di­dates iden­ti­fied with Am­gen, which will then be han­dling clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion on the back end. Evoq would be due cer­tain roy­al­ties in case its can­di­dates go to mar­ket, Bar­rett said.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Barry Greene, Sage CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Sage's sec­ond chance at de­pres­sion hits the PhI­II pri­ma­ry, but ques­tions re­main over dura­bil­i­ty, side ef­fects

Looking to make a comeback after a big Phase III flop, Sage Therapeutics revealed data they believe could change the entire depression treatment landscape, given the vast array of failures in the field. But some results are spooking investors, sending Sage $SAGE shares down early Tuesday.

First, the primary: Sage and Biogen reported Phase III data for once-daily zuranolone Tuesday morning, saying the experimental drug hit its primary endpoint by spurring a statistically significant change from baseline in the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression total score. After 15 days, patients in the drug arm saw an average change of -14.1 points, compared to -12.3 on placebo.

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Bio­gen sig­nals a big PhI­II fail­ure as the lead gene ther­a­py in their $800M Night­star buy­out goes down in flames

That $800 million buyout of Nightstar has turned into a bust for Biogen as the lead therapy in the deal failed a pivotal study, signaling a severe setback for the biotech’s ambitions in gene therapies.

The big biotech put out the word after the market closed on Monday that the gene therapy they picked up in the deal for a degenerative blindness called choroideremia failed the Phase III study, just a month after their #2 drug in the deal also flopped in a mid-stage study.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia spends Soft­Bank's cash in bid to edge out AI ri­vals

Exscientia is sprinting to win the great AI biotech race.

The UK company, having long labored on small discovery deals with large pharmas, raised up to $525 million in a Series D led by the infamous Japanese conglomerate SoftBank in April and followed it up less than a month later with a Bristol Myers Squibb deal that paid $50 million cash and $1.2 billion in milestones.

Now, the Oxford spinout is splurging on a shiny new tool. On Monday they announced they purchased the three-year-old molecule-screening biotech Allcyte, a longtime collaborator, for $60.6 million in cash and stock.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (Endpoints News)

Hal Bar­ron gam­bles $625M cash on high-wire TIG­IT act, throw­ing Glax­o­SmithK­line in­to heat­ed race and com­plet­ing next-gen I/O trin­i­ty

Count Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline in for the TIGIT fight.

The stakes are as high as the risks: While a growing pack of Big Pharma rivals is lending credence to the hypothesis that TIGIT will be the next big immune checkpoint and cancer drug target, the first clinical trials have shown response rates that can be described as modest at best. But Barron’s bet is on the whole “axis” that the receptor sits on, with an eye on testing its new anti-TIGIT antibody not just in combo with PD-1 but also in triplets.

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CEO Harith Rajagopalan (Fractyl)

Af­ter a decade in the type 2 di­a­betes game, Fractyl Lab­o­ra­to­ries recharges with a fresh $100M and a new name

Harith Rajagopalan compared the way type 2 diabetes is managed to sticking your fingers in a dam that’s leaking from a number of places.

You can take drugs to lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, but you’re not addressing what he says is the core issue — the metabolic abnormality that causes the disease.

“We’re so busy plugging the holes in the dam, we don’t have time to see that the whole infrastructure is at risk,” he said. “That infrastructure is a full-body systemic metabolic abnormality called metabolic syndrome, that we’re ignoring while we’re so busy trying to treat all of the individual symptoms of the condition.”

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Lynn Fitch, Mississippi Attorney General (Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)

Mis­sis­sip­pi sues Eli Lil­ly, Sanofi and No­vo over in­sulin prices as in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars may ar­rive soon

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch last week sued the top three insulin manufacturers, which collectively cover almost the entire US insulin market, alleging that they’ve colluded to raise their prices in lockstep, and in some cases by more than 1,000% for drugs that are decades old.

“Because of Manufacturer Defendants’ collusive price increases, nearly a century after the discovery of insulin, diabetes medications have become unaffordable for many diabetics,” the lawsuit says.

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Bob Cuddihy, Capsida CEO

CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics takes a swing at ALS gene edit­ing in dis­cov­ery deal with AAV up­start Cap­si­da

When small biotech Capsida launched just a few months ago, it hit the scene with backing from drug giant AbbVie to chase AAV-delivered drugs for CNS. Now, the team has earned the support of one of the biggest names in gene editing — and it’s taking on a big challenge right away.

CRISPR Therapeutics has signed a deal with Capsida Biotherapeutics, a gene therapy player specializing in AAV engineering, to carve out a delivery mechanism for the company’s gene editing tech in ALS and rare neurodegenerative disorder Friedreich’s ataxia, the companies said Tuesday.