Am­gen rips off its $10B M&A cap, look­ing for deals “large and small”

Robert A. Brad­way

You can put Am­gen $AMGN on the list of biotech’s big game hunters.

In their quar­ter­ly meet­ing with an­a­lysts Thurs­day, Am­gen CEO Bob Brad­way said his $40 bil­lion cache of cash gives him the flex­i­bil­i­ty to take a hard look at a va­ri­ety of ac­qui­si­tions this year, big and small.

For some time, Am­gen set a $10 bil­lion cap on deals, which is about what it paid for Onyx. This time? There isn’t a cap.

“I think we have felt for some time that we have con­sid­er­able flex­i­bil­i­ty to do trans­ac­tions,” Brad­way not­ed. “And when we’ve talked in the past about the kinds of things we’re look­ing at, we’ve of­ten talked about it in the con­text of the big plate of things that we have in­ter­nal­ly that we’re work­ing through.”

“But we feel like we’re in a place now where we can look ex­ter­nal­ly for large and small op­por­tu­ni­ties to help grow the busi­ness. So I think the mes­sage is, we’re con­fi­dent in the out­look for our com­pa­ny. We’re con­fi­dent in the im­por­tance of in­no­va­tion. And we’ve got a bal­ance sheet that sup­ports our abil­i­ty to look at trans­ac­tions large and small.”

About the on­ly caveat that Brad­way had to of­fer was his in­ter­est in see­ing what Pres­i­dent Trump has in mind for tax re­form, which could free up more rev­enue and al­low the big com­pa­nies to repa­tri­ate bil­lions in off­shore cash.

CFO David Meline sec­ond­ed that:

“I guess from my per­spec­tive, I don’t re­al­ly view us even to­day pre-tax re­form as hav­ing some ar­bi­trary cap in terms of what we can look at. We think we need to look at all op­por­tu­ni­ties of all sizes.”

There was the usu­al ref­er­ence to stay­ing “dis­ci­plined,” mean­ing that they won’t want to be brand­ed as spend­thrifts af­ter any deal. But there was al­so no ref­er­ence to the high val­u­a­tions in biotech these days, in­di­cat­ing that Am­gen is will­ing to bid high for what it re­al­ly wants.

There’s a long list of com­pa­nies now in a buy­ing mode, scour­ing their re­spec­tive fields for deals. Pfiz­er’s Ian Read has been an ea­ger play­er for some time. Sanofi needs to show it can com­plete a deal af­ter Medi­va­tion and Acte­lion got away. Gilead, Bio­gen and oth­ers are fre­quent­ly cit­ed on the list of in­dus­try hunters in need of a deal.

But so far there’s been more talk than ac­tion. Last year proved dis­ap­point­ing for M&A watch­ers. But 2017 is off to a fast start, with deals for Acte­lion and Ari­ad. We’ll see if Brad­way is ready to get se­ri­ous, or just likes talk­ing a good buy­out game.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

As­traZeneca, Ox­ford her­ald 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine, tout­ing eas­i­er dis­tri­b­u­tion, low­er price

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number may appear less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

Vipin Suri, Catamaran Bio CSO

Cata­ma­ran Bio sails in­to the CAR-NK wa­ters with a $42M Se­ries A

Catamaran Bio’s founding members decided to jump into the CAR-NK game last December over drinks at a trendy bar in Boston.

They were sitting around a table, discussing an MD Anderson study which provided some of the first clinical proof that natural killer (NK) cells can be reengineered to attack tumors, much like CAR-T therapies. It was a “long and lively” discussion, COO Mark Boshar recalls. And by the time it was over, they had a starting point to launch a company.

Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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CEO Matthew Kane (Precision BioSciences)

In an ap­par­ent R&D about-face, Eli Lil­ly part­ners with Pre­ci­sion Bio­Sciences on genome edit­ing in a deal worth up to near­ly $2.7B

As a large multinational corporation, Eli Lilly has their hands in boundless projects, from cancer and immuno-oncology to diabetes, psoriasis and Crohn’s disease. But Friday they signaled a shift in their R&D focus toward genome editing, leaping into a cutting-edge field CEO Dave Ricks had shied away from as recently as January 2019.

The big pharma is ponying up $100 million upfront to partner with Precision BioSciences, focusing initially on Duchenne muscular dystrophy and two other undisclosed in vivo targets. Lilly is also acquiring $35 million worth of the biotech’s stock, and has the option to develop three additional in vivo therapies.

Simeon George, SR One CEO (SR One)

Scoop: SR One crew com­pletes a com­pli­cat­ed spin­out from Glax­o­SmithK­line. And now they have a $500M fund to in­vest on their own

It’s taken close to 2 years, but Simeon George and his team at SR One have completed their spinout from GlaxoSmithKline, ending a saga as one of the longest running venture arms of Big Pharma as they go out on their own to forge the next chapter with a new and independent $500 million fund.

GSK is sticking with the spinout, this time as a minority investor — though a big one. And I’m told that the R&D group at GSK will remain involved in evaluating their new plays, helping with the scientific due diligence involved in scouting the world for new opportunities during a period of explosive growth in biotech investing.

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UP­DAT­ED: Eli Lil­ly's Covid-19 part­ner Ab­Cellera pays $90M for some very spe­cial mice as Pe­ter Thiel jumps on the board and IPO ru­mors heat up

AbCellera Biologics is stepping onto Regeneron’s turf, putting down $90 million in cash to buy out Trianni and its humanized mouse technology for developing antibodies.

The 7-year-old biotech out of British Columbia is after the Trianni Mouse: a genetically engineered rodent that can generate fully human monoclonal antibodies. It’s also scooping up several “next-generation” mice under development. The move comes as AbCellera preps one of the biggest IPOs in an already record-breaking year for public debuts, unnamed sources told Bloomberg. 

Giovanni Caforio, Bristol Myers Squibb CEO (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images)

Rene­go­ti­ate the $6B CVR deal Bris­tol My­ers made for the Cel­gene buy­out? Caforio says that’s not hap­pen­ing

Bristol Myers Squibb has $6 billion riding on its CVR ($BMYRT) for the Celgene buyout, and one essential element of that is now hanging by a thread after the FDA has delayed the application for liso-cel.

The delay came about as a result of the pandemic, which Bristol maintains prevented the FDA from inspecting one of the manufacturing facilities to be used for its production. That has the second of 3 deadlines built into the all-or-nothing CVR agreement teetering on the brink. But if you own any part of that $9 CVR, you can forget about working any changes in the terms just because a completely unexpected global pandemic broke out since they struck the deal to buy Celgene.

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