An up­start in the poly­clon­al an­ti­body biz just lined up $50M for its plan to dis­rupt a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness

The multi­bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness for im­muno­glo­bin prod­ucts is dom­i­nat­ed by three key play­ers: CSL, Shire and Gri­fols.  And one of them re­cent­ly in­vest­ed $50 mil­lion in a South San Fran­cis­co-based biotech that thinks it has a key to dis­rupt­ing the en­tire glob­al mar­ket.

The com­pa­ny is a lit­tle known pri­vate play­er called Gi­ga­Gen. It has all of 10 staffers who are now so close­ly packed in­to their work space that the com­pa­ny will have to find new digs to ex­pand in­to. But it has glob­al am­bi­tions to do some­thing com­plete­ly new in poly­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies.

The big im­muno­glo­bin busi­ness cen­ters on prod­ucts like IVIG, the in­tra­venous in­fec­tion fight­er that ex­tracts a swarm of poly­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies from donor-de­rived plas­ma — dis­tinct from the mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body busi­ness that has in­spired a whole gen­er­a­tion of new ther­a­pies. Gi­ga­Gen has been spend­ing the last few years work­ing with about a mil­lion dol­lars in grant mon­ey, and a once-off project from No­var­tis, on its re­com­bi­nant poly­clon­al work.

The goal is as sim­ple as it is big: in­dus­tri­al­ize poly­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies, tak­ing sam­ples from the best donors and then mak­ing them more po­tent from low­er dos­es, and cre­at­ing a new sup­ply by mak­ing them over and over and over again.

“I in­vent­ed the tech­nol­o­gy in 2011,” says Gi­ga­Gen CEO David John­son, cred­it­ing his al­liance with Stan­ford As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor Everett Mey­er — an ex­pert in T cell im­munol­o­gy — on the work.

Gri­fols is in­trigued. The Span­ish com­pa­ny paid $35 mil­lion in ear­ly Ju­ly to gain a 44% stake in the com­pa­ny, adding $15 mil­lion for a li­cens­ing fee on the tech. That gains them rights on all the work that Gi­ga­Gen is do­ing on poly­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies.

Orig­i­nal­ly, John­son — a for­mer COO at Nat­era — says he went to a line­up of VCs to see about or­ga­niz­ing a syn­di­cate for the com­pa­ny, but they re­al­ly didn’t get it. Most are com­plete­ly fo­cused on mon­o­clon­als. Start talk­ing to most peo­ple about poly­clon­als, says John­son, and they as­sume it’s a small, mar­gin­al busi­ness.

“It’s not small,” John­son pa­tient­ly ex­plained to me (a com­plete novice on poly­clon­als). “It’s a huge op­por­tu­ni­ty. $10 bil­lion. Big mar­kets.”

It was the VCs that sug­gest­ed he take the sto­ry to the three big play­ers in the in­dus­try — and that is what worked the charm.

The game plan now is to con­tin­ue the pre­clin­i­cal work un­til it’s ready for hu­man test­ing, not an easy propo­si­tion. In the mean­time, John­son’s team has been busi­ly work­ing on PD-1 and a slate of check­point in­hibitors, fig­ur­ing that he can line up some new can­di­dates as the play­ers in that hec­tic mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body busi­ness com­pete in field­ing new prod­ucts. And they’re spin­ning out some T cell work in­to a new com­pa­ny as well.

That’s a lot for a small com­pa­ny with 10 staffers. A year from now, says John­son, he ex­pects the team to grow to 15 to 20, with a new fa­cil­i­ty to work out of. With Gri­fols part­ner­ing on the re­search, he has some sub­stan­tial funds to work with. And in the mean­time he can con­sid­er his chances on an IPO or some oth­er way to raise cash, along with po­ten­tial part­ner­ships.

Gi­ga­Gen is a small com­pa­ny that just took a big step. And it’s aim­ing at a big tar­get.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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CEO Pascal Soriot via Getty Images

As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.