Ane­mia spe­cial­ist Ake­bia merges with Keryx on the eve of a block­buster brawl with Fi­bro­Gen

Ake­bia is go­ing in­to its head-to-head late-stage fight with Fi­bro­Gen with a lit­tle more fire­pow­er.

Two months af­ter Keryx $KERX CEO Gre­go­ry Madi­son abrupt­ly re­signed and left the com­pa­ny, the biotech has fol­lowed through to­day by agree­ing to a merg­er with Ake­bia $AK­BA, a biotech with a close­ly-watched ane­mia drug in late-stage de­vel­op­ment.

John But­ler

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The com­bi­na­tion of the two com­pa­nies will bring to­geth­er two drugs de­signed for pa­tients with chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease. Keryx mar­kets Au­ryx­ia, which ac­count­ed for the li­on’s share of about $22 mil­lion in Q1 rev­enue. That drug is used to fight iron de­fi­cien­cy ane­mia in pa­tients with chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease.

The deal didn’t add up for in­vestors, though. Both biotechs’ shares were down about 25% in mid-day trad­ing.

That down­turn may have had some­thing to do with Ake­bia’s up­date on its de­vel­op­ment time­line, with cru­cial da­ta now not ex­pect­ed un­til 2020. In the view of Jef­feries’ Michael Yee (in Fi­bro­Gen’s camp):

AK­BA has de­layed the Phase III da­ta to 2020, putting the merged com­pa­ny 1-2 years be­hind FGEN, in our view.

Ake­bia, mean­while, has been lin­ing up a slate of glob­al part­ner­ships in an­tic­i­pa­tion of even­tu­al­ly mar­ket­ing vadadu­s­tat to treat ane­mia in CKD pa­tients. But an­a­lysts ex­pect they’ll have a bat­tle on their hands, with many giv­ing the ad­van­tage to Fi­bro­Gen, which start­ed the day with a mar­ket cap 10 times what Ake­bia had.

Greg Madi­son

Just a few weeks ago Fi­bro­Gen and its part­ners at Astel­las re­port­ed that their 4th Phase III study of the ri­val rox­adu­s­tat in Japan had end­ed with pos­i­tive re­sults. And Fi­bro­Gen is well in­to Phase III in the US as well.

Keryx and Ake­bia, mean­while, say that af­ter the merg­er the biotech should be worth $1.3 bil­lion. Keryx share­hold­ers will wind up with a slight ma­jor­i­ty of the new shares while Ake­bia CEO John But­ler will stay at the helm. Keryx will name the chair­man and the com­pa­ny will be called Ake­bia.

All that prob­a­bly ex­plains a lot about Madi­son’s de­par­ture.

But­ler ex­plained his strat­e­gy:

The strate­gic and fi­nan­cial dri­vers of this merg­er are com­pelling. The com­bined com­pa­ny will have an ex­pand­ed and high­ly com­ple­men­tary nephrol­o­gy port­fo­lio, with Au­ryx­ia, a prod­uct with sig­nif­i­cant growth op­por­tu­ni­ty, and vadadu­s­tat, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al late-stage HIF-PHI that has the po­ten­tial to pro­vide a new oral stan­dard of care to pa­tients with ane­mia due to CKD. Com­bin­ing Ake­bia and Keryx cre­ates a lead­ing re­nal com­pa­ny and pro­vides it with the in­fra­struc­ture to max­i­mize the mar­ket po­ten­tial of Au­ryx­ia and build launch mo­men­tum for vadadu­s­tat in the Unit­ed States, sub­ject to FDA ap­proval.

Aerial view of Genentech's campus in South San Francisco [Credit: Getty]

Genen­tech sub­mits a big plan to ex­pand its South San Fran­cis­co foot­print

The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City. 

The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.

Here comes the oral GLP-1 drug for di­a­betes — but No­vo Nordisk is­n't dis­clos­ing Ry­bel­sus price just yet

Novo Nordisk’s priority review voucher on oral semaglutide has paid off. The FDA approval for the GLP-1 drug hit late Friday morning, around six months after the NDA filing.

Rybelsus will be the first GLP-1 pill to enter the type 2 diabetes market — a compelling offering that analysts have pegged as a blockbuster drug with sales estimates ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion.

Ozempic, the once-weekly injectable formulation of semaglutide, brought in around $552 million (DKK 3.75 billion) in the first half of 2019.

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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Oxitec biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in Piracicaba, Brazil in 2016 [credit: Getty Images]

In­trex­on unit push­es back against claims its GM mos­qui­toes are mak­ing dis­ease-friend­ly mu­tants

When the hysteria of Zika transmission sprang into the American zeitgeist a few years ago, UK-based Oxitec was already field-testing its male Aedes aegypti mosquito, crafted to possess a gene engineered to obliterate its progeny long before maturation.

But when a group of independent scientists evaluated the impact of the release of these genetically-modified mosquitoes in a trial conducted by Oxitec in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, they found that some of the offspring had managed to survive — prompting them to speculate what impact the survivors could have on disease transmission and/or insecticide resistance.

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Pur­due threat­ens to walk away from set­tle­ment, asks to pay em­ploy­ees mil­lions in bonus­es

There are two updates on the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, as the Sackler family threatens to walk away from their pledge to pay out $3 billion if a bankruptcy judge does not stop outstanding state lawsuits against them. At the same time, the company has asked permission to pay millions in bonuses to select employees.

Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week as part of its signed resolution to over 2,000 lawsuits. The deal would see the Sackler family that owns Purdue give $3 billion from their personal wealth and the company turned into a trust committed to curbing and reversing overdoses.

While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

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Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.