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.

Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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Hal Barron [File photo]

Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Alk­er­mes adds bipo­lar I dis­or­der to its FDA wish­list; Con­go con­firms first Ebo­la case in large city

→ An ever-ambitious Alkermes $ALKS team plans to add bipolar I disorder to its list of conditions for ALKS-3831, which it plans to pitch to the FDA in Q4. Alkermes says they were persuaded to add bipolar I disorder after a pre-NDA meeting with the agency, which came about 7 months after the biotech reported positive data for schizophrenia. The drug is a combo using olanzapine/samidorphan, which they hope will be shown to be as effective as olanzapine without the substantial increase in the risk of weight gain.

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah raise a $300M fund de­vot­ed to biotech star­tups

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah have another $300 million-plus to play with on the biotech venture side of their investment business. 

The two announced Monday morning that they’ve put together their first pure-play venture fund at RA Capital Management, which has been known to bet on just about every angle in healthcare investing — from rounds to follow-on investments at public companies. This new fund of theirs arrives well into a go-go era of new startup financing, with a particular focus on building new biotechs.

Boehringer buys Swiss biotech in its lat­est M&A deal, go­ing the next-gen can­cer vac­cine route

Boehringer Ingelheim has snapped up a Swiss biotech startup and added their group as a new platform for the oncology pipeline. 

The German biopharma company has bagged Geneva-based AMAL Therapeutics, paying out an unspecified upfront in a $358 million deal — cash, milestones and everything else, all in. Plus there’s 100 million euros on the line for commercial milestones.

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Ab­b­Vie beefs up the on­col­o­gy pipeline, bag­ging an up­start STING play­er with its own unique ap­proach

AbbVie isn’t letting its $63 billion buyout of Allergan stop its M&A/deals team from continuing their work.

Monday morning we learned that the pharma giant is snapping up tiny Mavupharma out of Seattle, a Frazier-backed startup that has its own unique take on STING — which is on the threshold of their first clinical trial.

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Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Billing itself as the first AI biotech with programs in the clinic, Salt Lake City-based Recursion now has a $121 million bankroll to start gathering human data to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re trying to build this discovery engine,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two programs in the clinic.” And that, he adds, qualifies as a first for any AI establishment “that actually have something in the clinic.”

FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.