George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scan­gos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 mil­lion pen­nies short.

Scan­gos’ vaunt­ed start­up Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy raised $143 mil­lion in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 mil­lion. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 tar­get.

Launched with back­ing from ARCH Ven­ture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s Soft­Bank Vi­sion Fund, and the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, the in­fec­tious dis­ease start­up was one of a new wave of well-re­sourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough cof­fers to pur­sue a full R&D line rather than slow­ly build their case by pick­ing off a sin­gle lead pro­gram.

By the time they were a year old, they had bagged $500 mil­lion in fi­nanc­ing and four aca­d­e­m­ic part­ner­ships,  agreed to two sep­a­rate deals worth more than $1 bil­lion apiece in po­ten­tial mile­stones, and land­ed a promi­nent ex-Bio­gen chief in Scan­gos as CEO.  They had lofty goals to match, aim­ing at such mar­quee and elu­sive dis­eases as HIV and hep B and tout­ing a feel-good “glob­al” busi­ness mod­el by which they would sell their drugs in coun­tries that could pay and let the Gates Foun­da­tion dis­trib­ute them in coun­tries that couldn’t.

The IPO promised in­vestors a peek in­to the de­tails and progress on those deals, while giv­ing Vir cash to fu­el their clin­i­cal tri­als.

Ev­i­dent­ly, the in­vestors were slight­ly un­der­whelmed.

The S-1 shows Vir had burned through $256 mil­lion and had $356.5 mil­lion on hand as of June. Pro­ceeds from the IPO are in­tend­ed to fund ear­ly tri­als for hep B can­di­dates VIR-2218 and VIR-3434, along with the flu vac­cine VIR-2482.  Fil­ings al­so showed their R&D deal with Al­ny­lam — ini­tial­ly an­nounced un­der its $1 bil­lion-plus max­i­mum pay­out — was worth on­ly $10 mil­lion up­front.

Be­fore the of­fer­ing, Nelsen owned the biggest chunk of the biotech at 27%, fol­lowed by the Soft­Bank Vi­sion Fund at 21%. Vir’s haul adds an­oth­er IPO dis­ap­point­ment for Soft­Bank, al­though it’s a gen­tle one com­pared to the CEO-top­pling We­Work quake. Vir is one of eight biotechs Soft­Bank is in­vest­ed in, in­clud­ing Vivek Ra­maswamy’s Roivant.

Scan­gos came to the com­pa­ny with a high-pro­file but less-than-flaw­less record. Al­though he helped make Tec­fidera a mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis block­buster at Bio­gen, he left the com­pa­ny in 2016 with a thin pipeline.

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Samit Hirawat (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Af­ter bruis­ing re­jec­tion, blue­bird and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb land ide-cel pri­or­i­ty re­view. But will it mat­ter for the CVR?

With the clock all but up, the FDA accepted and handed priority review to Bristol Myers Squibb and bluebird bio’s BCMA CAR-T, keeping a narrow window open for Celgene investors to still cash in on the $9 CVR from the $63 billion Celgene merger.

The acceptance comes five months after the two companies weres slammed with a surprise refuse-to-file that threatened to foreclose the CVR entirely. Today’s acceptance sets the FDA decision date for March 27, 2021 – or precisely 4 days before the CVR deadline of March 31. Given the breakthrough designation and strong pivotal data — 81.5% response rate, 35.2% complete response rate — priority review was largely expected.

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Zai Lab hauls in $761M from Hong Kong IPO to push Ze­ju­la, more bud­ding can­di­dates in Chi­na — re­port

Zai Lab is set to net more than $761 million from its secondary listing in Hong Kong after pricing the IPO at $72.51 (HKD$562) — just a hair below its Nasdaq closing price on Monday, Bloomberg and Nikkei Asian Review reported.

A pioneer in bringing Western drugs to China, co-founder and CEO Samantha Du has more than tripled Zai Lab’s market cap in the three years it’s been public in the US. The HKEX listing is designed to fund R&D and commercialization for the current portfolio while fueling new in-licensing pacts, the biotech wrote in a filing.

Blueprint CEO Jeff Albers (file photo)

Blue­print plots re­turn to FDA with new Ay­vak­it da­ta in rare con­di­tion — and the an­a­lysts cheer

Over a decade after launch, Blueprint Medicines nabbed the first approval for their first drug earlier this year. Now, as they move forward with a Roche-partnered global launch, they’re touting data that could push them into more patients.

The Jeff Albers-led Cambridge biotech released their full pivotal data for Ayvakit in patients with advanced systemic mastocytosis. In one 53-person study, they showed that 76% of patients responded to the drug, 36% had complete responses and that on average their responses lasted for just over 3 years. A smaller, 32-patient study had a 75% response rate and most were still responding after 10.4 months, the last follow-up.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists. HHS con­tin­ues to claim Azar “will de­fer com­plete­ly to the FDA"

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a Covid-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Norbert Bischofberger, Kronos CEO

Three more biotechs look to jump on­to Nas­daq amid IPO boom, in­clud­ing Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er's Kro­nos

Three drug developers announced plans to go public on Friday, a sign that the IPO window for biopharma is wide open.

First up is Daly City, CA-based Spruce Biosciences. They filed for an $86 million IPO to develop their pipeline for classic congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). Currently, only steroids are available to treat the condition, which affects the adrenal glands above the kidneys. Spruce’s tildacerfont, a non-steroidal option, is in a Phase IIb trial in adults with classic CAH and poor disease control. The company expects a topline readout here in the next 12 to 15 months. The small molecule is also in a Phase IIb study in adults with classic CAH and good disease control. Spruce expects topline data here in the first half of 2022.

UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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