Arie Bellde­grun rais­es $300M, grabs Pfiz­er’s al­lo­gene­ic CAR-T port­fo­lio and launch­es a ground­break­ing dri­ve to com­mer­cial­iza­tion

Af­ter pi­o­neer­ing one of the first per­son­al­ized CAR-T ther­a­pies to be ap­proved by the FDA, Kite vets Arie Bellde­grun and re­search chief David Chang have now launched a new biotech with a whop­ping $300 mil­lion in cash fi­nanc­ing and a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cel­lec­tis af­ter bag­ging the full port­fo­lio of off-the-shelf CAR-T drugs in de­vel­op­ment at Pfiz­er.

Bellde­grun — who came away with a for­tune of more than $600 mil­lion from the sale of the biotech to Gilead — tells me he gained swift back­ing from a broad syn­di­cate to cre­ate Al­lo­gene Ther­a­peu­tics. And they’re jump­ing out of stage left with a deal that gives them con­trol of Pfiz­er’s CAR-T port­fo­lio, which in­cludes rights to the ear­ly-stage UCART19 al­lied with Paris-backed Cel­lec­tis.

In ex­change, Pfiz­er is get­ting a 25% stake in Al­lo­gene, which im­me­di­ate­ly vaults from out of nowhere in­to a lead­ing po­si­tion among de­vel­op­ers of off-the-shelf CAR-T ther­a­pies, look­ing to leapfrog the first gen­er­a­tion of per­son­al­ized CAR-Ts that use reengi­neered pa­tient cells.

“We have every one of the in­ter­est­ing tar­gets that I’m aware of,” says Bellde­grun, the new­ly mint­ed ex­ec­u­tive chair­man at Al­lo­gene, with Chang tak­ing the CEO job. And they’re ready to get to work with Cel­lec­tis, Servi­er and every­one else en­gaged in the “Man­hat­tan project” of bring­ing the first al­lo­gene­ic CAR-T to mar­ket.

“This is the biggest project,” Bellde­grun says. “This is where cel­lu­lar ther­a­py will find its way.”

David Chang

Bellde­grun and Chang told me in a pre­view of the an­nounce­ment Mon­day evening that the deal be­gan to come to­geth­er the night they were cel­e­brat­ing the close of the Kite sale, when one of the bankers in­volved told them about a po­ten­tial deal he knew of.

In­stead of a leisure­ly va­ca­tion break, what fol­lowed was 5 months of in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions, in which Bellde­grun got a close, up­front look at the 16 tar­gets that a team of 70 Pfiz­er in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been work­ing on for the past 4 years, along with UCART19, the 17th pro­gram in the deal.

“I looked at the da­ta and said ‘David, we need to do this, it’s a gold mine.’ It’s a deal I couldn’t refuse,” says Bellde­grun. “We know it’s the fu­ture.”

In­stead of a lengthy and ex­pen­sive per­son­al­ized au­tol­o­gous ap­proach that re­quires the ex­trac­tion and reengi­neer­ing of pa­tient cells in­to a po­tent ther­a­py that has proved par­tic­u­lar­ly ef­fec­tive in blood can­cers, Bellde­grun will now look to per­fect a gene edit­ing process that can de­vel­op 50 to 100 ther­a­peu­tic batch­es from a sin­gle donor. If it works, it will be cheap­er and faster than the first CAR-Ts, Yescar­ta and Kym­ri­ah.

This was a deal that in­volved “mul­ti­ple” bid­ders, says Bellde­grun, will­ing to pay a sig­nif­i­cant amount to buy in. But he says he and Chang were able to put to­geth­er the win­ning of­fer by keep­ing Pfiz­er close­ly en­gaged in the start­up and a clin­i­cal dri­ve that could get them to the thresh­old of com­mer­cial­iza­tion in just a few years.

With back­ers deeply im­pressed by their $12 bil­lion sale of Kite to Gilead, Bellde­grun and Chang are work­ing with in­vest­ments from TPG, Vi­da Ven­tures, Bell­Co Cap­i­tal, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Of­fice of the Chief In­vest­ment Of­fi­cer and Pfiz­er.

The pair of en­tre­pre­neurs are get­ting a team of about 50 Pfiz­er in­ves­ti­ga­tors to trans­fer over in the deal, tak­ing over Pfiz­er space for now in South San Fran­cis­co as they scout their own new digs. And Bellde­grun says they have al­ready lined up a string of “top notch” play­ers to join the com­pa­ny. 

You can ex­pect the pay­roll to dou­ble in the next year, he adds.

An­dré Chouli­ka

The deal teams Bellde­grun and Chang with Cel­lec­tis CEO An­dré Chouli­ka, the French biotech ex­ec who’s been steer­ing the first off-the-shelf CAR-T in­to hu­man stud­ies. Servi­er and Pfiz­er launched a land­mark tri­al of Cel­lec­tis’ UCART19 for acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia, get­ting the green light to ex­pand from the UK in­to US sites a year ago.

I ran in­to Chouli­ka at an an­a­lysts meet­ing Bellde­grun or­ga­nized for Kite in New York a cou­ple of years ago. It struck me as odd see­ing the al­lo­gene­ic leader at the ri­val au­tol­o­gous gath­er­ing, but Chouli­ka tells me it was part of a long re­la­tion­ship that has con­verged in­to this new deal.

“Arie and my­self have been talk­ing for a long time,” Chouli­ka told me. The mu­tu­al re­spect they de­vel­oped, he says, com­bined with Kite’s ster­ling rep for ex­e­cu­tion, helped bring it all to­geth­er.

“I was con­vinced that Kite would be the win­ner in the au­tol­o­gous space,” says Chouli­ka. And he thinks the new team at Al­lo­gene, com­bined with Cel­lec­tis’ know-how on gene edit­ing, will ac­cel­er­ate the work on their lead ther­a­py, with a shot at com­mer­cial­iza­tion work in late 2021 or ’22.

The tech­nol­o­gy may be still ap­pear to be quite ear­ly, but Bellde­grun paints a pic­ture of glob­al in­vestors ea­ger to get in now. 

The $300 mil­lion came to­geth­er in a mat­ter of weeks, says Bellde­grun, who adds that it would have been easy to raise twice that amount. For now, he’s not short of cash — and he says he and Chang al­so put their own mon­ey in­to the deal. As they go for­ward, con­sid­er­ing the need to build their own ded­i­cat­ed man­u­fac­tur­ing, he ex­pects they’ll be able to raise more cash as need­ed.

So why not take the mon­ey from the Kite deal and take an ex­tend­ed va­ca­tion?

“I think at the end it’s not mon­ey that dri­ves what we do,” says Chang, who was cleared to leave Kite in Feb­ru­ary af­ter stay­ing on for the tran­si­tion. “It’s re­al­ly the ac­tiv­i­ty that will sat­is­fy you, or some­thing that’s deep down in you.”

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three ma­jor buy­outs an­nounced: Take­da/Shire; Bris­tol-My­ers/Cel­gene and now Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan. And with this lat­est deal it’s in­creas­ing­ly clear that the sharp fall from grace suf­fered by high-pro­file play­ers which have seen their share prices blast­ed has cre­at­ed an open­ing for the growth play­ers in big phar­ma to up their game — in sharp con­trast to the pop­u­lar bolt-on deals that have been dri­ving the growth strat­e­gy at No­var­tis, Mer­ck, Roche and oth­ers.

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UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

SQZ, Ery­tech kick off $57M cell ther­a­py part­ner­ship; Jean-Paul Kress lands new CEO gig at Mor­phoSys

→ In a mar­riage of two tech­nolo­gies meant to make cell ther­a­pies more pow­er­ful, SQZ Biotech is team­ing up with France’s Ery­tech Phar­ma for a col­lab­o­ra­tion, with $57 mil­lion re­served for the first project and $50 mil­lion for each sub­se­quent ap­proval (prod­uct or in­di­ca­tion). Hav­ing ac­cess to Ery­tech’s method of fash­ion­ing ther­a­peu­tics from red blood cells, the Cam­bridge, MA-based com­pa­ny said, will am­pli­fy SQZ’s cell en­gi­neer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and al­low them to de­vleop a new class of im­munomod­u­la­to­ry ther­a­pies. Its own tech — so far ap­plied in can­cer but al­so has po­ten­tial in di­a­betes — tem­po­rary dis­rupts the cell mem­brane by squeez­ing the cell, thus cre­at­ing a brief win­dow for tar­get ma­te­ri­als such as anti­gens to en­ter.

FDA re­jects Ac­er's rare dis­ease drug, asks for new tri­al — shares crater

Ac­er Ther­a­peu­tics’ bid to re­pur­pose celipro­lol — a be­ta-block­er on the mar­ket for hy­per­ten­sion — as a treat­ment for a rare, in­her­it­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der has hit a se­vere set­back. The New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny on Tues­day said the FDA re­ject­ed the drug and has asked for an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $AC­ER cratered near­ly 77% to $4.47 in Tues­day morn­ing trad­ing.

Tasly Bio­phar­ma pitch­es long-await­ed IPO — will it trig­ger an­oth­er $1B gold rush on HKEX?

In the run up to the Hong Kong stock ex­change’s an­tic­i­pat­ed rule change — open­ing the door for Chi­nese pre-rev­enue biotechs to go pub­lic clos­er to home — more than a year ago, Tasly Bio­phar­ma was one of the big play­ers whose ru­mored in­ter­est helped stoke en­thu­si­asm for the new list­ing venue. The com­pa­ny has since kept the drum­roll rum­bling in the back­ground, rais­ing a pre-IPO round and con­vinc­ing part­ner Trans­gene to swap own­er­ship in a joint ven­ture for eq­ui­ty. Now the oth­er shoe has fi­nal­ly dropped as ex­ecs out­line plans for a pipeline dom­i­nat­ed by car­dio­vas­cu­lar drugs.

With 4 more biotech IPOs due to wrap up Q2, how is the class of 2019 far­ing?

With 22 biotech IPOs on the books and four more set to price in the last week of June, in­vest­ment ad­vis­er Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal has tak­en the pulse of the re­cent rush.

By the IPO ex­perts’ count, 25 out of 32 health­care of­fer­ings this year have been from biotechs — dif­fer­ing slight­ly from Brad Lon­car’s tal­ly — and the over­all pic­ture is one of un­der­per­for­mance. While they av­er­aged a first-day re­turn of 9.0%, col­lec­tive­ly they have trad­ed down to a 5.9% re­turn. Turn­ing Point $TP­TX and Cor­texyme $CRTX emerged on top at the half-year mark, ris­ing 135% and 109% re­spec­tive­ly.

Eye­ing a $500M peak sales pot, Almi­rall dou­bles down on le­brik­izum­ab as Der­mi­ra lines up PhI­II

With eyes on what it be­lieves is a $500 mil­lion peak rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ty in Eu­rope, Barcelona-based Almi­rall has stepped up with $50 mil­lion in cash to take up the op­tion on Der­mi­ra’s IL-13 an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug le­brik­izum­ab just ahead of the start of Phase III. And there’s an­oth­er $30 mil­lion due as the late-stage pro­gram gets geared up.

That shouldn’t be long from now, as Der­mi­ra ex­pects to be­gin the late-stage tri­al work for atopic der­mati­tis be­fore the end of this year as it fol­lows a trail that ex­ecs in­sist leads to block­buster re­turns. Along the way, they’ll need to take on the 600-pound go­ril­la in atopic der­mati­tis: the IL-13/IL-4 drug Dupix­ent, from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. Ri­vals al­so in­clude Leo Phar­ma, in its piv­otal with tralok­izum­ab, and Anap­tys­Bio in the hunt with a mid-stage pro­gram for etokimab, pre­vi­ous­ly re­ferred to as ANB020.