Alex Howarth via Lycera

As it shops for new deals, Akcea hires for­mer GSK ex­ec as COO

In an un­ex­pect­ed twist in Sep­tem­ber, a tri­fec­ta of se­nior ex­ec­u­tives run­ning Akcea — CEO Paula Soteropou­los, pres­i­dent Sarah Boyce and COO Jef­frey Gold­berg — left the Boston drug­mak­er in one fell swoop.

Damien McDe­vitt

The board of the Io­n­is ma­jor­i­ty-owned spin­off swooped in to place Damien McDe­vitt — the chief busi­ness of­fi­cer of the Cal­i­for­nia com­pa­ny — in the in­ter­im chief spot. He will now be joined by Alex Howarth who will take on the role of COO.

When the un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous de­par­tures were an­nounced ear­li­er this year, no ex­pla­na­tion was ini­tial­ly pro­vid­ed by the com­pa­ny. Even­tu­al­ly, it emerged that the ex­its were un­re­lat­ed to the launch­es of Akcea’s two drugs, Tegse­di and Waylivra, but were in fact dri­ven by the need to go shop­ping for deals to ex­pand its ar­se­nal of drugs-in-de­vel­op­ment as the next big tri­al read­outs are on­ly ex­pect­ed by 2021.

Howarth, who will take charge of cor­po­rate strat­e­gy, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, man­age­ment of stake­hold­er al­liances, le­gal and com­pli­ance, has a re­sumé that suits the evolv­ing strate­gic goals of Akcea.

He spent over ten years at GSK in a va­ri­ety of roles, in­clud­ing lead­ing GSK Ven­ture Part­ner­ships. He has al­so pre­vi­ous­ly worked at the ac­count­ing firm KP­MG, and is qual­i­fied as a char­tered ac­coun­tant and holds an hon­ors de­gree in bio­chem­istry.

Kyle Jenne Akcea

Un­der the re­vamped man­age­ment team, which al­so in­cludes the pro­mo­tion of Akcea’s chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer Kyle Jenne, Akcea and Io­n­is clinched a col­lab­o­ra­tion with phar­ma gi­ant Pfiz­er. In Oc­to­ber, Akcea and Io­n­is signed the deal, which gave them $250 mil­lion up­front, and up to $1.3 bil­lion in mile­stone pay­ments, in ad­di­tion to dou­ble-dig­it roy­al­ties for their car­diometa­bol­ic drug, AKCEA-ANGPTL3-LRx.

Akcea re­mains broad­ly fo­cused on rare dis­ease med­i­cines and oth­er ther­a­pies which com­ple­ment their in­fra­struc­ture/ex­pe­ri­ence. What’s clear, in our view, is that Akcea‘s new man­age­ment team is mo­ti­vat­ed to ex­pand the pipeline from here,” Stifel’s Paul Mat­teis wrote in a note last month.

The com­pa­ny — fo­cused on rare dis­eases — is de­vel­op­ing a range of an­ti­sense drugs, which are en­gi­neered to in­ter­rupt the pro­duc­tion of dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins by tar­get­ing the spe­cif­ic cor­re­spond­ing mes­sen­ger RNA (mR­NA) that en­codes that pro­tein, there­by ma­nip­u­lat­ing pro­tein pro­duc­tion.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.