As­traZeneca chair­man re­peats their po­si­tion on in­vest­ing in UK dur­ing Brex­it talks, trig­ger­ing fresh fears

LON­DON — With a loom­ing ex­it from the EU com­ing up, it’s not hard for any com­pa­ny to spur in­tense anx­i­ety in the UK right now.

To­day, re­marks from a top As­traZeneca ex­ec in the French news­pa­per Le Monde that the phar­ma gi­ant was halt­ing fur­ther in­vest­ment in the coun­try caught the at­ten­tion of the coun­try. 

“If a tran­si­tion deal does not make clear what will hap­pen in the fu­ture, we will main­tain our de­ci­sion not to in­vest,” Leif Jo­hans­son, non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, told the French pub­li­ca­tion. “A Brex­it agree­ment will need to en­sure that Britain does not be­come an iso­lat­ed is­land in the mid­dle of the At­lantic Ocean.”

This de­serves some ex­pla­na­tion. 

Pas­cal So­ri­ot

The phar­ma gi­ant said last year that it would not be in­vest­ing fur­ther in drug man­u­fac­tur­ing un­til the coun­try sort­ed out the man­ner of its de­par­ture from the EU. But with Brex­it loom­ing ear­ly next year, there’s still no deal and plen­ty of fret­ting over the con­se­quences of an abrupt split.

As­traZeneca al­ready roiled the wa­ters with its re­cent de­ci­sion to be­gin stock­pil­ing drugs in the UK to over­come any prob­lems with im­port­ing or ex­port­ing drugs. And CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot, who vowed to main­tain R&D in the coun­try af­ter Pfiz­er came call­ing with an un­want­ed takeover bid, has been bear­ish on Brex­it.

“It doesn’t af­fect our plans on R&D,” or the new head­quar­ters still un­der con­struc­tion in Cam­bridge, says a spokesper­son for the com­pa­ny about its in­vest­ment strat­e­gy. But he adds that these are “tricky times” with ne­go­ti­a­tions over Brex­it go­ing on and off.

Opin­ions on Brex­it in­side the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try tend to run the full gamut, some­thing that was on dis­play dur­ing my week­long trip here. Some are sup­port­ive of the vote to leave and dis­mis­sive to any threats of dis­rup­tion while oth­ers raise con­cerns that top tal­ent will be less like­ly to want to come to a more iso­lat­ed UK with few­er job op­por­tu­ni­ties for im­mi­grant fam­i­lies. 

More vot­ers, though, are con­cerned that Brex­it could prove cost­ly to the econ­o­my, as op­posed to help­ful. And as long as com­pa­nies like As­traZeneca are pub­licly dis­cussing hold­ing back fur­ther in­vest­ments, those fears can on­ly take deep­er root.

Im­age: Leif Jo­hans­son. AS­TRAZENECA

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.