As­traZeneca spins out 6 drugs and an R&D group in­to Viela Bio, which emerges with a piv­otal pro­gram and $250M

As­traZeneca $AZN has culled its pipeline of pre­clin­i­cal through mid-stage an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry/au­toim­mune drugs at its big Med­Im­mune sub­sidiary in Gaithers­burg, MD and spun out six pro­grams in­to a new start­up called Viela Bio.

Viela springs in­to ex­is­tence to­day with the sup­port of a group of three mar­quee Chi­nese in­vestors who have put up $250 mil­lion to get the com­pa­ny es­tab­lished and keep all its pro­grams mov­ing for­ward un­in­ter­rupt­ed. And As­traZeneca is re­tain­ing the largest sin­gle mi­nor­i­ty stake in the com­pa­ny as it bids farewell to a group of in­ves­ti­ga­tors who have di­rect­ed this work in­side Med­Im­mune for years.

Bing Yao, the head of Med­Im­mune’s Res­pi­ra­to­ry, In­flam­ma­tion & Au­toim­mu­ni­ty In­no­v­a­tive Med­i­cines unit, is tak­ing the helm as CEO. An­oth­er As­traZeneca vet in the RIA unit, Jorn Drap­pa, will be the new chief med­ical of­fi­cer and R&D chief.

Bahi­ja Jal­lal

Yao told me in a pre­view of to­day’s an­nounce­ment that they’re still in the process of re­view­ing who at Med­Im­mune will come along. But Med­Im­mune chief Bahi­ja Jal­lal — who em­pha­sized the phar­ma gi­ant’s com­mit­ment to as­sist­ing the biotech ecosys­tem in Mary­land — says there will be no lay­offs, with some mak­ing the jump to Viela and the rest of the peo­ple at­tached to these pro­grams be­ing as­signed to oth­er projects.

“We al­ways run lean here,” says Jal­lal, so there’s no short­age of work for those who re­main. The de­part­ing group have plen­ty on their plate as well.

“It’s a rich pipeline,” says Yao, cit­ing a lead drug — inebi­lizum­ab — that’s in a po­ten­tial­ly reg­is­tra­tional Phase IIb study for a rare con­di­tion called neu­romyelitis op­ti­ca. Both the FDA and the EMA have en­dorsed the work with or­phan drug sta­tus. The oth­er two clin­i­cal pro­grams are ME­DI4920, an an­ti-CD40L-Tn3 fu­sion pro­tein for an in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tion called pri­ma­ry Sjö­gren’s syn­drome, and ME­DI7734 for myosi­tis.

The con­sor­tium of in­vestors in­cludes Boyu Cap­i­tal, 6 Di­men­sions Cap­i­tal and Hill­house Cap­i­tal, which all met Yao’s cri­te­ria: Deep pock­ets, a longterm view of things and a big ap­petite for biotech. Boyu is an in­flu­en­tial pri­vate eq­ui­ty group that al­so backed Greg Ver­dine’s LifeM­ine. And Wuxi Health­care Ven­tures threw in with Front­line BioVen­tures to cre­ate 6 Di­men­sions in a merg­er last year.

In the long run, says the new­ly mint­ed CEO, these are the kind of back­ers that will help build a staff of 100 over the next few years, while al­so as­sist­ing as Viela be­gins the ear­ly work of scout­ing the com­mer­cial prospects of its lead ther­a­py. Viela, he says, can go all the way in be­com­ing a ful­ly in­te­grat­ed biotech com­pa­ny.

As­traZeneca has been shed­ding as­sets for years now as it con­cen­trates its R&D cash around three key fields: On­col­o­gy first and fore­most fol­lowed by car­dio/meta­bol­ics and res­pi­ra­to­ry. The clin­i­cal stage drugs be­ing spun out to­day have been list­ed with the re­main­der of the neu­ro­sciences pro­grams as the “oth­er” cat­e­go­ry of work be­ing done at As­traZeneca, and ex­ecs em­pha­sized that they’re re­tain­ing the Phase III lu­pus drug an­i­frol­um­ab, where they have high hopes of suc­cess.

A spin­out like this, says Jal­lal, is a nat­ur­al re­sult when you have a rich pipeline like As­traZeneca’s, where there are more drugs to de­vel­op than it can han­dle alone.

 

 

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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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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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.