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.

 

 

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Am­gen, Al­ler­gan biosim­i­lar of Roche's block­buster Rit­ux­an clears an­oth­er US piv­otal study 

Novartis $NVS may have given up, but Amgen $AMGN and Allergan $AGN are plowing ahead with their knockoff of Roche’s blockbuster biologic Rituxan in the United States.

Their copycat, ABP 798, was found to have a clinically equivalent impact as Rituxan — meeting the main goal of the study involving CD20-positive B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients. This is the second trial supporting the profile of the biosimilar. In January, it came through with positive PK results in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

BeiGene and Mus­tang nail down spe­cial FDA sta­tus for top drugs; Roche bags added cov­er­age for Hem­li­bra

→ BeiGene $BGNE is getting a boost in its drive to field a rival to Imbruvica. The FDA has offered an accelerated review to zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor that has posted positive results for mantle cell lymphoma. The PDUFA date lands on February 27, 2020. The drug scored breakthrough status at the beginning of the year.

→ BeiGene isn’t the only biopharma company to gain special regulatory status today. Mustang Bio $MBIO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced that MB-107, a lentiviral gene therapy for the treatment of X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as bubble boy disease, has been granted Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy status.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vives bid to get drug list prices on TV ads

The Trump administration is not giving up just yet. On Wednesday, the HHS filed an appeal against a judge’s decision in July to overturn a ruling obligating drug manufacturers to disclose the list price of their therapies in television adverts — hours before it was stipulated to go into effect.

In May, the HHS published a final ruling requiring drugmakers to divulge the wholesale acquisition cost— of a 30-day supply of the drug — in tv ads in a bid to enhance price transparency in the United States. The pharmaceutical industry has vehemently opposed the rule, asserting that list prices are not what a typical patient in the United States pays for treatment — that number is typically determined by the type of (or lack thereof) insurance coverage, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Although there is truth to that claim, the move was considered symbolic in the Trump administration’s healthcare agenda to hold drugmakers accountable in a climate where skyrocketing drug prices have incensed Americans on both sides of the aisle.

Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll