Baeuer­le-backed Cul­li­nan grows its pipeline of port­fo­lio plays, adopts a new can­cer drug with eye to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment

About 15 months af­ter Cul­li­nan On­col­o­gy de­buted with $150 mil­lion and in­tro­duced its part-fund/part-op­er­at­ing com­pa­ny mod­el for piec­ing to­geth­er a pipeline full of can­cer drugs un­der in­di­vid­ual in­vest­ment ve­hi­cles, the biotech is pub­licly spot­light­ing an ear­ly-stage on­col­o­gy drug that is be­ing adopt­ed af­ter mak­ing the cut.

The biotech struck a deal with Tai­ho Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to take the drug and put it in a ve­hi­cle dubbed Cul­li­nan Pearl, which will op­er­ate un­der the um­brel­la or­ga­ni­za­tion now manned by a lean-and-mean team of 15. Tai­ho in turn gets a chunk of eq­ui­ty and its ven­ture arm is in­vest­ing along­side Cul­li­nan in a launch round for Pearl.

The drug here is TAS6417, an EGFR ty­ro­sine ki­nase in­hibitor, which “spares wild type EGFR.” The think­ing is that fea­ture will help the team amp up the po­ten­cy of the drug to dis­tin­guish it from the rest of the drugs in the same field.

Owen Hugh­es

“We are a means to an end,” says Owen Hugh­es, the CEO at Cul­li­nan. Tai­ho had this one nes­tled in among its ear­ly-stage pipeline projects and is li­cens­ing it out for Cul­li­nan to see if it can beat a fast path through the clin­ic — ei­ther un­veil­ing some re­al val­ue or killing it as a los­er.

Back when I talked to Hugh­es in the fall of 2017 dur­ing the for­mal launch of Cul­li­nan, he out­lined a plan to build a pipeline en­tire­ly out of deals with oth­er com­pa­nies, turn­ing to ven­dors to do a lot of the heavy R&D lift­ing for the sub­sidiaries un­der di­rec­tion from the team. 

Since then, he’s had a first-hand les­son on just how com­pet­i­tive that mar­ket is. He’s al­so killed 2 op­tion deals where they had a shot at some promis­ing pro­grams but couldn’t repli­cate the pre­clin­i­cal re­search work that snagged their at­ten­tion.

Hugh­es, though, has an ace in the hole. Patrick Baeuer­le at MPM is the co-founder, fi­nan­cial backer and CSO of the com­pa­ny. He di­rect­ed the Mi­cromet BiTE plat­form, ac­quired by Am­gen, which com­plet­ed the de­vel­op­ment on the first BiTE. And af­ter help­ing launch a se­ries of biotechs in the can­cer space, he’s al­so been help­ing Cul­li­nan come up with a slate of home-grown drugs to add to the pipeline.

Cul­li­nan now has 8 pro­grams un­der the um­brel­la, in­clud­ing VK-2019, an Ep­stein-Barr Nu­clear Anti­gen 1 in­hibitor dis­cov­ered at The Wis­tar In­sti­tute. Hugh­es and the team set up Cul­li­nan Apol­lo for that drug. You can look for 1 or 2 new deals this year, he adds, as the biotech reach­es the high end of the 6 to 10 projects orig­i­nal­ly planned.

The CEO isn’t get­ting spe­cif­ic on the up­fronts and mile­stones for these ear­ly-stage drugs, which wouldn’t like­ly as­tound any­one in this free-flow­ing en­vi­ron­ment. But he did note that the key to cap­tur­ing these pro­grams has less to do with cash than eq­ui­ty. The part­ners get a com­pa­ny com­mit­ted to hus­tling ahead, and a chunk of eq­ui­ty — gen­er­al­ly 20% or less — that can pay off if they score pay dirt da­ta.

So how is the mon­ey hold­ing out? Hugh­es says they re­cent­ly banked their sec­ond $50 mil­lion tranche to push ahead with deal­mak­ing. The third tranche is wait­ing for them as they con­tin­ue to make progress.

#ES­MO20: As­traZeneca bur­nish­es Tagris­so's ad­ju­vant NSCLC pro­file with 'un­prece­dent­ed' re­duc­tion in brain mets. Can they win over skep­tics?

When AstraZeneca trumpeted “momentous” and “transformative” results for Tagrisso earlier this year at ASCO, some practitioners threw cold water on the ADAURA fervor. Sure, the disease-free survival data look good, but overall survival is the endpoint that matters when it comes to choosing adjuvant therapy for non-small cell lung cancer patients, the experts said.

The OS data still aren’t here, but AstraZeneca is back at ESMO to bolster their case with a look at brain metastasis data.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before boarding Marine One (Getty Images)

Pric­ing deal col­laps­es over Big Phar­ma's re­fusal to is­sue $100 'cash card­s' be­fore the elec­tion — re­port

Late in August, as negotiations on a pricing deal with President Trump reached a boiling point, PhRMA president Stephen Ubl sent an email update to the 34 biopharma chiefs that sit on his board. He wrote that if the industry did not agree to pay for a $100 “cash card” sent to seniors before November, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was going to tell the news media Big Pharma was refusing to “share the savings” with the elderly — and that all of the blame for failed drug pricing negotiations would lie squarely on the industry.

#ES­MO20: Trodelvy da­ta show that Gilead­'s $21B buy­out may have been worth the big pre­mi­um

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has been on a shopping spree. And while some analysts gawked at the biotech’s recent $21 billion Immunomedics buyout, new data released at virtual ESMO 2020 suggest the acquisition may have been worth the hefty price.

The deal, announced last weekend, will give California-based Gilead $GILD Trodelvy, which was recently approved for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (mTNBC).

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Exelixis CEO Michael Morrissey (file photo)

#ES­MO20: Look out Mer­ck. Bris­tol My­ers and Ex­elix­is stake out their com­bo’s claim to best-in-class sta­tus for front­line kid­ney can­cer

Now that the PD-(L)1 checkpoints are deeply entrenched in the oncology market, it’s time to welcome a wave of combination therapies — beyond chemo — looking to extend their benefit to larger numbers of patients. Bristol Myers Squibb ($BMY} and Exelixis {EXEL} are close to the front of that line.

Today at ESMO the collaborators pulled the curtain back on some stellar data for their combination of Opdivo (the PD-1) and Cabometyx (the TKI), marking a significant advance for the blockbuster Bristol Myers franchise while offering a big leg up for the team at Exelixis.

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Seat­tle Ge­net­ic­s' Astel­las-part­nered ADC nails con­fir­ma­to­ry PhI­II in urothe­lial can­cer

Nine months after Seattle Genetics nabbed an accelerated approval for its Astellas-partnered antibody-drug conjugate Padcev, the partners said the therapy has nailed a confirmatory Phase III, proving its worth in locally advanced or metastatic urothelial cancer.

Padcev, which has widely been tapped as a potential blockbuster, scored improvements in both overall survival and progression-free survival compared to chemotherapy, causing a 30% reduction in risk of death (p = 0.001) and 39% reduction in risk of disease progression or death (p<0.00001).

#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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