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.

UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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J&J's block­buster Ste­lara wins US ap­proval for ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis

J&J’s Stelara, which is set to be in the top ten list of blockbusters come 2025, is now cleared by the FDA for use in ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory disease of the large intestine.

The biologic targets interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-23 cytokines, which are known to play a key role in inflammatory and immune responses. Stelara, which generated about $4.7 billion in the first nine months of 2019, is a key player in the crowded marketplace of drugs to treat autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. AbbVie’s star therapy, Humira, continues to dominate, despite its looming patent cliff in the United States, while others including J&J’s $JNJ own anti-IL23 Tremfya, Lilly’s $LLY anti-IL-17 Taltz and AbbVie’s $ABBV recently approved anti-IL-23 antibody Skyrizi carve out a slice of market share.

Drug com­pa­nies reach $260M set­tle­ment just ahead of opi­oid tri­al; Oys­ter Point set terms for $85M IPO

→ Hours before the first federal opioid trial was set to begin, three drug distributors and an opioid manufacturer agreed to a $260 million agreement settlement, the Wall Street Journal was the first to report. The deal — which will see McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen pay $215 million to Summit and Cuyahoga counties, and Teva deal out $35 million in cash and addiction treatments — does not resolve the pending, nationwide litigation that may result in a settlement worth upwards of $40 billion. Negotiators in that case, brought by 2,300 tribes, counties and cities nationwide and led by several states’ attorneys general, worked through much of Friday without success. Josh Stein, the attorney general for North Carolina, said they were trying to put together a $48 billion deal.

GSK of­floads two vac­cines in $1.1B deal as it works to re­vive the pipeline

GlaxoSmithKline is leaving the deep dark woods and its viruses behind.

GSK has agreed to divest its vaccines for rabies, RabAvert, and tick-born encephalitis vaccine, Encepur, to Bavarian Nordic, part of the company’s broader efforts to narrow its pipeline and focus on oncology and immunology.

The deal is worth up to nearly $1.1 billion, with a $336 million upfront payment. GSK acquired the vaccines from Novartis as part of an exchange for their late-stage oncology programs in 2015 under former chief Sir Andrew Witty.

IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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Pfiz­er gets some en­cour­ag­ing PhI­II news on a fran­chise sav­ior, but is a dos­ing ad­van­tage worth the $295M up­front?

Close to 3 years after Opko tried to defend itself as shares tumbled on the news that its long-acting growth hormone had failed to outperform a placebo, the Pfizer partner $PFE is back. And this time they’re pitching Phase III data that demonstrate their drug is non-inferior — or maybe a tad better — than their well-known but fading standard in the field.
The comparator drug here is Genotropin, which earned a marginal $142 million for Pfizer last year — down 9% from the year before. Approved 24 years ago, biosimilars are now in development that Pfizer would like to stay out in front of. The market leader here is Norditropin, a growth hormone from Novo Nordisk that uses the same basic ingredient as Genotropin, which the Danish company sells with a kid-friendly self-injectable pen. That would also present some big competition if the new therapy from Opko/Pfizer makes it to the market.
The new data, says researchers, underscore that a weekly injection of somatrogon performed as well or slightly better than Genotropin (somatropin) in young children with growth hormone deficiency. Investigators tracked height velocity at 10.12 cm/year, edging out the older drug’s 9.78 cm/year. That 0.33 difference may not prove compelling to payers, though, who have been known to overlook dosing advantages in favor of lower costs.
That message may have weighed on the stock reaction this morning, with a 30%-plus hike $OPK giving way to more marginal gains.
Back in late 2016, Opko had to defend itself against a devastating Phase III setback as their initial late-stage trial failed against a sugar pill. Opko later blamed that setback on outliers in the study, though it wasn’t able to expunge the failure.

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As­traZeneca's Farx­i­ga scores FDA nod to cut risk of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion for heart fail­ure in di­a­bet­ics

While the FDA recently spurned an application to allow AstraZeneca’s blockbuster drug Farxiga for type 1 diabetes that cannot be controlled by insulin, citing safety concerns — the US regulator has endorsed the use of the SGLT2 treatment to reduce the risk of hospitalisation for heart failure in patients with type-2 diabetes and established cardiovascular disease or multiple CV risk factors.

Sofinno­va-backed Abi­vax touts longer term mid-stage da­ta in ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis

Two months after Abivax convinced Sofinnova to bankroll several mid-stage studies of its lead drug — ABX464 — with a €12 million stock purchase, the Paris-based biotech has rolled out more data on the anti-inflammatory molecule for all investors to see.

In a Phase IIa maintenance study involving 22 patients with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis who have been failed by previous treatments, 12 achieved clinical remission as assessed by endoscopy. But since only 19 completed the full one-year trial, 16 of whom had an endoscopy, investigators scored the remission rate at 75%. Although there’s no comparator arm, execs were pleased with improvements over an initial two-month, placebo-controlled induction phase by a number of measures ranging from remission to Mayo score and a fecal biomarker.

Alex­ion clinch­es aHUS ap­proval for Ul­tomiris as the clock ticks on Soliris con­ver­sion

Alexion has racked up a second approval for Ultomiris, the successor therapy to Soliris, as its mainstay blockbuster therapy faces a patent review process that could drastically shorten its patent exclusivity.

The FDA OK for atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS) on Friday was widely expected after Alexion posted a full slate of positive Phase III data in January. But regulators also flagged concerns about serious meningococcal infections, slapping a black box warning on the label and mandating a REMS.