Brex­it who? Record in­vest­ment last year fu­els big spike in reg­is­tered UK biotech firms

LON­DON — Af­ter Britain nar­row­ly signed up to leave the Eu­ro­pean Union in June 2016, the prog­no­sis for in­dus­try was pro­ject­ed to be grim. A new analy­sis sug­gests that UK biotech has es­caped that noose — and in­deed flour­ished — over the pe­ri­od that the di­vorce terms were meant to be for­mu­lat­ed.

By an­a­lyz­ing da­ta from the Com­pa­nies House reg­is­ter — a place where in­for­ma­tion about firms reg­is­tered in the UK is made pub­licly avail­able by the gov­ern­ment —  Lon­don-based in­vest­ment man­ag­er Down­ing found that 3,456 ac­tive com­pa­nies are cur­rent­ly in­volved in biotech­nol­o­gy R&D ac­tiv­i­ties, a stag­ger­ing 65% in­crease from 2,095 such firms in the first quar­ter of 2016.

Some 44% of ac­tive biotech­nol­o­gy busi­ness­es have been in­cor­po­rat­ed in the three years since Jan­u­ary 2016 — in­clud­ing 127 in the first two months of 2019, or rough­ly three every work­ing day in Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary, the analy­sis sug­gest­ed.

The surge has been sup­port­ed by record in­vest­ment in UK biotech 2018 — a £2.2 bil­lion in­jec­tion, up  85% from 2017 (with ven­ture cap­i­tal con­tribut­ing to more than half of UK biotech fund­ing: from £681 mil­lion in 2016 to £1.1 bil­lion in 2018), Down­ing said, cit­ing UK BioIn­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion and In­for­ma Phar­ma In­tel­li­gence da­ta.

Al­though pri­vate firms ac­count for the bulk of UK biotech (96% as of Q1 2019), the num­ber of pub­licly list­ed com­pa­nies are al­so grow­ing (from 30 in Q1 2016 to 42 in Q1 2019), Down­ing found.

“So not on­ly are there a lot of new com­pa­nies be­ing es­tab­lished, the fund­ing is grow­ing across ar­eas as well…from 2017, Se­ries A, Se­ries B and post Se­ries B have all in­creased quite dra­mat­i­cal­ly, es­pe­cial­ly at se­ries B and a lat­er stage, which is a sign that the health­care, health tech­nol­o­gy and biotech­nol­o­gy mar­ket (in the UK) is ac­tu­al­ly ma­tur­ing,” said Will Brooks, who di­rects the health­care ac­tiv­i­ties for Down­ing’s ven­ture funds, in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

“The fund­ing has dou­bled for Se­ries A, more than dou­bled for Se­ries B and post Se­ries B…and peo­ple see that the ma­tu­ri­ty of the com­pa­nies is chang­ing — its no longer be­ing led by a huge num­ber of small com­pa­nies strug­gling for cap­i­tal. I think there seems to be more ap­petite for con­tin­u­al fund­ing, and al­so var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ex­it routes, from M&A to the pub­lic mar­ket…I think that cre­ates a con­fi­dence fac­tor in the fi­nan­cial com­mu­ni­ty.”

Brooks sug­gest­ed ge­net­ics-fo­cused firms, dig­i­tal health com­pa­nies and those in­volved in health­care-re­lat­ed da­ta min­ing for screen­ing, drug de­vel­op­ment, and dis­ease eti­ol­o­gy are the ones gar­ner­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est. Along­side, the larg­er phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies are now see­ing more val­ue in ear­ly stage tech­nolo­gies, which is trig­ger­ing M&A, he said.

Ge­net­ics and big da­ta-fo­cused deals are all the rage across both sides of the At­lantic. Apart from the slate of re­cent deals bet­ting on gene ther­a­pies, As­traZeneca has sharp­ened its fo­cus on ge­nomics by pour­ing its R&D re­sources in­to a new cen­ter in part­ner­ship with Can­cer Re­search UK to de­vel­op per­son­al­ized can­cer drugs. Fel­low British drug­mak­er GSK $GSK, has tied up with 23andMe to gain ac­cess to the lat­ter’s data­base — to look for dis­ease rel­e­vant genes. Re­gen­eron $REGN has carved out its own ge­net­ics cen­tre, Am­gen $AMGN is delv­ing deep­er to iden­ti­fy and val­i­date dis­ease tar­gets with its in­vest­ment in Ox­ford Nanopore Tech­nolo­gies and ac­qui­si­tion of de­CODE ge­net­ics, while Ver­tex $VRTX has part­nered with UK-based Ge­nomics plc on their plat­form for ge­net­ics and ma­chine learn­ing.

With a surge in biotech busi­ness and in­vest­ment comes an uptick in hir­ing.

De­mand for work­ers with­in the larg­er UK life sci­ences in­dus­try jumped by 11% last year, ac­cord­ing to da­ta com­piled for the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sion­al Staffing Com­pa­nies (AP­SCo). Clin­i­cal va­can­cies rose the high­est, with an in­crease of 37%, while de­mand for R&D per­son­nel re­mained rel­a­tive­ly flat at 4.6%. Over­all, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firms con­tin­ued to of­fer the li­on’s share of work op­por­tu­ni­ties, al­though CRO job open­ings saw a steep spike of 25.6%.

Sy­neos Health is now the largest sin­gle re­cruiter for sci­en­tif­ic roles in the UK, while IQVIA and GSK are al­so dri­ving sig­nif­i­cant de­mand for tal­ent, with va­can­cies at these firms in­creas­ing by 81% and 14% re­spec­tive­ly, ac­cord­ing to the analy­sis.

Ann Swain

“De­spite un­cer­tain­ty sur­round­ing Brex­it, the strength of the UK phar­ma sec­tor has been thriv­ing over the past year, with clin­i­cal va­can­cies show­ing ex­treme­ly pos­i­tive growth. Glob­al test­ing vol­umes are ris­ing due to an age­ing pop­u­la­tion, sur­plus in man­age­ment of dis­eases, and in­creased ac­cess to care. This rea­son, and the fact that the UK is home to three of the top five uni­ver­si­ties for pre-clin­i­cal, clin­i­cal and health sci­ences, ex­plains why there is such a high de­mand for pro­fes­sion­als in this sec­tor,” AP­SCo chief Ann Swain said in a state­ment.

But a Glob­al­Da­ta sur­vey pub­lished last No­vem­ber in­di­cat­ed damp­en­ing en­thu­si­asm for the sec­tor —  a mere 23% of health­care pro­fes­sion­als sur­veyed across the US, UK, and EU thought that the UK would be an at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion for health­care com­pa­nies to con­duct re­search and man­u­fac­tur­ing fol­low­ing Brex­it.

“The Brex­it ef­fect has not re­al­ly fun­neled through — in terms of fund­ing — for com­pa­nies on the pure­play fi­nan­cial lev­el. Where it may have an im­pact is on the abil­i­ty to ac­cess re­search fund­ing and re­search grants through the Eu­ro­pean fund­ing agen­cies — I think that will have a knock on ef­fect in the fu­ture, but it’s not re­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant just now,” said Brooks.

All things con­sid­ered, the fu­ture for UK biotech looks bright — bar­ring an un­fore­seen macro event, he added.

“For now there’s a de­gree of con­fi­dence in the sec­tor, I think peo­ple are un­der­stand­ing it bet­ter. The biotech mar­ket has now been go­ing for 25-30 years, and I think now you’re get­ting a ma­tu­ri­ty amongst the in­vestors, that they un­der­stand what they’re ac­tu­al­ly do­ing. More flex­i­ble in­vest­ment prod­ucts are com­ing up as well, mak­ing it eas­i­er for com­pa­nies to fund them­selves. I think you’ll see an in­crease in ac­tu­al fund­ing round sizes and a con­tin­u­al stream of com­pa­nies mov­ing from seed cap­i­tal to fund­ing rounds.”

Nick Leschly via Getty

UP­DAT­ED: Blue­bird shares sink as an­a­lysts puz­zle out $1.8M stick­er shock and an un­ex­pect­ed de­lay

Blue­bird bio $BLUE has un­veiled its price for the new­ly ap­proved gene ther­a­py Zyn­te­glo (Lenti­Glo­bin), which came as a big sur­prise. And it wasn’t the on­ly un­ex­pect­ed twist in to­day’s sto­ry.

With some an­a­lysts bet­ting on a $900,000 price for the β-tha­lassemia treat­ment in Eu­rope, where reg­u­la­tors pro­vid­ed a con­di­tion­al ear­ly OK, blue­bird CEO Nick Leschly said Fri­day morn­ing that the pa­tients who are suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed with their drug over 5 years will be charged twice that — $1.8 mil­lion — on the con­ti­nent. That makes this drug the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py on the plan­et, just be­hind No­var­tis’ new­ly ap­proved Zol­gens­ma at $2.1 mil­lion, with an­a­lysts still wait­ing to see what kind of pre­mi­um can be had in the US.

News­mak­ers at #EHA19: Re­gen­eron, Ar­Qule track progress on re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s close­ly-watched bis­pe­cif­ic con­tin­ues to ring up high re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s high-pro­file bis­pe­cif­ic REGN1979 is back in the spot­light at the Eu­ro­pean Hema­tol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion sci­en­tif­ic con­fab. And while the stel­lar num­bers we saw at ASH have erod­ed some­what as more blood can­cer pa­tients are eval­u­at­ed, the re­sponse rates for this CD3/CD20 drug re­main high.

A to­tal of 13 out of 14 fol­lic­u­lar lym­phomas re­spond­ed to the drug, a 93% ORR, down from 100% at the last read­out. In 10 out of 14, there was a com­plete re­sponse. In dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma the re­sponse rate was 57% among pa­tients treat­ed at the 80 mg to 160 mg dose range. They were all com­plete re­spons­es. And 2 of these Cars were for pa­tients who had failed CAR-T ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford, Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Un­der siege, in­vest­ment man­ag­er Wood­ford faces an­oth­er in­vest­ment shock

Em­bat­tled UK fund man­ag­er Neil Wood­ford — who has con­tro­ver­sial­ly blocked in­vestors from pulling out from his flag­ship fund to stem the blood­let­ting, af­ter a slew of dis­ap­point­ed in­vestors fled fol­low­ing a se­ries of sour bets — is now pay­ing the price for his ac­tions via an in­vestor ex­o­dus on an­oth­er fund.

Har­g­reaves Lans­down, which has in the past sold and pro­mot­ed the Wood­ford funds via its re­tail in­vest­ment plat­form, has re­port­ed­ly with­drawn £45 mil­lion — its en­tire po­si­tion — from the in­vest­ment man­ag­er’s In­come Fo­cus Fund.


Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics poised to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tion for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval, with new piv­otal da­ta on its sick­le cell dis­ease drug

Global Blood Therapeutics is set to submit an application for accelerated approval in the second-half of this year, after unveiling fresh data from a late-stage trial that showed just over half the patients given the highest dose of its experimental sickle cell disease drug experienced a statistically significant improvement in oxygen-wielding hemoglobin, meeting the study's main goal.

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Bain’s biotech team has cre­at­ed a $1B-plus fund — with an eye to more Big Phar­ma spin­outs

One of the biggest investors to burst onto the biotech scene in recent years has re-upped with more than a billion dollars flowing into its second fund. And this next wave of bets will likely include more of the Big Pharma spinouts that highlighted their first 3 years in action.

Adam Koppel and Jeff Schwartz got the new life sciences fund at Bain Capital into gear in the spring of 2016, as they were putting together a $720 million fund with $600 million flowing in from external investors and the rest drawn from the Bain side of the equation. This time the external investors chipped in $900 million, with Bain coming in for roughly $180 million more.

They’re not done with Fund I, with plans to add a couple more deals to the 15 they’ve already posted. And once again, they’re estimating another 15 to 20 investments over a 3- to 5-year time horizon for Fund II.

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Search­ing for the next block­buster to fol­low Darza­lex, J&J finds a $150M an­ti-CD38 drug from part­ner Gen­mab

Now that J&J and Genmab have thrust Darzalex onto the regulatory orbit for first-line use in multiple myeloma, the partners are lining up a deal for a next-gen follow-on to the leading CD38 drug.

Janssen — J&J’s biotech unit — has its eyes on HexaBody-CD38, a preclinical compound generated on Genmab’s tech platform designed to make drugs more potent via hexamerization.

Genmab is footing the bill on studies in multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma; once it completes clinical proof of concept, Janssen has the option to license the drug for a $150 million exercise fee. There’s also $125 million worth of milestones in play.

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Gene ther­a­pies seize the top of the list of the most ex­pen­sive drugs on the plan­et — and that trend has just be­gun

Anyone looking for a few simple reasons why the gene therapy field has caught fire with the pharma giants need only look at the new list of the 10 most expensive therapies from GoodRx.

Two recently approved gene therapies sit atop this list, with Novartis’ Zolgensma crowned the king of the priciest drugs at $2.1 million. Right below is Luxturna, the $850,000 pioneer from Spark, which Roche is pushing hard to acquire as it adds a gene therapy group to the global mix.

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Adding mar­quee in­vestors, Black­Thorn bags $76M to back an AI-dri­ven strat­e­gy for pre­ci­sion neu­ro med­i­cine

As ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ma­chine learn­ing loom ever larg­er in drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment, a biotech op­er­at­ing at the “nexus” of tech­nol­o­gy and neu­ro­sciences has cashed in with $76 mil­lion in fresh fi­nanc­ing.

The big idea at Black­Thorn Ther­a­peu­tics is to do for neu­robe­hav­ioral dis­or­ders what ge­net­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed ther­a­py has done for on­col­o­gy: Re­de­fine pa­tient pop­u­la­tions by the un­der­ly­ing bi­ol­o­gy — dys­reg­u­lat­ed brain cir­cuits, or neu­rotypes — in­stead of symp­toms, there­by find­ing the pa­tients who are most like­ly to ben­e­fit at en­roll­ment phase.

Savara shares are crushed as PhI­II tri­al flunks pri­ma­ry, key sec­on­daries — but they can’t stop be­liev­ing

In­vestors are in no mood to hear biotechs tout the suc­cess of a “key” sec­ondary end­point when the piv­otal Phase III flunks the pri­ma­ry goal. Just ask Savara. 

The Texas biotech $SVRA went look­ing for a sil­ver lin­ing as com­pa­ny ex­ecs blunt­ly con­ced­ed that Mol­gradex, an in­haled for­mu­la­tion of re­com­bi­nant hu­man gran­u­lo­cyte-macrophage colony-stim­u­lat­ing fac­tor (GM-CSF), failed to spur sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­proved treat­ment out­comes for pa­tients with a rare res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­ease called au­toim­mune pul­monary alve­o­lar pro­teinosis, or aPAP.