Bris­tol-My­ers beefs up big can­cer drug pipeline, buy­ing IFM drugs in $2.3B-plus deal

Gary Glick, cred­it: Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan

At­las Ven­ture has an­oth­er block­buster biotech flip to boast about — while keep­ing an up­start in the port­fo­lio. And it’s a big one.

Just a lit­tle more than a year af­ter the At­las-in­cu­bat­ed IFM Ther­a­peu­tics achieved liftoff with a $27 mil­lion A round, with a co-lead in­vest­ment from Abing­worth, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has stepped in with a buy­out. Bris­tol-My­ers re­searchers are now carv­ing out the work the biotech has done on two pro­grams pro­mot­ing an in­nate im­mune re­sponse to can­cer, and spin­ning out the sig­nif­i­cant re­main­der in­to a new com­pa­ny al­so helmed by IFM co-founder Gary Glick.

To com­plete the deal, Bris­tol-My­ers is pay­ing a whop­ping $300 mil­lion up­front, with a lit­tle more than $1 bil­lion in mile­stones on each of the pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams. And there’s an un­spec­i­fied pay­ment due to se­cure an op­tion on one of its in­nate im­mune sys­tem pro­grams that al­so caught the bio­phar­ma’s eye as well as more biobucks for any oth­er drugs the are de­vel­oped out of the tech­nol­o­gy.

IFM was aimed at a prime tar­get when it jumped in­to view last sum­mer. The two lead can­cer projects look to use small mol­e­cules to ac­ti­vate NL­RP3 and STING, revving up in­nate im­mune re­spons­es that can play a com­ple­men­tary role with adap­tive im­mune ther­a­pies, like Bris­tol-My­ers’ big PD-1 drug Op­di­vo, which thwart a mech­a­nism can­cer cells use to evade an at­tack by im­mune sys­tem T cells. In­nate im­mu­ni­ty at­tacks as an im­me­di­ate guard — or first line of de­fense — against an in­vad­ing pathogen, and among oth­er things can re­cruit cells to the fight.

The biotech now will go on to con­cen­trate on the flip side of that coin: Rein­ing back in­nate im­mune at­tacks, tamp­ing down cy­tokine pro­duc­tion and re­duce chron­ic in­flam­ma­tion tied to au­to-in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions like NASH, IBD and gout. And that work in­cludes NL­RP3 and some re­lat­ed mem­bers of the NLR fam­i­ly.

It’s that NL­RP3 an­tag­o­nist that Bris­tol-My­ers wants an op­tion on.

Thomas Lynch

Bris­tol-My­ers is pay­ing more than 10 times the A-round in cash for this com­pa­ny, which will not go un­no­ticed in At­las cir­cles to­day. At­las part­ner Jean-François Formela was chair­man of the com­pa­ny.

For Bris­tol-My­ers, which is look­ing to reignite its once-dom­i­nant check­point ef­fort, it rep­re­sents an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to steal a march against a slew of ri­vals all look­ing to sec­ond- and third-gen­er­a­tion tie-ups as they an­gle to keep and grow a ma­jor seg­ment of the mar­ket. Its busi­ness de­vel­op­ment group un­der Paul Bion­di has a cold and steady eye when it comes to tech deals, look­ing for ways to gain an ad­van­tage in core fields through this kind of ex­ter­nal ac­qui­si­tion.

“Tar­get­ing in­nate im­mu­ni­ty path­ways rep­re­sents a po­ten­tial­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed ap­proach in im­muno-on­col­o­gy de­signed to ini­ti­ate and aug­ment im­mune re­spons­es that may help the body’s nat­ur­al de­fens­es bet­ter rec­og­nize and at­tack tu­mors,” said Thomas Lynch, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. “The ad­di­tion of STING and NL­RP3 ag­o­nist pro­grams broad­ens our abil­i­ty to in­ves­ti­gate ad­di­tion­al path­ways across the im­mune sys­tem and com­ple­ments our im­muno-on­col­o­gy port­fo­lio. We look for­ward to ad­vanc­ing the de­vel­op­ment of these im­por­tant pro­grams ini­ti­at­ed by Gary Glick, his lead­er­ship team and lead­ing aca­d­e­m­ic and in­dus­try ex­perts across im­munol­o­gy and on­col­o­gy.”

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Joe Jimenez, Getty

Ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez is tak­ing an­oth­er crack at open­ing a new chap­ter in his ca­reer — and that in­cludes a new board seat and a $250M start­up

Joe Jimenez is back.

The ex-CEO of Novartis has taken a board seat on Century Therapeutics, the Versant and Bayer-backed startup focused on coming up with a brand new twist on cell therapies for cancer — a field where Jimenez made his mark backing the first personalized CAR-T approved for use.

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Can we make the an­tibi­ot­ic mar­ket great again?

The standard for-profit model in drug development is straightforward. Spend millions, even billions, to develop a medicine from scratch. The return on investment (and ideally a tidy profit) comes via volume and/or price, depending on the disease. But the string of big pharma exits and slew of biotech bankruptcies indicate that the model is sorely flawed when it comes to antibiotics.

The industry players contributing to the arsenal of antimicrobials are fast dwindling, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is embarrassingly sparse, the WHO has warned. Drugmakers are enticed by greener pastures, compared to the long, arduous and expensive path to antibiotic approval that offers little financial gain as treatments are typically priced cheaply, and often lose potency over time as microbes grow resistant to them.

Top Har­vard chemist caught up in FBI’s 'T­hou­sand Tal­ents' drag­net, ac­cused of ly­ing about Chi­nese con­nec­tions, pay

The FBI’s probe into the alleged theft of R&D secrets by Chinese authorities has drawn Harvard’s top chemist into its net.

The agency accused Charles M. Lieber, who chairs the university’s chemistry and chemical biology department, with lying about his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents campaign, which was established as a way of drawing in innovators from around the world. And the scientist, 60, was charged with making false statements about his ties to China.

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Eye­ing a trio of tri­al ini­ti­a­tions, Jim Wilson's gene ther­a­py start­up woos Bruce Gold­smith from Deer­field as CEO

Passage Bio — Jim Wilson’s self-described “legacy company” — has wooed a seasoned biotech executive to steer the clinical entry of its first three gene therapy programs.

Bruce Goldsmith jumps to the helm of Passage after a brief CEO stint at Civetta, a cancer-focused startup he helped launch while a venture partner at Deerfield. He takes over from OrbiMed partner and interim chief Stephen Squinto, who will now lead the R&D team.

The FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. They plan to squash it — and per­ma­nent­ly ex­ile him

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition. And their lawsuit is asking that Shkreli — with several years left on his prison sentence — be banned permanently from the pharma industry.

UP­DAT­ED: Ac­celeron res­ur­rects block­buster hopes for so­tater­cept with pos­i­tive PhII — and shares rock­et up

Acceleron $XLRN says that its first major trial readout of 2020 is a success.

In a Phase II study of 106 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Acceleron’s experimental drug sotatercept hit its primary endpoint: a significant reduction in pulmonary vascular resistance. The drug also met three different secondary endpoints, including the 6-minute walking test.

“We’re thrilled to report such positive topline results from the PULSAR trial,” Acceleron CEO Habib Dable said in a statement. The company said in a conference call they plan on discussing a Phase III trial design with regulators.

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Short at­tack­er Sahm Ad­ran­gi draws crosshairs over a fa­vorite of Sanofi’s new CEO — with PhII da­ta loom­ing

Sahm Adrang Kerrisdale

Kerrisdale chief Sahm Adrangi took a lengthy break from his series of biotech short attacks after his chief analyst in the field pulled up stakes and went solo. But he’s making a return to drug development this morning, drawing crosshairs over a company that’s one of new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson’s favorite collaborators.

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Amber Saltzman (Ohana)

Flag­ship's first ven­ture of 2020 is out, and it's all about sperm

A couple years ago, Amber Salzman got a call as she was returning East full-time after a two-year stint running a gene therapy company in California.

It was from someone at Flagship Pioneering, the deep-pocketed biotech venture firm. They had a new company with a new way of thinking about sperm. It had been incubating for over a year, and now they wanted her to run it.

“It exactly fit,” Salzman told Endpoints News. “I just thought I had to do something.”