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.”

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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Sanofi takes a $260M hit to ex­tri­cate it­self from a dis­as­trous al­liance with Lex­i­con

Sanofi spent $300 million in cash to get into a $1.7 billion alliance with Lexicon on their SGLT1/2 diabetes drug sotagliflozin. And now that the drug has been spurned by the FDA after burning through a program that provided mixed late-stage data and a late shot at a last-place finish, the French pharma giant is forking over another $260 million to get out of the deal.

Sanofi’s unhappiness was already apparent when the company — now under new CEO Paul Hudson — posted a statement back in July that they were dropping the deal. But it wasn’t that simple. 

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.