Ian Walters, Portage Biotech CEO

Bris­tol My­ers vets tie up an­oth­er all-stock deal, lin­ing up clin­i­cal-stage on­col­o­gy pipeline

A hand­ful of Bris­tol My­ers Squibb vets set­ting up a fledg­ling can­cer drug de­vel­op­er have wrapped back-to-back stock deals to cre­ate a new on­col­o­gy pipeline.

Portage Biotech is helmed by CEO Ian Wal­ters and CSO Robert Kramer, and backed by three biotech en­tre­pre­neurs — UK in­vestor Jim Mel­lon, ex-Bio­haven board mem­ber De­clan Doogan and ear­ly Medi­va­tion backer Greg Bai­ley — who have whipped up a whole slate of dif­fer­ent ven­tures aimed at drug de­vel­op­ment.

In this case, they ini­tial­ly cre­at­ed the com­pa­ny through a re­verse merg­er in­volv­ing an oil and gas shell trad­ed on the Cana­di­an mar­ket.

Af­ter mak­ing a seed in­vest­ment in Bio­haven, the trio backed Wal­ters, who was look­ing to set up a pipeline of I/O drugs. They flipped the com­pa­ny to Nas­daq, says Wal­ters, do­ing a 100-to-1 re­verse split to get the stock up out of pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry, and brought some on­col­o­gy as­sets in­to the shell.

Now they’re us­ing the stock to do deals.

A few days ago they en­gi­neered a $21 mil­lion all-stock deal to ac­quire Tarus Ther­a­peu­tics and its set of adeno­sine re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nists, in­clud­ing two in Phase I/II stud­ies.

To­day, they’re go­ing back to wrap up some on­col­o­gy as­sets from Ox­ford spin­out iOx Ther­a­peu­tics, which they worked with for a year be­fore ini­tial­ly buy­ing up a ma­jor­i­ty in­ter­est in the com­pa­ny for $2 mil­lion. And the work has a sol­id sci­ence pedi­gree, emerg­ing from work in­volv­ing the late pro­fes­sor Vin­cen­zo Cerun­do­lo and teams at Lud­wig Can­cer Re­search and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ox­ford.

The deal­mak­ers at Portage are now go­ing back to tie up com­plete own­er­ship, pay­ing out about $9 mil­lion in shares for the re­main­ing in­ter­est in their small mol­e­cule iNKT ag­o­nists. And that cov­ers pro­grams in clin­i­cal tri­als in melanoma and non-small cell lung can­cer (PORT-2) and NY-ESO-1-pos­i­tive sol­id tu­mors (PORT-3).

The deal al­so in­cludes $25 mil­lion in shares or cash for a line­up of mile­stones.

Al­to­geth­er, says Wal­ters, they’re shoot­ing to prove now that the drugs can trig­ger both “in­nate and adap­tive im­mune re­sponse while cor­rect­ing the sup­pres­sive tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment.”

In an in­ter­view, Wal­ters says the I/O field has de­volved in­to rounds of check­points fol­lowed by more check­points, cy­tokines and more cy­tokines. “That’s great but we re­al­ly need to push the field for­ward and there are a lot of oth­er cells in the im­mune sys­tem,” he adds. “So we fo­cused a lot on oth­er cells, like iNK­Ts and some of these oth­er cell types.”

Am­gen lays off about 300 work­ers, cit­ing 'in­dus­try head­wind­s'

Amgen has laid off about 300 employees, a company spokesperson confirmed to Endpoints News via email Sunday night.

Employees posted to LinkedIn in recent days about layoffs hitting Amgen last week. The Thousand Oaks, CA-based biopharma, which employs about 24,000 people, said the reduction “mainly” impacted US-based workers on its commercial team.

Drug developers of all sizes, including small upstarts and pharma giants, have let employees go in recent months as the biopharma market drags through a quarters-long winter doldrum.

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Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Boehringer In­gel­heim touts pre­ven­tion re­sults in rarest form of pso­ri­a­sis

Boehringer Ingelheim uncorked some positive results suggesting that Spevigo can help prevent flare-ups in patients with a severe form of psoriasis, months after the drug was approved to treat existing flares.

Spevigo, an IL-36R antibody also known as spesolimab, met its primary and a key secondary endpoint in the Phase IIb EFFISAYIL 2 trial in patients with generalized pustular psoriasis (GPP), Boehringer announced on Monday. While the company is keeping the hard numbers under wraps until later this year, it said in a news release that it anticipates sharing the results with regulators.

Chad Mirkin, Flashpoint co-founder

‘The field is at a flash­point’: New Chad Mirkin-found­ed biotech hopes to make more ef­fec­tive can­cer vac­cines

Following the success of the mRNA Covid vaccines, cancer vaccines are seeing renewed interest after years of middling results. But a group of researchers suggests that more attention needs to be paid not to what goes into those vaccines, but how the parts are put together.

In a recent paper published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers led by Northwestern University’s Chad Mirkin describe how the placement of different antigens in a cancer vaccine impacts its efficacy. The paper builds on past work done by Mirkin’s lab that suggests the structure, or how the parts of a vaccine are arranged, impact a vaccine’s efficacy, not just its components.

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As­traZeneca, No­vo Nordisk and Sanofi score 340B-re­lat­ed ap­peals court win over HHS

AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi won an appeals court win on Monday, as the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the companies cannot be forced to provide 340B-discounted drugs purchased by hospitals from an unlimited number of community and specialty pharmacies.

“Legal duties do not spring from silence,” the decision says as the court makes clear that the federal government’s interpretation of the “supposed requirement” that the 340B program compels drugmakers to supply their discounted drugs to an unlimited number of contract pharmacies is not correct, noting:

Ap­peals court toss­es J&J's con­tro­ver­sial 'Texas two-step' bank­rupt­cy case

A US appeals court has ruled against Johnson & Johnson’s use of bankruptcy to deal with mounting talc lawsuits, deciding that doing so would “create a legal blind spot.”

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a previous bankruptcy court decision on Monday, calling for the dismissal of a Chapter 11 filing by J&J’s subsidiary LTL Management.

Faced with more than 38,000 lawsuits alleging its talc-based products caused cancer, J&J spun its talc liabilities into a separate company called LTL Management back in October 2021 and filed for bankruptcy, a controversial move colloquially referred to as a “Texas two-step” bankruptcy. Claimants argued that the strategy is a misuse of the US bankruptcy code — and on Monday, a panel of judges agreed.

Charles Riv­er se­cures $50M ac­qui­si­tion of drug dis­cov­ery tech com­pa­ny

Over the past several years, Massachusetts-based contractor Charles River Laboratories has been busy on the M&A front, with the latest, $50 million buyout coming Monday for a provider of high-throughput screening solutions for discovery research.

Chicago-based SAMDI Tech will now be folded into Charles River’s discovery and safety assessment division, Charles River announced.

The $50 million in cash is for the 80% of SAMDI that Charles River didn’t previously own. Other financial details on the deal were not disclosed.

#JPM23: Reg­u­la­to­ry un­cer­tain­ty? What about M&A? Da­ta rule? Alessan­dro Masel­li and John Car­roll take out their crys­tal balls

Endpoints editor and founder John Carroll sat down the Catalent CEO Alessandro Maselli to talk about what’s ahead in 2023. Right or wrong, this covers all the big issues faced by biopharma. This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

John Carroll:

I think 2022 had to be one of the worst years ever for crystal balls. You went into 2022 thinking all sorts of nice things about what was ahead, not thinking about a European land war, maybe not thinking that the Federal Reserve was going to be jacking up interest rates as fast as they could to get ahead of inflation. Just a tremendous number of macroeconomic issues that were out there. The sudden and complete collapse of support on the markets in Nasdaq for biotech. A lot of darlings in the industry that had been out there for a while suddenly found themselves moving from a really hot market to a really cold market all of a sudden and had to make a lot of different changes in terms of strategizing.

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Franz-Werner Haas, CureVac CEO (Christoph Schmidt/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Cure­Vac touts old­er adult da­ta for GSK-part­nered Covid-19, flu can­di­dates

Germany’s CureVac reported data Monday on older patients to beef up plans to advance vaccines for Covid-19 and seasonal flu.

In short, the Covid-19 data reveal the vaccine candidate, known as CV0501 targeting Omicron’s BA.1 variant, boosted titers of neutralizing antibodies by 13.3-fold after four weeks at the lowest 12 µg dose level. The data in these cohorts are still small, with 10 patients enrolled per dose. Some patients also received 25 and 50 µg doses.

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