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.”

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Bob Duggan (Duggan Investments)

Biotech bil­lion­aire Bob Dug­gan flies the white flag as Sum­mit hunts a new own­er, or part­ner, for sole clin­i­cal-stage ef­fort

Bob Duggan’s Summit Therapeutics $SMMT is running out of moves for its sole clinical-stage candidate.

The biotech issued a terse statement in an SEC filing that it’s pulling the plug on the only active clinical trial for ridinilazole, which has been through a failed late-stage trial for C. difficile. A pediatric study is being curtailed as Summit says it decided a few days ago to either partner out the therapy or get a buyer — if they can find one.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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