Buzz: This lit­tle biotech has so much go­ing against it, some­body is go­ing to want to buy it. Right?

It’s the week af­ter JP­Mor­gan was dom­i­nat­ed by M&A news, so let’s get start­ed on the rest of the year by talk­ing about which biotechs are be­ing groomed for an ac­qui­si­tion.

Com­pa­ny num­ber 1 fits the bill per­fect­ly.

Alder $AL­DR has a lot go­ing against it. The biotech has se­cured a last-place fin­ish for it­self among the CGRP mi­graine play­ers af­ter stum­bling over its de­vel­op­ment sched­ule for eptinezum­ab and ex­e­cut­ing a man­age­ment shake­up. It’s es­sen­tial­ly a one-drug com­pa­ny, with a tiny staff go­ing up against mar­ket­ing gi­ants like Am­gen and No­var­tis and Eli Lil­ly and Te­va. Even if it wins an ap­proval for its late-stage drug and goes on to launch in 2020, how does it ex­pect to sell the ther­a­py?

Leerink an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges an­swers each neg­a­tive with a pos­i­tive, and then ham­mers down the “for sale” sign on the vir­tu­al front lawn.

Ge­of­frey Porges

That last place fin­ish? Hey, those big com­pa­nies can give away drugs and es­tab­lish what he be­lieves will be a mega block­buster mar­ket. Alder has the on­ly IV ther­a­py in the bunch, has the po­ten­tial to ex­e­cute a great part­ner­ship or would make a great bolt-on — af­ter the ap­pro­pri­ate mark-up to a bat­tered share price. The mar­ket cap is at $742 mil­lion this morn­ing, mak­ing this a small por­tion of an M&A meal for some like­ly buy­er.

Porges all but so­lic­its a bid from Bio­gen, which needs to do some deals, not­ing how ep­ti fits in well to a neu­ro­science port­fo­lio. He notes:

Alder is now en­gaged in ac­tive part­ner­ship dis­cus­sions with much larg­er com­pa­nies about es­tab­lish­ing a com­mer­cial part­ner­ship for ep­ti in Eu­rope and oth­er ter­ri­to­ries. The com­pa­ny ac­knowl­edged re­cent­ly that they would pre­fer for such a part­ner­ship to be in place be­fore the MAA is filed in Eu­rope, which would mean mid to sec­ond half of 2019. Such part­ner­ship dis­cus­sions al­ways have the risk of blos­som­ing in­to ac­qui­si­tion dis­cus­sions, and we be­lieve this is par­tic­u­lar­ly like­ly in the case of Alder.

Risk? Well, that’s one way to put it.

Eli Lil­ly’s de­ci­sion to buy out Loxo’s or­gan-ag­nos­tic pipeline of can­cer drugs helped set the tone for the be­gin­ning of this year, fol­low­ing GSK’s Tesaro buy­out and the stun­ning an­nounce­ment that Bris­tol-My­ers is buy­ing Cel­gene for $74 bil­lion. The shop­ping spree has put M&A front and cen­ter at biotech. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that these moves are be­ing made af­ter the sec­tor got mauled in a bear mar­ket. Prices have come down on Nas­daq and no one can over­look the in­creas­ing pres­sure on phar­ma to bulk up on new prod­ucts if it can’t raise prices as it has in the past.

As a re­sult, the buzz fac­tor on M&A is go­ing to be in­tense. That was ev­i­dent af­ter ru­mors float­ed around that Pfiz­er was in­ter­est­ed in buy­ing Amarin, an­oth­er one-drug won­der that has spurred lots of spec­u­la­tion about the po­ten­tial of its drug Vas­cepa.

This con­ver­sa­tion is just get­ting start­ed. Look for lots more chat­ter ahead.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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Noubar Afeyan, Flagship CEO and Tessera chairman (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Flag­ship ex­ecs take a les­son from na­ture to mas­ter ‘gene writ­ing,’ launch­ing a star-stud­ded biotech with big am­bi­tions to cure dis­ease

Flagship Pioneering has opened up its deep pockets to fund a biotech upstart out to revolutionize the whole gene therapy/gene editing field — before gene editing has even made it to the market. And they’ve surrounded themselves with some marquee scientists and execs who have crowded around to help shepherd the technology ahead.

The lead player here is Flagship general partner Geoff von Maltzahn, an MIT-trained synthetic biologist who set out in 2018 to do CRISPR — a widely used gene editing tool — and other rival technologies one or two better. Von Maltzahn has been working with Sana co-founder Jake Rubens, another synthetic biology player out of MIT who he describes as his “superstar,” who’s taken the CSO role.

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Take­da’s post-merg­er deals con­tin­ue as OTC sub­sidiary is pre­pared for sale

Takeda has been burdened under mountains of debt since acquiring Shire for $62 billion 18 months ago, but one of the company’s biggest moves yet to relieve the stress could be on the horizon.

The Japanese pharma is preparing a bidding war for its $3.7 billion over-the-counter subsidiary, a sale that would dwarf previous spinoffs. Any transaction would be the latest in what’s been a long string of sell-offs, as Takeda marches unflinchingly toward its ultimate goal of shedding $10 billion in assets.

In­vestors give ail­ing Unum a lease on life and a whole new suite of ex­per­i­men­tal can­cer drugs

Investors, it seems, are willing to give Unum Therapeutics one last shot — or at least one last shot to a company of that name.

The ailing cancer biotech, beset by a series of clinical holds and multiple failed lead programs, announced today that they’ve acquired Kiq LLC and that investors are putting in $104 million to advance Kiq’s pipeline of kinase inhibitors. Unum shareholders will now own only 16.2% of the company and CEO Chuck Wilson indicated that the cell therapies the biotech has worked on since its founding may be on their way out, saying Unum will “explore strategic options” for those products.

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

A boom­ing Drag­on­fly is tak­ing its TriN­KETs to Copen­hagen as the lat­est Bris­tol My­ers pact spurs ex­pan­sion plans — out­side the US

Bristol Myers Squibb is making a habit out of collaborating with the crew at Dragonfly, adding their 3rd deal in a series that now will take them into newly charted R&D territory. And the fast-growing team at the Cambridge-based biotech is adding a facility in Copenhagen for its next growth spurt, where the government is making it easy to recruit scientists internationally as the U.S. throttles back.

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Covid-19 roundup: Squab­bles with gov­ern­ment de­lay Mod­er­na’s PhI­II — re­ports; No­vavax se­cures largest Warp Speed deal yet: $1.6B

A much-anticipated Phase III trial for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is being held up as the company delayed submitting trial protocols and sparred with government scientists on how to run the study and even what the benchmark for success should be, Reuters reported.

Moderna, the first US company to put their vaccine into human testing, was supposed to enter a 30,000-person study this month in partnership with the NIH to determine whether it can prevent infection. STAT reported last week that the trial was facing delays over the protocol, but that a July start was still possible. Neither the NIH nor Moderna ever disclosed a specific date the trial should start, but Reuters reported that the agency had hoped to begin on July 10.

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Boehringer In­gel­heim ties the knot with Num­ab on new an­ti­bod­ies; Ca­balet­ta inks pact with Ar­ti­san

→ Switzerland’s Numab Therapeutics has added Boehringer Ingelheim to its roster of collaborators. And they will start with two projects aiming at developing new drugs for difficult-to-treat lung and gastrointestinal cancers and patients with geographic atrophy. “Numab’s technology platform fits well with our internal antibody discovery and engineering capabilities and will enhance our efforts to deliver transformative antibody-based therapeutics to patients,” said Paige Mahaney, an SVP at Boehringer Ingelheim.

David Hallal

AlloVir tests how much an an­tivi­ral biotech can reap in a pan­dem­ic stock mar­ket

The pandemic stock market has proven fruitful for virtually any type of biotech. Now a 7-year-old cell therapy startup will see how much it can yield for a company that specializes in fighting viruses.

AlloVir, a company that until 2019 largely lived off grant money, has filed for a $100 million IPO to back its line of off-the-shelf, virus-fighting T cells. Although in normal circumstances, $100 million could be a solid return for a biotech that got its first major round of funding only last year, we’ll have to wait to see how much the company ultimately earns. As Covid-19 has sent investor money scurrying to almost anyone in drug development, every single biotech to go public this year has prized above their midpoint or upsized their offering, according to Renaissance Capital, sometimes dramatically so.