Can a 're­dis­cov­ered' drug from In­dia make it big in US im­munol­o­gy space? Dan Brad­bury and his team at Equi­l­li­um want to prove yes

Biotech com­pa­nies typ­i­cal­ly knock on Nas­daq’s doors with sev­er­al rounds of fi­nanc­ing un­der their belt. Equi­l­li­um, how­ev­er, went straight for it.

Hav­ing reaped a $65.4 mil­lion IPO last month, the San Diego-based biotech is emerg­ing from stealth mode to dis­cuss for the first time that atyp­i­cal route — a some­what un­ex­pect­ed one, CEO Dan Brad­bury would add — and the atyp­i­cal arrange­ment that made it pos­si­ble for an op­er­a­tion that on­ly launched 18 months ago.

Equi­l­li­um li­censed North Amer­i­can rights to its one and on­ly drug, itolizum­ab, from In­di­an biosim­i­lar gi­ant Bio­con. Sold in In­dia as a pso­ri­a­sis treat­ment, the same drug has been rechris­tened EQ001 and is be­ing de­vel­oped for a num­ber of oth­er im­muno-in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases.

Brad­bury — who has known Bio­con founder Ki­ran Mazum­dar-Shaw since his days as CEO of di­a­betes drug­mak­er Amylin and cur­rent­ly sits on the Bio­con board — says Equi­l­li­um’s ap­proach is nov­el in the sense that re­cent ad­vances in im­munol­o­gy has al­lowed his team to “re­dis­cov­er” a prod­uct that was de­vel­oped in the 2000s to hit a tar­get, CD6, first dis­cov­ered in the 1980s.

In­hibit­ing CD6, new re­search has found, blocks ef­fec­tor T cell ac­tiv­i­ty with­out tam­per­ing with reg­u­la­to­ry T cells, a se­lec­tive ap­proach com­pared to some “brute force” bi­o­log­ics cur­rent­ly on the mar­ket, he says.

Bruce Steel

At the same time, he adds, since itolizum­ab is al­ready clin­i­cal­ly val­i­dat­ed and man­u­fac­tured at com­mer­cial scale, “it’s ac­tu­al­ly a fair­ly late-stage pro­gram rel­a­tive to many pro­grams that have gone pub­lic in the biotech­nol­o­gy space.”

Soon af­ter Equi­l­li­um li­censed the drug, Bio­con com­plet­ed “a large amount of work” need­ed to demon­strate that the prod­uct it was man­u­fac­tur­ing for Equi­l­li­um was bio­com­pa­ra­ble to what it was sell­ing on the mar­ket, as they are man­u­fac­tured on dif­fer­ent cell lines. It al­so wrapped a Phase I study for both sub­cu­ta­neous and IV forms of EQ001 in Aus­tralia (though part of the tri­al was ter­mi­nat­ed ear­ly, ac­cord­ing to the S-1) and got a thumbs up from the FDA re­gard­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty it’s us­ing to make biosim­i­lars to be sold in the US — all good news for Equi­l­li­um.

That’s prob­a­bly part of what at­tract­ed the en­cour­age­ment from pub­lic in­vestors, many of whom had al­so worked with Brad­bury be­fore Amylin was sold to Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb for $5.3 bil­lion. The oth­er part? All the clin­i­cal plans lined up for 2019: Phase Ib/II aGVHD tri­al ear­ly on; Phase II cGVHD tri­al in H1; and proof-of-con­cept in se­vere asth­ma, with a goal to choose an ad­di­tion­al in­di­ca­tion be­fore wrap­ping up the year.

All told, the cash run­way should ex­tend to the next 24 months af­ter go­ing pub­lic at $14, the low end of the range. The stock has edged up, though, and is now rid­ing above $15 per share. The mar­ket cap is a mod­est $277 mil­lion.

Stephen Con­nel­ly

And Equi­l­li­um can do all this with­out wor­ry­ing about man­u­fac­tur­ing: Aside from a 13.9% stake in the com­pa­ny, Bio­con isn’t charg­ing any­thing for sup­ply­ing itolizum­ab for test­ing in up to three or­phan in­di­ca­tions. Pro­duc­tion cost of ad­di­tion­al prod­ucts, the $30 mil­lion promised in reg­u­la­to­ry mile­stones and $565 mil­lion sales pay­ments won’t be due un­til — or if — Equi­l­li­um nabs its first ap­proval in the US.

Mean­while, Brad­bury adds, Equi­l­li­um’s “small but mighty” team of 11 is still on the hunt for ad­di­tion­al as­sets to beef up its im­munol­o­gy pipeline.

Brad­bury and Bruce Steel, a co-founder of the com­pa­ny now serv­ing as pres­i­dent and CBO, own the largest chunks of stocks at 22.1% each. Stephen Con­nel­ly — co-founder, CSO and Steel’s for­mer col­league at Bio­Med Ven­tures — is in for 7.7%.

Im­age: Dan Brad­bury. EQUI­L­LI­UM

Nick Leschly via Getty

UP­DAT­ED: Blue­bird shares sink as an­a­lysts puz­zle out $1.8M stick­er shock and an un­ex­pect­ed de­lay

Blue­bird bio $BLUE has un­veiled its price for the new­ly ap­proved gene ther­a­py Zyn­te­glo (Lenti­Glo­bin), which came as a big sur­prise. And it wasn’t the on­ly un­ex­pect­ed twist in to­day’s sto­ry.

With some an­a­lysts bet­ting on a $900,000 price for the β-tha­lassemia treat­ment in Eu­rope, where reg­u­la­tors pro­vid­ed a con­di­tion­al ear­ly OK, blue­bird CEO Nick Leschly said Fri­day morn­ing that the pa­tients who are suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed with their drug over 5 years will be charged twice that — $1.8 mil­lion — on the con­ti­nent. That makes this drug the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py on the plan­et, just be­hind No­var­tis’ new­ly ap­proved Zol­gens­ma at $2.1 mil­lion, with an­a­lysts still wait­ing to see what kind of pre­mi­um can be had in the US.


Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics poised to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tion for ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval, with new piv­otal da­ta on its sick­le cell dis­ease drug

Global Blood Therapeutics is set to submit an application for accelerated approval in the second-half of this year, after unveiling fresh data from a late-stage trial that showed just over half the patients given the highest dose of its experimental sickle cell disease drug experienced a statistically significant improvement in oxygen-wielding hemoglobin, meeting the study's main goal.

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News­mak­ers at #EHA19: Re­gen­eron, Ar­Qule track progress on re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s close­ly-watched bis­pe­cif­ic con­tin­ues to ring up high re­sponse rates

Re­gen­eron’s high-pro­file bis­pe­cif­ic REGN1979 is back in the spot­light at the Eu­ro­pean Hema­tol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion sci­en­tif­ic con­fab. And while the stel­lar num­bers we saw at ASH have erod­ed some­what as more blood can­cer pa­tients are eval­u­at­ed, the re­sponse rates for this CD3/CD20 drug re­main high.

A to­tal of 13 out of 14 fol­lic­u­lar lym­phomas re­spond­ed to the drug, a 93% ORR, down from 100% at the last read­out. In 10 out of 14, there was a com­plete re­sponse. In dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma the re­sponse rate was 57% among pa­tients treat­ed at the 80 mg to 160 mg dose range. They were all com­plete re­spons­es. And 2 of these Cars were for pa­tients who had failed CAR-T ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford, Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Un­der siege, in­vest­ment man­ag­er Wood­ford faces an­oth­er in­vest­ment shock

Em­bat­tled UK fund man­ag­er Neil Wood­ford — who has con­tro­ver­sial­ly blocked in­vestors from pulling out from his flag­ship fund to stem the blood­let­ting, af­ter a slew of dis­ap­point­ed in­vestors fled fol­low­ing a se­ries of sour bets — is now pay­ing the price for his ac­tions via an in­vestor ex­o­dus on an­oth­er fund.

Har­g­reaves Lans­down, which has in the past sold and pro­mot­ed the Wood­ford funds via its re­tail in­vest­ment plat­form, has re­port­ed­ly with­drawn £45 mil­lion — its en­tire po­si­tion — from the in­vest­ment man­ag­er’s In­come Fo­cus Fund.

Gene ther­a­pies seize the top of the list of the most ex­pen­sive drugs on the plan­et — and that trend has just be­gun

Anyone looking for a few simple reasons why the gene therapy field has caught fire with the pharma giants need only look at the new list of the 10 most expensive therapies from GoodRx.

Two recently approved gene therapies sit atop this list, with Novartis’ Zolgensma crowned the king of the priciest drugs at $2.1 million. Right below is Luxturna, the $850,000 pioneer from Spark, which Roche is pushing hard to acquire as it adds a gene therapy group to the global mix.

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Bain’s biotech team has cre­at­ed a $1B-plus fund — with an eye to more Big Phar­ma spin­outs

One of the biggest investors to burst onto the biotech scene in recent years has re-upped with more than a billion dollars flowing into its second fund. And this next wave of bets will likely include more of the Big Pharma spinouts that highlighted their first 3 years in action.

Adam Koppel and Jeff Schwartz got the new life sciences fund at Bain Capital into gear in the spring of 2016, as they were putting together a $720 million fund with $600 million flowing in from external investors and the rest drawn from the Bain side of the equation. This time the external investors chipped in $900 million, with Bain coming in for roughly $180 million more.

They’re not done with Fund I, with plans to add a couple more deals to the 15 they’ve already posted. And once again, they’re estimating another 15 to 20 investments over a 3- to 5-year time horizon for Fund II.

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Search­ing for the next block­buster to fol­low Darza­lex, J&J finds a $150M an­ti-CD38 drug from part­ner Gen­mab

Now that J&J and Genmab have thrust Darzalex onto the regulatory orbit for first-line use in multiple myeloma, the partners are lining up a deal for a next-gen follow-on to the leading CD38 drug.

Janssen — J&J’s biotech unit — has its eyes on HexaBody-CD38, a preclinical compound generated on Genmab’s tech platform designed to make drugs more potent via hexamerization.

Genmab is footing the bill on studies in multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma; once it completes clinical proof of concept, Janssen has the option to license the drug for a $150 million exercise fee. There’s also $125 million worth of milestones in play.

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Ab­b­Vie touts new da­ta for Hu­mi­ra suc­ces­sor; Gilead inks dis­cov­ery deal

→ Ab­b­Vie is tout­ing new pos­i­tive da­ta com­par­ing their ag­ing block­buster Hu­mi­ra with their hoped-for block­buster upadac­i­tinib. Over 48 weeks a larg­er pro­por­tion of pa­tients tak­ing the ex­per­i­men­tal drug ex­pe­ri­enced clin­i­cal re­mis­sion than in the con­trol arm with Hu­mi­ra. Their drug brought in $20 bil­lion last year, top­ping the scales in the num­ber 1 slot.

→ Gilead has turned to Van­cou­ver-based Ab­Cellera for its lat­est dis­cov­ery deal. Ab­Cellera will use its know-how in “sin­gle-cell screen­ing of nat­ur­al im­mune sources” to find an­ti­body can­di­dates for Gilead to pur­sue in the in­fec­tious dis­ease field. The deal in­cludes an up­front and mile­stones.

Turns out, Rudy Tanzi did­n't see much of a sto­ry about a hid­den link be­tween En­brel and Alzheimer's ei­ther

The Wash­ing­ton Post man­aged to whip up the quick­est in­dus­try con­sen­sus I’ve ever seen that one of its re­porters was pur­vey­ing overblown non­sense with a sto­ry that Pfiz­er was sit­ting on da­ta sug­gest­ing that En­brel could be an ef­fec­tive treat­ment for Alzheimer’s. 

In cov­er­ing that bit of an­ti-Big Phar­ma fan­ta­sy — there are lots of rea­sons to go af­ter phar­ma, but this piece was lu­di­crous — I not­ed com­ments in the sto­ry from some promi­nent peo­ple in the field crit­i­ciz­ing Pfiz­er for not pub­lish­ing the da­ta. I sin­gled out Rudy Tanzi at Har­vard and then ap­plied some added crit­i­cism for the things he’s done to hype — in my opin­ion — high­ly ques­tion­able as­sump­tions. You can see it in the link.