Cash-poor Agenus finds it­self a gen­er­ous part­ner in Gilead, shares surge

Can­cer drug de­vel­op­er Agenus had a tough 2017 — it had to amend its an­ti­body deal with In­cyte $IN­CY for a quick cash in­fu­sion to over­come a painful tri­al set­back for its lead glioblas­toma vac­cine, in a se­ries of events that cul­mi­nat­ed in a re­struc­tur­ing. On Thurs­day, the Lex­ing­ton, MA-based com­pa­ny had some­thing to cheer about as Gilead $GILD signed on as a part­ner on up to five of its im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­grams. And cheer it did in­vestors, who lift­ed the stock $AGEN a hefty 57% pre-mar­ket.

Un­der the deal, Agenus gets a much-need­ed $120 mil­lion up­front cash pay­ment and a $30 mil­lion eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment, in ad­di­tion to up to $1.7 bil­lion in po­ten­tial fu­ture fees and mile­stones.

Gilead will re­ceive ex­clu­sive glob­al rights to AGEN1423, which has an es­ti­mat­ed IND fil­ing by year-end 2018. The drug­mak­er will al­so en­joy the ex­clu­sive op­tion to li­cense two ad­di­tion­al pro­grams: AGEN1223 and AGEN2373. Agenus has al­ready filed the IND for AGEN1223 and plans to do so for AGEN2373 in the first half of 2019, the com­pa­nies said.

AGEN1423 is a bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body with the po­ten­tial to en­hance the an­ti-tu­mor ac­tiv­i­ty of myeloid cells, NK cells, T cells, and can­cer as­so­ci­at­ed fi­brob­lasts; AGEN1223 is an­oth­er bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body; while AGEN2373 is a mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body that is de­signed to boost the im­mune re­sponse to can­cer cells by en­hanc­ing CD137 sig­nalling in ac­ti­vat­ed im­mune cells, ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­ny’s web­site.

Gilead turned to the lu­cra­tive field of im­muno-on­col­o­gy to re­place its wan­ing hep C fran­chise. Last year, the big biotech swal­lowed Kite Phar­ma for near­ly $12 bil­lion to gain ac­cess to their in CAR-T ther­a­pies. More re­cent­ly, it forked out $50 mil­lion up­front to Tan­go Ther­a­peu­tics to tap in­to their I/O en­gine. With bil­lions of cash in hand, and un­der new CEO Daniel O’Day who is hop­ing to steer the ship to green­er pas­tures, we can on­ly ex­pect the trend to con­tin­ue.

“By year end, our dis­cov­ery plat­forms will have re­sult­ed in six INDs in 2018 and 13 INDs by the 1H2019,” Agenus CEO Garo Ar­men said in a state­ment


Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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San Diego cou­ple charged with steal­ing trade se­crets, open­ing Chi­nese biotech as DOJ crack­down con­tin­ues

A San Diego couple has been charged with stealing trade secrets from a US hospital and opening a business based off those secrets in China as the controversial industry-wide crackdown on alleged corporate espionage continues. On the same day, the Department of Justice announced they had arrested Beijing representative Zhongsan Liu for allegedly trying to obtain research visas for government recruiters.

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen pulls the plug on prized IPF drug from $562M+ Stromedix buy­out

One of Biogen’s attempts to branch out has flopped as the biotech scraps a mid-stage program for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Warts for the win: Aclar­is' lead drug clears piv­otal study

Aclaris Therapeutics has found a way to get rid of the warts and all.

The company — which earlier this month decided to focus on its arsenal of kinase inhibitors — on Monday unveiled positive data from a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug for use in common warts.

The drug, A-101, was tested in a 502-patient study called THWART-2 — patients enrolled had one to six warts before qualifying for the trial. Patients either self-administered A-101 topical solution or a vehicle twice a week over a two-month period. A higher proportion of patients on the drug (a potent hydrogen peroxide topical solution) saw their warts disappear at day 60, versus the vehicle (p<0.0001) — meeting the main goal of the study.  Each secondary endpoint also emerged in favor of A-101, the company said.

Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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Tower Bridge in London [Shutterstock]

#UK­BIO19: Join GSK’s Hal Bar­ron and a group of top biotech ex­ecs for our 2nd an­nu­al biotech sum­mit in Lon­don

Over the past 10 years I’ve made a point of getting to know the Golden Triangle and the special role the UK biopharma industry plays there in drug development. The concentration of world class research institutes, some of the most accomplished scientists I’ve ever seen at work and a rising tide of global investment cash leaves an impression that there’s much, much more to come as biotech hubs are birthed and nurtured.

Charles Nichols, LSU School of Medicine

Could psy­che­delics tack­le the obe­si­ty cri­sis? A long­time re­searcher in the field says his lat­est mouse study sug­gests po­ten­tial

Psychedelics have experienced a renaissance in recent years amid a torrent of preclinical and clinical research suggesting it might provide a path to treat mood disorders conventional remedies have only scraped at. Now a preclinical trial from a young biotech suggests at least one psychedelic compound has effects beyond the mind, and — if you believe the still very, very early hype — could provide the first single remedy for some of the main complications of obesity.

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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Ac­celeron drops a de­vel­op­ment pro­gram as #2 drug fails to spark func­tion­al ben­e­fits in pa­tients with a rare neu­ro­mus­cu­lar ail­ment

Acceleron is scrapping a muscular dystrophy development program underway for its number 2 drug in the pipeline after pouring over some failed mid-stage secondary data.

Gone is the ACE-083 project in patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. Their drug hit the primary endpoint on building muscle but flopped on key secondaries for functional improvements in patients, which execs felt was vital to the drug’s success.