Cel­gene antes up $55M, grabs op­tion to buy the au­toim­mune up­start Anokion

Jef­frey Hubbell, Anokion

Cel­gene’s glo­be­trot­ting busi­ness de­vel­op­ment team has fo­cused on au­toim­mune dis­eases for its lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion/op­tion-to-buy biotech deal.

The fo­cus this time: Anokion, a spin­out of the Ecole Poly­tech­nique Fédérale de Lau­sanne. The biotech has been work­ing on anti­gen-spe­cif­ic im­mune tol­er­ance tech to re­train the im­mune sys­tem to ig­nore the rogue sig­nals that spark an au­toim­mune re­sponse against healthy tis­sue while al­so re­struc­tur­ing pro­tein ther­a­pies to make them in­vis­i­ble to the im­mune sys­tem, pos­si­bly open­ing a path to us­ing some ther­a­pies that have been dis­card­ed in the past af­ter they trig­gered an im­mune re­sponse.

In the deal, Cel­gene is hand­ing over $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing an­oth­er $10 mil­lion for un­spec­i­fied pre­clin­i­cal work.

Jeff Hubbell, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go as well as CSO and chair­man of the com­pa­ny, came up with the idea of dec­o­rat­ing red blood cells with spe­cif­ic anti­gens in vi­vo, train­ing the body to tol­er­ate what had been in­tol­er­a­ble. But over the last 18 months, the biotech’s R&D team, based in Cam­bridge, MA (the com­pa­ny’s HQ is in Lau­sanne) has been de­vel­op­ing an­oth­er ap­proach cen­tered on the liv­er that can al­so in­duce im­mune tol­er­ance.

Tom Woi­wode, Ver­sant

“To in­duce anti­gen spe­cif­ic tol­er­ance has been the Holy Grail for 20 years,” says Ver­sant’s Tom Woi­wode, who’s on the board.

Now, in­stead of rais­ing a Se­ries B, the Anokion team can use non di­lu­tive cash to work their way through both ap­proach­es, study­ing mul­ti­ple tar­gets. One ob­vi­ous tar­get that Cel­gene is in­trigued by, says Hubbell, is mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

In its deal with Cel­gene, Anokion re­mains in charge of R&D un­til the Big Biotech makes a de­ci­sion whether or not to pull the trig­ger on an ac­qui­si­tion. Ver­sant’s Woi­wode says this deal does not come with a pre­set buy­out fig­ure. That num­ber would still have to be ne­go­ti­at­ed in a deal that es­sen­tial­ly gives Cel­gene the right of first re­fusal for do­ing a deal.

Cel­gene’s mon­ey will now back an ex­pan­sion of the Anokion team in Cam­bridge to about 30 peo­ple, who are still fac­ing a 3.5- to 4-year trek for pre­clin­i­cal work. Hubbell tells me that the biotech has worked through some good mouse mod­els on au­toim­mune con­di­tions, and more work has yet to be done on non-hu­man pri­mates be­fore they can get start­ed on a hu­man study.

Astel­las was al­so deeply im­pressed with the work, and in 2015 set up a new com­pa­ny with Anokion called Kanyos Bio to use the plat­form tech to cre­ate new drugs for di­a­betes as well as celi­ac dis­ease. That oth­er com­pa­ny will con­tin­ue its work in Cam­bridge, MA.

Anokion raised a $37.5 mil­lion Se­ries A back in 2014 from Ver­sant, which seed­ed the com­pa­ny, along with No­vo Ven­tures and fel­low Swiss com­pa­ny No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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