Bill Haney, Skyhawk

Cel­gene ex­ecs shell out $92M cash for a pair of R&D deals that will fit per­fect­ly in their new home at Bris­tol-My­ers

With Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Celgene buyout all but complete, the BD teams are working in perfect synchrony now. The Celgene side is going back to Skyhawk, a darling of the crowd that set out to drug RNA, and they’re adding a suite of new programs that mesh perfectly with the new regime in charge.

Celgene is shelling out $80 million in a cash upfront to add oncology, immuno-oncology and autoimmune diseases to the initial roundup of neurological targets mapped early in Skyhawk’s existence.

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Roche de­clares a PhI­II fail­ure for Covid-19 as the IL-6 re­pur­pos­ing the­o­ry bites the dust

Another big IL-6 drug has failed to move the needle for Covid-19 patients, leaving that particular field of repurposed drug R&D on the ropes for the pandemic.

This morning it was Roche’s turn to outline a Phase III failure for Actemra, adding compelling data that have now all but extinguished the theory that an IL-6 drug could significantly help the most severely afflicted patients. That comes just weeks after Regeneron and Sanofi hit the red light on their trial for Kevzara after getting back-to-back readouts that made Roche’s trial a long shot at best.

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Elizabeth Nabel speaks at a news conference, Oct. 7, 2019 (Elise Amendola/AP Images)

Brigham and Wom­en's pres­i­dent Eliz­a­beth Nabel fol­lows Mon­cef Slaoui off Mod­er­na's board

Amid recent scrutiny on how Moderna’s top executives have been cashing out their increasingly valuable shares, the biotech is parting ways with a board member who’s also heading a hospital where its Covid-19 vaccine is being tested.

Elizabeth Nabel — the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital — has followed in Moncef Slaoui’s footsteps in resigning from Moderna’s board of directors. She took the role in 2015, two years before the Operation Warp Speed leader did; and as with Slaoui and MIT professor Robert Langer, her term was due to expire in 2021.

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Tony Coles, Cerevel Therapeutics CEO

Adding $445M, Tony Coles and his big Pfiz­er neu­ro spin­out hitch a ride to Wall Street on Per­cep­tive’s SPAC

Two years ago, after Pfizer abruptly shut down its entire neuroscience division, Bain Capital bet $350 million that those assets were still worth something and packaged them into a new biotech: Cerevel Therapeutics. A year later, they got seasoned executive Tony Coles, who had recently jumped back into the C-suite of another neuroscience startup, to run the company.

Now Coles is steering Cerevel public, in what he says is the largest ever transaction of its kind. Cerevel has agreed to merge with Perceptive Advisors’ specialty acquisition company ARYA II. Between the roughly $125 million Perceptive raised through ARYA and an additional investment of $320 million Bain Capital, Perceptive and — yes, really — Pfizer, among others, Cerevel will now move forward with an added $445 million in its coffers.

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Ludwig Hantson, Alexion CEO

UP­DAT­ED: The lead drug in Alex­ion’s $930M buy­out deal last fall just flopped — adding in­jury to an­a­lysts’ M&A in­sults

When Alexion $ALXN put down $930 million in cash last fall to buy Achillion, the biotech’s top execs were particularly proud of 2 clinical-stage assets, with a spotlight on the lead drug danicopan (ACH-4471) in Phase II. That drug, along with a companion therapy in Phase I, fit right in their R&D wheelhouse, noted CEO Ludwig Hantson.

But now the lead drug, redubbed ALXN2040, is being washed out and repositioned after failing 2 Phase II trials for C3 Glomerulopathy.

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Severin Schwan, Roche CEO (Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Genen­tech slash­es near­ly 500 jobs in strate­gic shift to 'lo­cal health­care ecosys­tems.' Clin­i­cal spe­cial­ists make up the biggest group

Deep into the pandemic, the executives at Roche are executing an unusual plan to lay off nearly 500 workers at South San Francisco-based Genentech.

The huge Roche subsidiary handed in their WARN notice to the state a few days ago, noting that 474 staffers were being permanently cut from the payroll.

A spokesperson for the company told me via e-mail:

The majority of these roles are from our field organization and, though formally associated with our South San Francisco headquarters, are actually located throughout the United States. These position eliminations are not related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinical trials for which Actemra is being studied in COVID-19 pneumonia, or any specific therapeutic area.

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Robert Nelsen (Illustration by Emma Kumer for Endpoints News)

Af­ter Big Phar­ma aban­doned in­fec­tious dis­eases, 5 biotech con­trar­i­ans de­cid­ed to go all in. Then Covid-19 changed every­thing

Bob Nelsen had been quietly wondering how to eradicate viruses for years, before one day in 2015, he welcomed a pair of immunologists into the ARCH Venture Partners offices on the 34th floor of Seattle’s Wells Fargo Building.

Louis Picker and Klaus Früh, professors at Oregon Health & Science University, had by then spent 5 years running around the country in search of funding for their startup, TomegaVax, and Früh, at least, was nearing wit’s end. The Gates Foundation was interested but told them they needed other investors. Investors told them to come back with more data, pharmaceutical executives said they’re in the wrong game — too little money to be made fighting infectious disease. Still, a well-connected board member named Bob More landed them a meeting with the coveted venture capitalist, and so, in a narrow conference room overlooking the Puget Sound, Picker prepared to again explain the idea he had spent 15 years on: re-engineering a benign microbe into the first vaccines for HIV and better ones for hepatitis and tuberculosis.

“This lightbulb went on his head,” Picker recalled in a recent interview. “Most of them just didn’t get it. And Bob’s hit.”

By that point, Nelsen was more than just a venture capitalist. Scraggly and greying but no less opinionated at 52, he was mobbed at biotech conferences, having earned a reputation for crass wisdom and uncanny foresight, for making big bets on big ideas that changed medicine. Those ideas included DNA sequencing, which he first cut a check for in the 90s, and leveraging the immune system to tackle cancer. He earned millions making billion-dollar companies.

Yet for years he had harbored an almost singular obsession: “I hate viruses,” he told Forbes in 2016. He told me he was “pissed off” at them. The obsession drove him to his first biotech investment in 1993, for an inhalable flu vaccine approved a decade later and still in use. And it drove him to invest in CAR-T as a potential cure for HIV, years before it proved a wildly effective treatment for some cancers.

Now, listening to Picker talk about T cells and antibodies and the curious biology of cytomegalovirus, Nelsen began wondering if it was time for another bet. Picker’s technology was not only promising, he reasoned, it could be the basis of a company that changed how researchers approached viruses. Instead of trying to come up with an antidote for every pathogen, you could do what cancer researchers had learned to do, and harness the immune system to do the work for you.

This wasn’t a popular opinion at the time. “It’s like the least trendy idea in the world,” Nelsen told me. “People would say, ‘Why the hell are you going into infectious disease?’”

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi prunes its pipeline, tak­ing the ax to a line­up of drug, vac­cine pro­grams

Sanofi swept away a lineup of drug and vaccine programs in its Q2 update, starting with a late-stage vaccine play with Daiichi Sankyo and running right through setbacks on their CD38 drug, the anti-inflammatory Kevzara, as well as a troubled alliance with Denali on ALS.

Gone is a longstanding Phase III development program with Daiichi Sankyo for a pediatric pentavalent vaccine in Japan, though there’s no word on what prompted the pullback.

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Test re­sults in hand, Thrive rais­es $257M to push liq­uid biop­sy to­ward ap­proval

Three months after announcing the results of a landmark trial, Thrive Earlier Detection has raised $257 million to put their liquid biopsy cancer test into a pivotal trial.

Thrive started raising for the Series B immediately after the study results were published in Science at the end of April. That study, run across 10,000 women at the Geisinger Health System, showed for the first time that a blood test could help doctors diagnose certain types of cancer in patients who did not yet show symptoms, more than doubling the percentage of cancers that were detected.

Sanofi and GSK say they're near a vac­cine deal with EU hours af­ter fi­nal­iz­ing Warp Speed con­tract

On the heels of landing the largest Warp Speed contract to date, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline continued to make moves Friday afternoon.

The two companies announced they are in advanced discussions with the EU to supply up to 300 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, coming just a few hours after securing their $2.1 billion deal with the US. Should the agreement be finalized, all EU member states will have the option to purchase the vaccine.

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