Cel­gene, Ver­sant back a biotech merg­er, build­ing an an­ti­body pipeline and lin­ing up for the clin­ic

Ver­sant Ven­tures and Cel­gene have ex­tend­ed their deal to fos­ter a Toron­to-based biotech called North­ern Bi­o­log­ics, bring­ing in a Phase I-ready can­cer drug through a merg­er with a small biotech in Barcelona and pump­ing in fresh funds to dri­ve its piv­ot in­to the clin­ic.

The Span­ish biotech is called Mo­sa­ic Bio­med­icals, co-found­ed by Joan Seoane, the di­rec­tor of trans­la­tion­al re­search at the Vall d’He­bron In­sti­tute of On­col­o­gy in Barcelona. He’s been work­ing on an an­ti­body that tar­gets leukemia in­hibito­ry fac­tor, or LIF, a cy­tokine that is over ex­pressed on cer­tain sol­id tu­mors. The drug is de­signed to block a path­way in­volved in can­cer pro­gres­sion.

Ste­fan Lar­son

“Mo­sa­ic Bio­med­icals has a very ex­cit­ing mol­e­cule — which is the first an­ti­body tar­get­ing LIF — to go in­to the clin­ic next year,” says North­ern CEO Ste­fan Lar­son, whose com­pa­ny was seed­ed by Ver­sant Ven­tures. “North­ern Bi­o­log­ic has a larg­er in­fra­struc­ture and we saw an op­por­tu­ni­ty to bring that in­to North­ern Bi­o­log­ic to ac­cel­er­ate our pipeline.”

“Ver­sant in­creased its Se­ries A,” he adds, “and un­der a built-to-buy deal, af­ter the merg­er Cel­gene ex­er­cised op­tions to rights to MSC1 that comes with ad­di­tion­al fund­ing.”

The com­pa­ny and its back­ers are keep­ing the terms for the ad­di­tion un­der wraps for now, but it’s not a triv­ial amount. Aside from Ver­sant’s ini­tial $10 mil­lion round, Cel­gene has al­ready sunk $30 mil­lion in­to the com­pa­ny in the spring of 2015, when it first ac­quired the op­tion to buy.

Now North­ern has a staff of about 30, in­clud­ing the new group in Barcelona, which was ID’d by Ver­sant’s Eu­ro­pean team. Gui­do Mag­ni, a part­ner, sits on the board at Mo­sa­ic.

Ver­sant has been build­ing up its pres­ence in Cana­da over the last few years. And this lat­est deal fits in­to their strat­e­gy to find new biotech op­por­tu­ni­ties that can be every bit as valu­able as any­thing you’d find in Boston/Cam­bridge or San Fran­cis­co.

Brad Bol­zon

“Ba­si­cal­ly, this is our fifth ma­jor in­vest­ment in Cana­da,” says Brad Bol­zon, a man­ag­ing part­ner at Ver­sant, in­clud­ing the re­cent $225 mil­lion launch of Blue­Rock with Bay­er a few days ago. “I’m Cana­di­an. We know there was re­al ca­pa­bil­i­ty and tal­ent, and very lit­tle biotech in­fra­struc­ture to ex­ploit that.”

“Our strat­e­gy is to in­vest in Cana­da dif­fer­ent­ly, build­ing glob­al­ly com­pet­i­tive com­pa­nies an­chored on Cana­di­an soil,” says Jer­el Davis, an­oth­er man­ag­ing part­ner who al­so sits on the North­ern board.

Ver­sant has al­so been busy in Eu­rope in find­ing new port­fo­lio com­pa­nies, which al­so sets it aside from the run-of-the-mill US VC fo­cused on the megahubs. And be­gin­ning in 2017, North­ern will start look­ing to back up their promise with the first round of clin­i­cal da­ta, part­nered with one of the most pro­lif­ic Big Biotechs in the busi­ness.

That’s not to say that the VC ig­nored the US. Ver­sant backed CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics, one of the pi­o­neers in gene edit­ing, which is based in Basel with an R&D op­er­a­tion in Cam­bridge. So they be­came a nat­ur­al part­ner for Bay­er, which part­nered with CRISPR on a joint ven­ture, when Bay­er’s Ax­el Bou­chon fol­lowed up on plans to found a new play­er op­er­at­ing in stem cells.

Af­ter years of glo­be­trot­ting, Bol­zon and Davis are part of a glob­al net­work. And their com­pa­ny cre­ation work is now in full stride. North­ern is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of that.

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Low­er prices, more cures: Re­pub­li­cans pitch a utopi­an drug price bill to ri­val the De­moc­rats

Nancy Pelosi unveiled the Democrats’  drug pricing bill back in September and brought the fight straight to the industry with a proposal to empower the US government to negotiate prices for select drugs. Republicans, who decried the bill reeks of heavy-handed government intervention which will stifle innovation, now have a counterproposal they claim will result in cheaper drugs and incentivize R&D — further clouding the prospects of a bipartisan compromise that could land on Donald Trump’s desk.

Chris Garabedian. Xontogeny

Per­cep­tive teams up with Chris Garabe­di­an to open up a new, $210M biotech fund fo­cused on A rounds

Perceptive Advisors is one of those prolific biotech investor groups which has traditionally enjoyed zeroing in on clinical-stage investments and crossover rounds, a group that prefers more established drug development players with near-term payoff potential.

But now they’re partnering with Xontogeny chief and longtime biotech entrepreneur Chris Garabedian on a $210 million fund — with money contributed by institutional investors and family funds — to go into the launch space with their first early-stage VC fund. Dubbed the Perceptive Xontogeny Venture Fund, LP, or just PXV Fund, they plan to favor upstarts that Garabedian is fostering in his incubator. But they’ll also plan to reach outside that inner circle for more A rounds to back, with plans to dominate initial funding with $10 million to $20 million per newborn biotech.

Roger Perlmutter, Merck

#ASH19: Here’s why Mer­ck is pay­ing $2.7B to­day to grab Ar­Qule and its next-gen BTK drug, lin­ing up Eli Lil­ly ri­val­ry

Just a few months after making a splash at the European Hematology Association scientific confab with an early snapshot of positive data for their BTK inhibitor ARQ 531, ArQule has won a $2.7 billion buyout deal from Merck.

Merck is scooping up a next-gen BTK drug — which is making a splash at ASH today — from ArQule in an M&A pact set at $20 a share $ARQL. That’s more than twice Friday’s $9.66 close. And Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter heralded a deal that nets “multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors.”

This is the second biotech buyout pact today, marking a brisk tempo of M&A deals in the lead-up to the big JP Morgan gathering in mid-January. It’s no surprise the acquisitions are both for cancer drugs, where Sanofi will try to make its mark while Merck beefs up a stellar oncology franchise. And bolt-ons are all the rage at the major pharma players, which you could also see in Novartis’ recent $9.7 billion MedCo buyout.

ArQule — which comes out on top after their original lead drug foundered in Phase III — highlighted early data on ‘531 at EHA from a group of 6 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who got the 65 mg dose. Four of them experienced a partial response — a big advance for a company that failed with earlier attempts.

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US biosim­i­lar launch­es about to turn a cor­ner

The US biosimilar industry has lingered in the shadow of the European market since the US pathway for approvals was initiated in 2009.

Ten years later (or less than five years since the first FDA approval of a biosimilar), and just 42% (11 out of 26) of FDA-approved biosimilars have launched. But in the next three months (see chart below), a clutch of new biosimilars will hit the market, including new ones in oncology, hinting at a wave of uptake.

Left top to right: Mark Timney, Alex Denner, Vas Narasimhan. (The Medicines Company, Getty, AP/Endpoints News)

In a play-by-play of the $9.7B Med­Co buy­out, No­var­tis ad­mits it over­paid while of­fer­ing a huge wind­fall to ex­ecs

A month into his tenure at The Medicines Company, new CEO Mark Timney reached out to then-Novartis pharma chief Paul Hudson: Any interest in a partnership?

No, Hudson told him. Not now, at least.

Ten months later, Hudson had left to run Sanofi and Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan was paying $9.7 billion for the one-drug biotech – the largest in the string of acquisitions Narasimhan has signed since his 2017 appointment.

The deal was the product of an activist investor and his controversial partner working through nearly a year of cat-and-mouse negotiations to secure a deal with Big Pharma’s most expansionist executive. It represented a huge bet in a cardiovascular field that already saw two major busts in recent years and brought massive returns for two of the industry’s most eye-raising names.

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Paul Hudson. Sanofi

New Sanofi CEO Hud­son adds next-gen can­cer drug tech to the R&D quest, buy­ing Syn­thorx for $2.5B

When Paul Hudson lays out his R&D vision for Sanofi tomorrow, he will have a new slate of interleukin therapies and a synthetic biology platform to boast about.

The French pharma giant announced early Monday that it is snagging San Diego biotech Synthorx in a $2.5 billion deal. That marks an affordable bolt-on for Sanofi but a considerable return for Synthorx backers, including Avalon, RA Capital and OrbiMed: At $68 per share, the price represents a 172% premium to Friday’s closing.

Synthorx’s take on alternative IL-2 drugs for both cancer and autoimmune disorders — enabled by a synthetic DNA base pair pioneered by Scripps professor Floyd Romesberg — “fits perfectly” with the kind of innovation that he wants at Sanofi, Hudson said.

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Game on: Re­gen­eron's BC­MA bis­pe­cif­ic makes clin­i­cal da­ta de­but, kick­ing off mul­ti­ple myelo­ma matchup with Bris­tol-My­ers

As J&J attempts to jostle past Bristol-Myers Squibb and bluebird for a landmark approval of its anti-BCMA CAR-T — and while GlaxoSmithKline maps a quick path to the FDA riding on its own BCMA-targeting antibody-drug conjugates — the bispecifics are arriving on the scene to stake a claim for a market that could cross $10 billion per year.

The main rivalry in multiple myeloma is shaping up to be one between Regeneron and Bristol-Myers, which picked up a bispecific antibody to BCMA through its recently closed $74 billion takeover of Celgene. Both presented promising first-in-human data at the ASH 2019 meeting.