Cere­cor’s $1M Lil­ly deal put it in the right place at the right time to­day

Call it col­lat­er­al — though per­haps tem­po­rary — good for­tune.

When Alk­er­mes $ALKS whis­tled up an in­stant spike for their share price on pos­i­tive Phase III da­ta for their de­pres­sion drug ALK-5461, shares of mi­cro­cap Cere­cor $CERC al­so ig­nit­ed. The stock had bounced up 56% in pre­mar­ket trad­ing be­cause it has a mid-stage drug, CERC-501, that has the same mech­a­nism as the Alk­er­mes can­di­date.

Just like ‘5461, CERC-501 is a kap­pa opi­oid re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist. And while no two drugs are nec­es­sar­i­ly ex­act­ly alike, the re­sem­blance was good enough for in­vestors look­ing for oth­er bene­fac­tors of this da­ta.

Cere­cor’s bounce is good for a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar boost in its mar­ket cap, if it sticks (watch that num­ber, the boost was fad­ing fast in ear­ly trad­ing this morn­ing). That’s many times the $1 mil­lion the Bal­ti­more-based biotech paid Eli Lil­ly up front to land rights to this drug back in Feb­ru­ary of 2015.

“We were hap­py with the deal terms,” CEO Uli Hack­sell tells me this morn­ing. (And who could doubt that to­day?) Lil­ly was will­ing to prac­ti­cal­ly give this one away (my words) be­cause of the phar­ma gi­ant’s in­ten­tion to pur­sue an­oth­er enor­mous Phase III pro­gram for its Alzheimer’s drug solanezum­ab (his words). CERC-501 was ei­ther go­ing to be out-li­censed or shelved.

Iron­i­cal­ly, Cere­cor is not cur­rent­ly test­ing their drug for de­pres­sion. But it is en­gaged in a mid-stage pro­gram that ranges from smok­ing with­draw­al to anx­i­ety, co­caine ad­dic­tion and PTSD.

“Our in­ten­tion is to start a Phase II study next year in de­pres­sion for 501 as well,” adds the CEO. Hack­sell, the for­mer CEO of Aca­dia, which fi­nal­ly capped a lengthy quest for an ap­proval of the an­tipsy­chot­ic Nu­plazid ear­li­er this year.

Now Hack­sell says he’s bull­ish that his ri­val to ‘5461 can help re­place the an­tipsy­chotics that come in­to play when pa­tients with de­pres­sion fail the first rounds of sug­gest­ed treat­ments.

Time will tell. In the mean­time, Cere­cor is await­ing the full da­ta set from Alk­er­mes’ third Phase III with plans to soak up as many lessons as pos­si­ble for its own de­vel­op­ment cam­paign.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.