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Mer­ck en­lists 4D Phar­ma's mi­cro­bio­me plat­form in a bid to build a new class of vac­cines

Merck has signed a research deal with 4D Pharma to use its MicroRX platform to turn living bacteria into vaccines.

The collaboration comes in the nascent field of “live biotherapeutics” – a term the FDA uses to describe living organisms, generally bacteria, used as medicine. 4D Pharma, a small biotech based in Leeds, UK, builds its LBP by extracting bacteria from a healthy donor and putting it in a capsule patients swallow.

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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Pfiz­er fronts $250M to nab an­ti­sense drug from Akcea/Io­n­is in up to $1.5B deal

Earlier this year, Pfizer secured early approval of its touted blockbuster — tafamidis — for transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis, a field initially divided between Alnylam and Akcea/Ionis. Now the big drugmaker is licensing an antisense therapy for certain cardiovascular and metabolic diseases from its smaller rival.

Under the agreement, Akcea $AKCA and its sister company Ionis $IONS — which owns a controlling interest in its stock — will receive $250 million upfront, and up to $1.3 billion in milestone payments, in addition to double-digit royalties.

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Pete Salzmann. Immunovant

Vivek Ra­maswamy en­gi­neers new deal with RTW to take Pe­te Salz­man­n's Im­muno­vant pub­lic

Several weeks after pulling out of an IPO for Dermavant, Vivek Ramaswamy has found a different route for another of his biotechs to go public.

Immunovant is merging with Health Sciences Acquisitions Corporation, a $115 million blank check company sponsored by RTW Investments and backed by Adage Capital, Cormorant, Eventide and Perceptive Advisors. In addition to around $100 million confirmed to be in the bank, RTW and Roivant, alongside BVF Partners, have put together a $35 million private “bridge financing.”

As its on­col­o­gy ef­fort gath­ers steam, As­traZeneca sheds an­oth­er lega­cy drug

On the day AstraZeneca suffered a setback after the US regulator rejected its triplet for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — it also palmed off the rights to a legacy treatment, Losec, to Germany’s Cheplapharm Arzneimittel GmbH in a deal worth $243 million upfront.

Losec contains the active ingredient omeprazole and belongs to a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors that are engineered to work by diminishing the level of acid the stomach produces. It has a number of approved indications and is commonly prescribed for patients with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

Failed NewLink goes dark in a re­verse merg­er, as Lu­mos jumps on board for a ride to Wall Street

Three years ago shares of NewLink Genetics traveled at a lofty altitude above $50 a share, with some high hopes riding on IDO. Now those hopes have been thoroughly quashed, along with the shares, with a miniaturized market cap of $59 million and a stock price of $1.59. The company founder, Charles Link, left a couple of months ago. 

And that makes it a fit vehicle for a reverse merger.

That’s what Lumos Pharma thinks. This morning the company said that they would merge into the public biotech, with a 50/50 share going to investors at each. When it’s over early next year, they’ll rename the company Lumos and trade as $LUMO.

Roche sets new dead­line for Spark ac­qui­si­tion as di­vesti­ture spec­u­la­tion brews

To nobody’s surprise at this point, Roche and Spark have extended the offering period of their $4.3 billion buyout deal for another month.

Just days ago the UK Competition and Markets Authority officially sought public comment on the Swiss pharma giant’s competitive position if the deal goes through. As FTC regulators simultaneously conduct their own review, analysts are increasingly convinced that Roche will be forced to abandon a hemophilia gene therapy being developed by Spark in order to consummate the acquisition.

Ver­tex con­tin­ues shop­ping, spend­ing $20M up­front to ac­cess Ri­bometrix's RNA-drug­ging plat­form

Vertex, flush with $4 billion in cash and cash equivalents (as of June 30), has been on the prowl to park its excess capital in places with potential. Its latest injection is in Durham, North Carolina-based Ribometrix — a startup working on targeting RNA with small molecule drugs.

Created by Kevin Weeks, a chemist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his former undergraduate student Katie Warner — the company is part of a slate of drug developers such as Skyhawk Therapeutics, Arrakis and Expansion Therapeutics, as well as Novartis $NVS and Merck $MRK who have similar lofty ambitions.

Do­va Phar­ma's bet on Ei­sai castoff spells gold as So­bi spends mil­lions to ac­quire it

In 2016, Dova Pharmaceuticals paid Japan’s Eisai a paltry $5 million upfront for the rights to the Phase III-ready avatrombopag. The following year, the Durham, North Carolina-based company made its public debut with a $75 million IPO, and by 2018 the drug — branded as Doptelet — secured FDA approval. Dova’s bet paid off handsomely — on Monday, the company unveiled Swedish Orphan Biovitrum AB was acquiring its shares in a deal worth up to a robust $915 million.

An­oth­er big bio­phar­ma merg­er runs in­to an­oth­er snag at the FTC. What now?

It’s AbbVie’s turn to get hit with a dreaded second request for information from the FTC regarding its $63 billion megamerger with Allergan. 

Right on the heels of the latest delay for the Roche/Spark tie-up, the FTC has some unfinished business with AbbVie, which has its eyes on Allergan’s lucrative Botox franchise.

There is, of course, no word on what the latest FTC inquiry is all about, but the experts say every second request comes with an odds-on demand — running at 80% — for a divestiture to satisfy antitrust concerns.

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