Chi­na back­ers help bankroll a $100M mega-round as an in­flu­en­tial an­ti­body en­gi­neer read­ies tri­als

Dave Chiswell

Kymab turned to some mar­quee names in the UK and the US for the mon­ey need­ed to es­tab­lish the com­pa­ny as a high-pro­file play­er in the world of an­ti­body cus­tomiza­tion over the past 6 years. But now the game plan for the next three years will be un­der­writ­ten by an ex­pand­ed syn­di­cate that in­cludes two new play­ers based in Chi­na, ex­tend­ing its net­work of back­ers in­to a glob­al loop.

The biotech has un­veiled a whop­ping $100 mil­lion round led by ORI Health­care Fund — found­ed by Si­mone (Hong Fang) Song, the for­mer chief of Gold­man Sachs’ Health­care Fund in Chi­na —  and the man­u­fac­tur­er Shen­zhen He­palink Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Com­pa­ny.

To hear vet­er­an biotech ex­ec and Kymab CEO Dave Chiswell tell it, this was all part of a care­ful­ly con­struct­ed ef­fort to es­tab­lish new ties in what is fast be­com­ing a key glob­al hub in the bio­phar­ma world.

The Cam­bridge, UK-based biotech has been steadi­ly build­ing its syn­di­cate since the Well­come Trust kicked things off with the $30 mil­lion Se­ries A round for the Sanger In­sti­tute spin­out back in 2010. The Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion stepped in with Neil Wood­ford’s two funds and Ma­lin Corp. in 2015 with a $90 mil­lion Se­ries B. This lat­est fund­ing brings their to­tal to a re­mark­able $220 mil­lion.

The goal at this stage: “Build a prop­er pipeline,” says Chiswell, who co-found­ed Cam­bridge An­ti­body Tech­nol­o­gy, an an­chor play­er to the UK biotech in­dus­try which was ac­quired by As­traZeneca. Chiswell had been ex­ec­u­tive chair­man at Kymab be­fore he added the CEO ti­tle in ear­ly 2015.

The com­pa­ny is built on the work of Al­lan Bradley, one of the world’s lead­ing genome en­gi­neers who did some pi­o­neer­ing work at Sanger on a new mouse mod­el — which de­buted as the Ky­mouse — that could be used to gen­er­ate new and bet­ter hu­man an­ti­bod­ies. Bradley had been a Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­ves­ti­ga­tor and Bay­lor pro­fes­sor be­fore tak­ing the lead role at Sanger. He’s now the chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer at Kymab, where im­muno-on­col­o­gy, hema­tol­ogy and in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions are big fo­cus­es.

Kymab’s lead pro­gram now is fo­cused on OX40L, a T-cell ac­ti­va­tor in­volved in in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases. It is ex­pect­ed to be in the clin­ic in ear­ly 2017, says the CEO, who’s plan­ning to have 5 in­de­pen­dent prod­ucts in the clin­ic by 2019. Kymab in­ves­ti­ga­tors will be pre­sent­ing pre­clin­i­cal da­ta at ASH on graft-vs-host dis­ease, which Chiswell thinks very high­ly of.

Kymab now has a sub­stan­tial staff of 120, which should con­tin­ue to grow, though on­ly slow­ly. And with enough cash in re­serves to get in­to 2019, Chiswell con­cedes that the next fund­ing step for the biotech may well be an IPO — though on­ly time will tell.

“It’s very ear­ly,” he notes, “but we may look like a pub­lic com­pa­ny in 2019, or 2020.” Get­ting there re­quired an ex­pan­sion of a syn­di­cate with deep roots around the world.

“Kymab al­ways saw that Chi­na was a big op­por­tu­ni­ty,” Chiswell tells me, “but we didn’t know how best to re­al­ize it.” So they took some time, work­ing with con­sul­tants and do­ing their home­work on the coun­try and its biotech in­ter­ests and in­vestors. “It’s been quite a long courtship with Chi­na.”

Their rep­u­ta­tion in the an­ti­body field has helped, along with a col­lab­o­ra­tion with MD An­der­son in Hous­ton.

“Speed and qual­i­ty helps,” says the CEO. “In the end, it’s your choice of an­ti­bod­ies. We think we have the best way of mak­ing the best an­ti­bod­ies.” And with­in a year they can have new an­ti­bod­ies test­ed in mice and in man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Now, they have the mon­ey to es­tab­lish proof-of-con­cept da­ta on their own in­ter­nal pipeline.

UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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J&J's block­buster Ste­lara wins US ap­proval for ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis

J&J’s Stelara, which is set to be in the top ten list of blockbusters come 2025, is now cleared by the FDA for use in ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory disease of the large intestine.

The biologic targets interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-23 cytokines, which are known to play a key role in inflammatory and immune responses. Stelara, which generated about $4.7 billion in the first nine months of 2019, is a key player in the crowded marketplace of drugs to treat autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. AbbVie’s star therapy, Humira, continues to dominate, despite its looming patent cliff in the United States, while others including J&J’s $JNJ own anti-IL23 Tremfya, Lilly’s $LLY anti-IL-17 Taltz and AbbVie’s $ABBV recently approved anti-IL-23 antibody Skyrizi carve out a slice of market share.

Drug com­pa­nies reach $260M set­tle­ment just ahead of opi­oid tri­al; Oys­ter Point set terms for $85M IPO

→ Hours before the first federal opioid trial was set to begin, three drug distributors and an opioid manufacturer agreed to a $260 million agreement settlement, the Wall Street Journal was the first to report. The deal — which will see McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen pay $215 million to Summit and Cuyahoga counties, and Teva deal out $35 million in cash and addiction treatments — does not resolve the pending, nationwide litigation that may result in a settlement worth upwards of $40 billion. Negotiators in that case, brought by 2,300 tribes, counties and cities nationwide and led by several states’ attorneys general, worked through much of Friday without success. Josh Stein, the attorney general for North Carolina, said they were trying to put together a $48 billion deal.

GSK of­floads two vac­cines in $1.1B deal as it works to re­vive the pipeline

GlaxoSmithKline is leaving the deep dark woods and its viruses behind.

GSK has agreed to divest its vaccines for rabies, RabAvert, and tick-born encephalitis vaccine, Encepur, to Bavarian Nordic, part of the company’s broader efforts to narrow its pipeline and focus on oncology and immunology.

The deal is worth up to nearly $1.1 billion, with a $336 million upfront payment. GSK acquired the vaccines from Novartis as part of an exchange for their late-stage oncology programs in 2015 under former chief Sir Andrew Witty.

IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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Pfiz­er gets some en­cour­ag­ing PhI­II news on a fran­chise sav­ior, but is a dos­ing ad­van­tage worth the $295M up­front?

Close to 3 years after Opko tried to defend itself as shares tumbled on the news that its long-acting growth hormone had failed to outperform a placebo, the Pfizer partner $PFE is back. And this time they’re pitching Phase III data that demonstrate their drug is non-inferior — or maybe a tad better — than their well-known but fading standard in the field.
The comparator drug here is Genotropin, which earned a marginal $142 million for Pfizer last year — down 9% from the year before. Approved 24 years ago, biosimilars are now in development that Pfizer would like to stay out in front of. The market leader here is Norditropin, a growth hormone from Novo Nordisk that uses the same basic ingredient as Genotropin, which the Danish company sells with a kid-friendly self-injectable pen. That would also present some big competition if the new therapy from Opko/Pfizer makes it to the market.
The new data, says researchers, underscore that a weekly injection of somatrogon performed as well or slightly better than Genotropin (somatropin) in young children with growth hormone deficiency. Investigators tracked height velocity at 10.12 cm/year, edging out the older drug’s 9.78 cm/year. That 0.33 difference may not prove compelling to payers, though, who have been known to overlook dosing advantages in favor of lower costs.
That message may have weighed on the stock reaction this morning, with a 30%-plus hike $OPK giving way to more marginal gains.
Back in late 2016, Opko had to defend itself against a devastating Phase III setback as their initial late-stage trial failed against a sugar pill. Opko later blamed that setback on outliers in the study, though it wasn’t able to expunge the failure.

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As­traZeneca's Farx­i­ga scores FDA nod to cut risk of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion for heart fail­ure in di­a­bet­ics

While the FDA recently spurned an application to allow AstraZeneca’s blockbuster drug Farxiga for type 1 diabetes that cannot be controlled by insulin, citing safety concerns — the US regulator has endorsed the use of the SGLT2 treatment to reduce the risk of hospitalisation for heart failure in patients with type-2 diabetes and established cardiovascular disease or multiple CV risk factors.

Sofinno­va-backed Abi­vax touts longer term mid-stage da­ta in ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis

Two months after Abivax convinced Sofinnova to bankroll several mid-stage studies of its lead drug — ABX464 — with a €12 million stock purchase, the Paris-based biotech has rolled out more data on the anti-inflammatory molecule for all investors to see.

In a Phase IIa maintenance study involving 22 patients with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis who have been failed by previous treatments, 12 achieved clinical remission as assessed by endoscopy. But since only 19 completed the full one-year trial, 16 of whom had an endoscopy, investigators scored the remission rate at 75%. Although there’s no comparator arm, execs were pleased with improvements over an initial two-month, placebo-controlled induction phase by a number of measures ranging from remission to Mayo score and a fecal biomarker.

Alex­ion clinch­es aHUS ap­proval for Ul­tomiris as the clock ticks on Soliris con­ver­sion

Alexion has racked up a second approval for Ultomiris, the successor therapy to Soliris, as its mainstay blockbuster therapy faces a patent review process that could drastically shorten its patent exclusivity.

The FDA OK for atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS) on Friday was widely expected after Alexion posted a full slate of positive Phase III data in January. But regulators also flagged concerns about serious meningococcal infections, slapping a black box warning on the label and mandating a REMS.