Pro­to­cols: CRO in­dus­try poised for steady growth as new work in Chi­na ex­plodes (in a good way); Vec­tura dinged on PhI­II Flu­ti­form flop

Shares of the UK’s Vec­tura dropped ear­ly Tues­day af­ter the com­pa­ny con­ced­ed that Flu­ti­form had failed a Phase III study for COPD. The failed study, run by Mundipharm, is scut­tling plans for a reg­u­la­to­ry fil­ing.”Whilst this re­sult is dis­ap­point­ing, Flu­ti­form con­tin­ues to grow strong­ly based on the ap­proved asth­ma in­di­ca­tion, which con­tin­ues to un­der­pin our ex­pec­ta­tions for fu­ture growth of the prod­uct,” Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer James Ward-Lil­ley said.

As ex­pect­ed, Ari­ad Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has com­plet­ed its rolling sub­mis­sion for the NDA on its ALK in­hibitor briga­tinib. Ari­ad is shoot­ing for a pri­or­i­ty re­view that would cut the re­view process down to eight months. “We re­main grate­ful to the FDA for grant­i­ng briga­tinib a break­through des­ig­na­tion and the ben­e­fit of a rolling sub­mis­sion process, unique to the U.S. reg­u­la­to­ry sys­tem,” said CEO Paris Panayiotopou­los.

Typ­i­cal­ly long on promis­es and short on per­for­mance, In­ovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has start­ed an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al for its zi­ka vac­cine. CEO Joseph Kim, who’s been crit­i­cized for leap­ing from pan­dem­ic to pan­dem­ic with­out ac­tu­al­ly see­ing any­thing through to an ap­proval, says the com­pa­ny will meet with reg­u­la­tors next year if the study proves promis­ing.

The fu­ture looks good for the CRO in­dus­try. Not great or fan­tas­tic, but a lot bet­ter than it has been ear­li­er in the decade. A new re­port out from KP­MG notes that the in­dus­try ap­pears head­ed for steady growth through 2019, with the largest or­ga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing from a ma­jor round of con­sol­i­da­tion set to out­per­form the hun­dreds of small­er com­pa­nies that still op­er­ate in bio­phar­ma. One of the big trends to look for here is a shift to Chi­na, where CRO work has been ex­plod­ing. The CRO mar­ket was a mod­est $1.4 bil­lion in 2007, but grew to $6.4 bil­lion in ’14. That rapid growth rate un­der­scores the grow­ing role that emerg­ing mar­kets plays in this field, where costs can be con­sid­er­ably low­er. The top 10 CROs dom­i­nate, with a glob­al reach that leaves them with half of the mar­ket. The mas­sive shake­out in the mar­ket over the past few years is al­so blur­ring the line be­tween dis­ci­plines, a strat­e­gy that has helped dri­ve growth in the CRO busi­ness.

Steady but ten­ta­tive growth for CROs, from KP­MG.


Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom

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.

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.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

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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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.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.