Dicer­na scores broad, 'rest of liv­er' deal with No­vo Nordisk, bag­ging $225M in cash to hit some 30 tar­gets with RNAi plat­form

Turns out Dicer­na wasn’t done with deals yet af­ter lock­ing in $200 mil­lion up­front from Roche for a he­pati­tis B cock­tail two weeks ago.

Doug Fam­brough

No­vo Nordisk has signed on as the lat­est part­ner to its GalXC RNAi plat­form, hand­ing over $175 mil­lion in cash to claim any and all tar­gets of in­ter­est in liv­er-re­lat­ed car­dio-meta­bol­ic dis­eases that are not al­ready re­served in pre­vi­ous pacts. The Dan­ish drug­mak­er — which has sig­naled its in­ter­est to ex­pand con­sid­er­ably be­yond its core di­a­betes fran­chise in­to ar­eas like NASH — is al­so pur­chas­ing $50 mil­lion worth of Dicer­na’s eq­ui­ty at a 25% pre­mi­um of $21.93 per share. More re­search pay­ments and mile­stones ex­tend­ing to the bil­lions are on the line.

Dicer­na CEO Doug Fam­brough de­scribes the deal as a “cap­stone” for its part­ner­ing ef­forts in the liv­er space and a fur­ther sign that the biotech has en­tered a more ma­ture phase of part­ner­ing with in­creased scope and val­ue.

In a call with an­a­lysts and in­vestors fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment, he adopt­ed a re­al es­tate anal­o­gy:

If you think of the liv­er as an is­land, there are in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties on the is­land that we have part­nered — com­ple­ment with Alex­ion, a cou­ple of par­tic­u­lar tar­gets in NASH with BI, et cetera. The col­lab­o­ra­tion with No­vo has as its purview the rest of the land on the is­land that is not part­nered in any of the four ex­ist­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions and we will not be sell­ing any ad­di­tion­al re­al es­tates, so to speak, that No­vo could choose to de­vel­op. This al­lows new in­sights that come from hu­man ge­net­ics or frankly any source to in­spire No­vo to in­clude a tar­get in the col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Jim Weiss­man

Dicer­na is tasked with dis­cov­ery and pre­clin­i­cal can­di­date se­lec­tion on a num­ber of liv­er cell tar­gets for dis­or­ders span­ning chron­ic liv­er dis­ease, NASH, type 2 di­a­betes, obe­si­ty, and rare dis­eases. No­vo Nordisk has com­mit­ted to $25 mil­lion per year dur­ing the first three years. While the duo hasn’t dis­closed how many years they ex­pect the col­lab­o­ra­tion to run, the plan is to ex­plore around 30 through­out the pe­ri­od.

But Dicer­na’s am­bi­tions here go be­yond start­ing pro­grams for big­ger com­pa­nies to take over. It has ne­go­ti­at­ed an op­tion to opt in­to two drugs for more preva­lent ail­ments af­ter view­ing clin­i­cal da­ta gen­er­at­ed by No­vo — al­low­ing their clin­i­cal team to buy in­to suc­cess­es with­out bear­ing the cost, Fam­brough high­light­ed. Un­der the deal, it can al­so ini­ti­ate the de­vel­op­ment of two or­phan drugs that the big­ger part­ner can opt in to.

The “re­al­ly broad” col­lab­o­ra­tion is de­signed to fo­cus less on in­di­vid­ual genes than the po­ten­tial of dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tion ap­proach­es in a num­ber of liv­er dis­eases, COO Jim Weiss­man said.

Bob Brown

In­ter­nal­ly, Dicer­na has been ap­ply­ing its plat­form rou­tine­ly to ex­am­ine a list of genes as­so­ci­at­ed with dif­fer­ent car­diometa­bol­ic dis­eases, ac­cord­ing to CSO Bob Brown.

“We just rou­tine­ly knock them out and then use the GalXC mol­e­cules we iden­ti­fied there to in­ter­ro­gate the gene func­tion in the rel­e­vant dis­ease mod­els that we run rou­tine­ly in house,” he said on the call. “There’s no di­rect align­ment of lists yet, but we’ve in­ter­ro­gat­ed ap­prox­i­mate­ly 40 genes this way in dif­fer­ent mod­els of car­diometa­bol­ic dis­ease.”

No­vo has yet to iden­ti­fy the genes that they would like to start with, but Fam­brough not­ed that the tar­gets they have ex­pressed in­ter­est in are still “very much avail­able.”

Adding to pre­vi­ous deals with Boehringer In­gel­heim, Alex­ion, Eli Lil­ly and Roche, the in­flux of cap­i­tal from No­vo should keep Dicer­na ful­ly fund­ed for at least a year af­ter the en­vi­sioned com­mer­cial launch of their lead pro­gram in pri­ma­ry hy­per­ox­aluria, the man­age­ment said.

So­cial im­age: AP Im­ages

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Covid-19 roundup: Mer­ck­'s $356M sup­ply deal on hold as FDA asks for more da­ta; FDA ap­proves Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine stor­age at stan­dard freez­er temps

Merck is pushing back plans to supply the US government with a Covid-19 drug after the FDA asked for more data to support an emergency use authorization.

The antibody, MK-7110, had looked promising in a Phase III study conducted by OncoImmune before Merck came along and bought the biotech for $425 million. At the interim analysis, investigators looked at data from 203 patients and concluded that a single dose of the drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50% among severe patients. And those taking the drug had a 60% higher chance of improvement in clinical status compared to placebo.

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CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

Fatty liver conceptual image, 3D illustration showing fatty liver silhouette made from micrograph of liver steatosis (Shutterstock)

The path to NASH: un­der­stand­ing the role of se­vere obe­si­ty in a com­plex, mul­ti-sys­tem dis­ease

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We often think a person’s transition from a healthy to a diseased state is binary. But that’s often not the case. In reality, the onset of a disease is not something that occurs overnight, and the majority lie on a continuum that is impacted by a multitude of factors. Some of these factors are in a patient’s control. Others are not.

This is the case in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), two of the most complex diseases that “live” on this proverbial continuum. The clinical onset of NAFLD — and ultimately NASH — is a complex process that is closely related to obesity, insulin resistance and impaired adipose tissue metabolism.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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