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

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

John Oyler, BeiGene CEO (Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bris­tol My­ers wants to pull out of its Abrax­ane deal in Chi­na. BeiGene says no way

A year and a half after Chinese officials ordered BeiGene to stop selling Bristol Myers Squibb’s Abraxane in the wake of an alarming inspection of a US facility, the manufacturing issues at the root of the import suspension still appear unresolved.

And Bristol Myers wants to axe the Abraxane supply deal altogether.

But BeiGene, which is currently in arbitration proceedings against its Big Pharma partner, won’t let it off the hook so easily.

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FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

Madhu Natarajan, Takeda rare disease development head

Drawn to the idea of turn­ing B cells in­to 'pro­tein fac­to­ries,' Take­da jumps in­to a mile­stone-heavy, $900M pact

Madhu Natarajan can trace his fascination with the idea of taking B cells and turning them into protein factories back 20 years, when he had his own lab at UT Southwestern. So when Natarajan, now the rare disease development head for Takeda, sat down for a meet-up with execs from Seattle-based Immusoft at the last in-person JP Morgan conference, they went straight into a brainstorming session.

“That B cells can take up residence and do what they do for a long time,” says Natarajan, pumping out proteins and “leveraging it into a therapeutic context,” hits his sweet spot for discovery deals. And he was deeply impressed by what he heard.

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