Dou­bling down on the Keytru­da fran­chise, Mer­ck pays $300M and promis­es $5B-plus to part­ner with Ei­sai on its bud­ding can­cer star

Im­pressed by the po­ten­tial of a com­bo fea­tur­ing Keytru­da with Ei­sai’s star can­cer drug Lenvi­ma (lenva­tinib me­sy­late), Mer­ck $MRK has stepped up with $300 mil­lion in cash and a com­mit­ment of more than $5 bil­lion in mile­stones to kick off a full slate of tri­als for the duo.

Roger Perl­mut­ter, Mer­ck

An oral TKI al­ready ap­proved for thy­roid can­cer and in com­bi­na­tion with everolimus for kid­ney can­cer, Ei­sai not­ed a lit­tle more than a month ago that their drug scored well in a Phase III study for first-line liv­er can­cer. And Mer­ck sees a big fu­ture for this drug tied to Keytru­da, which is now in­volved in more than 700 clin­i­cal tri­als.

In this pact, Ei­sai and Mer­ck will de­vel­op Lenvi­ma as a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with the check­point, with the two shar­ing de­vel­op­ment costs. Ei­sai will book glob­al sales while the two com­pa­nies share rev­enue. And they’ll work to­geth­er now on a pipeline of their own tar­get­ing en­dome­tri­al can­cer, non-small cell lung can­cer, he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma, head and neck can­cer, blad­der can­cer and melanoma, as well as a bas­ket tri­al tar­get­ing mul­ti­ple can­cer types.

This deal fol­lows Mer­ck CEO Ken Fra­zier’s vow to fol­low up on his $8.5 bil­lion part­ner­ship with As­traZeneca on Lyn­parza with more such rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing pacts.

In a break­down of the mon­ey at stake, Mer­ck will be on the hook for $650 mil­lion for op­tions through 2020 and will pro­vide $450 mil­lion to re­im­burse Ei­sai on its share of the re­search costs. There’s an­oth­er $385 mil­lion on the ta­ble in de­vel­op­ment mile­stones and close to $4 bil­lion for sales goals.

What got them here?

In the RCC co­hort of Study 111/KEYNOTE-146, re­searchers tracked an ORR af­ter 24 weeks of treat­ment of 63%, with tu­mor re­gres­sion ob­served in 93% (28/30) of RCC pa­tients since the ini­ti­a­tion of treat­ment.

From their state­ment:

The re­sults of the in­ter­im analy­sis (n=23) of the en­dome­tri­al can­cer co­hort in Study 111/KEYNOTE-146 as of De­cem­ber 1, 2016, in­di­cat­ed ORR Week 24 of 52.2 per­cent (95% CI, 30.6-73.2) based on in­de­pen­dent ra­di­o­log­ic re­view and 47.8 per­cent (95% CI, 26.8-69.4) based on in­ves­ti­ga­tor re­view. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, tu­mor re­gres­sion was ob­served re­gard­less of the state of mi­crosatel­lite in­sta­bil­i­ty (MSI). An­ti-PD-1 an­ti­bod­ies are gen­er­al­ly less ef­fec­tive in pa­tients with low fre­quen­cy of MSI, which is a bio­mark­er for the in­abil­i­ty to re­pair er­rors in the base se­quence of DNA, or who are MSI neg­a­tive.

“To­geth­er with Ei­sai, we aim to max­i­mize the val­ue of Lenvi­ma for its cur­rent in­di­ca­tions while joint­ly pur­su­ing ad­di­tion­al ap­provals in com­bi­na­tion with Keytru­da across a wide range of can­cers,” said Mer­ck R&D chief Roger Perl­mut­ter. “There is strong sci­en­tif­ic ev­i­dence sup­port­ing syn­er­gis­tic ef­fects of Keytru­da when used in com­bi­na­tion with Lenvi­ma, and the com­pa­nies have al­ready re­ceived Break­through Ther­a­py Des­ig­na­tion from the U.S. FDA for the Keytru­da/Lenvi­ma com­bi­na­tion in re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma. Through this col­lab­o­ra­tion, we will both broad­en our on­col­o­gy port­fo­lio and have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to help even more can­cer pa­tients around the world.”

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

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Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.

Den­mark's Gen­mab hits the jack­pot with $500M+ US IPO as small­er biotechs rake in a com­bined $147M

Danish drugmaker Genmab A/S is off to the races with perhaps one of the biggest biotech public listings in decades, having reaped over $500 million on the Nasdaq, as it positions itself as a bonafide player in antibody-based cancer therapies.

The company, which has long served as J&J’s $JNJ key partner on the blockbuster multiple myeloma therapy Darzalex, has asserted it has been looking to launch its own proprietary product — one it owns at least half of — by 2025.

FDA over­rides ad­comm opin­ions a fifth of the time, study finds — but why?

For drugmakers, FDA advisory panels are often an apprehended barometer of regulators’ final decisions. While the experts’ endorsement or criticism often translate directly to final outcomes, the FDA sometimes stun observers by diverging from recommendations.

A new paper out of Milbank Quarterly put a number on that trend by analyzing 376 voting meetings and subsequent actions from 2008 through 2015, confirming the general impression that regulators tend to agree with the adcomms most of the time — with discordances in only 22% of the cases.

UP­DAT­ED: With loom­ing ‘apoc­a­lypse of drug re­sis­tance,’ Mer­ck’s com­bi­na­tion an­tibi­ot­ic scores FDA ap­proval on two fronts

Merck — one of the last large biopharmaceuticals companies in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Wednesday said the FDA had sanctioned the approval of its combination antibacterial for the treatment of complicated urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections.

To curb the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and maintain the efficacy of the therapy, Recarbrio (and other antibacterials) — the drug must be used to treat or prevent infections that are proven or strongly suspected to be caused by susceptible gram-negative bacteria, Merck $MRK said.

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