Play­ing catch-up, Eli Lil­ly swoops in with $1.6B cash deal for Ar­mo Bio and its promis­ing PhI­II can­cer drug

Eli Lil­ly’s BD team is on the march, and as promised they’re stay­ing care­ful­ly fo­cused on on­col­o­gy.

This morn­ing Lil­ly $LLY an­nounced that it has ac­quired Ar­mo Bio­Sciences $AR­MO for $1.6 bil­lion in cash — just a few months af­ter their suc­cess­ful IPO de­but on Nas­daq. This is a biotech that in­de­pen­dent in­vestor Brad Lon­car re­cent­ly dubbed as the “next Nek­tar,” com­par­ing Ar­mo to one of the dar­lings in im­muno-on­col­o­gy which al­so has a strat­e­gy in­volv­ing cy­tokine im­muno-stim­u­la­to­ry ther­a­pies.

Levi Gar­raway

Lil­ly is pay­ing $50 a share, which im­me­di­ate­ly trig­gered a 67% spike on the stock this morn­ing as in­vestors rushed in to take ad­van­tage of the lat­est bolt-on deal.

The jew­el in the crown for Lil­ly here is pegilode­cakin, a PE­Gy­lat­ed IL-10 that is now in a piv­otal study af­ter demon­strat­ing ear­ly-stage suc­cess in sev­er­al tu­mor types. The Phase III is for pan­cre­at­ic can­cer, with tri­als un­der­way for lung and re­nal cell can­cer, melanoma and oth­er sol­id tu­mor types. Lil­ly al­so high­light­ed some pre­clin­i­cal can­di­dates it’s pick­ing up.

The big idea here falls right in the sweet spot of the cur­rent I/O rave. The lead drug is de­signed to spur the pro­lif­er­a­tion of CD8+ T cells in pa­tients, im­prov­ing prog­no­sis and length­en­ing the sur­vival of can­cer pa­tients. 

An­a­lysts fol­low­ing Lil­ly have been track­ing the ex­ec­u­tive team’s keen in­ter­est in plung­ing di­rect­ly in­to I/O af­ter get­ting left be­hind by lead­ers like Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. Just a few days ago the com­pa­ny added to the grow­ing ev­i­dence of a break­out move by re­cruit­ing Leena Gand­hi, an in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Perl­mut­ter Can­cer Cen­ter at NYU Lan­gone Health and a Dana-Far­ber vet, to head up its im­muno-on­col­o­gy re­search work. Gand­hi played a big role in one re­cent Keytru­da pro­gram and she’ll now be putting her know-how to use for Lil­ly.

Lil­ly could eas­i­ly af­ford a string of these bolt-on deals, adding to a string of M&A pacts topped by Take­da’s $62 bil­lion Shire buy­out. Af­ter a lengthy drought of deals, big play­ers are clear­ly will­ing to fork over ma­jor pre­mi­ums to beef up their pipelines and add cat­a­lysts to their cal­en­dars.

And Lil­ly sig­naled it’s on­ly be­gun to wheel and deal.

“As we de­vel­op our im­muno-on­col­o­gy port­fo­lio, Lil­ly will pur­sue med­i­cines that use the body’s im­mune sys­tem in new ways to treat can­cer,” added Levi Gar­raway, se­nior vice pres­i­dent, glob­al de­vel­op­ment and med­ical af­fairs, Lil­ly On­col­o­gy. “We be­lieve that pegilode­cakin has a unique im­muno­log­ic mech­a­nism of ac­tion that could even­tu­al­ly al­low physi­cians to of­fer new hope for many can­cer pa­tients.”


Im­age: SHUT­TER­STOCK

UP­DAT­ED: In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — but da­ta min­ing in­cites con­tro­ver­sy and ques­tions

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company and its partners at Eisai say that a new analysis of a larger dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over with the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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Vas Narasimhan. Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Failed PhI­II fe­vip­iprant tri­als pour more cold wa­ter on No­var­tis' block­buster R&D en­gine — and briefly spread the chill to a high-pro­file biotech

Back in July, during an investor call where Novartis execs ran through an upbeat assessment of their Q2 performance, CEO Vas Narasimhan and development chief John Tsai were pressed to predict which of the two looming Phase III readouts — involving cardio drug Entresto and asthma therapy fevipiprant, respectively — had a higher likelihood of success. Tsai gave the PARAGON-HF study with Entresto minimally better odds, but Narasimhan emphasized that their strategy of giving fevipiprant to more severe patients gave them confidence.

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David Liu, Liu Group

David Liu un­veils newest ad­vance­ment in CRISPR tech: Prime edit­ing

The researcher behind base-editing is out with what some scientists are hailing as the biggest advancement in CRISPR technology since that 2016 breakthrough: “prime editing.” The new molecular gadget is capable of erasing any base pair and stenciling in another and cutting or adding long segments of DNA without breaking both strands of the helix.

David Liu, base editing pioneer and founder of Beam Therapeutics, published the findings in Nature alongside Andrew Anzalone. They estimated that the breakthrough “in principle” puts 89% of human diseases in purview — although experts cautioned that human therapies were a long way off.

Bhaskar Chaudhuri. Frazier Healthcare Partners

Fra­zier Health­care Part­ner­s' der­ma­tol­ogy up­start at­tracts a mar­quee syn­di­cate, $94M+ for 'in-be­tween' top­i­cal drug

For the past three years Frazier Healthcare Partners’ Bhaskar Chaudhuri has been carefully and quietly grooming Arcutis Therapeutics, a new dermatology play he co-founded to deliver topical formulations of well-known drugs. Now that the biotech is poised to enter Phase III, he’s being joined by a marquee syndicate for its $94.5 million Series C.

HBM Healthcare Investments, Vivo Capital, BlackRock, Omega Funds, Pivotal BioVentures, and Goldman Sachs jumped on board, joining Bain Capital Life Sciences, OrbiMed and RA Capital Management in backing Arcutis’ lead topical cream for plaque psoriasis.

A new com­pa­ny en­ters the Tec­fidera fight, of­fer­ing to kill two birds

The remedy for the most common side effect for one of the most common multiple sclerosis drugs is simple: aspirin.

Taking aspirin with Biogen’s Tecfidera will reduce the flush, a sometimes painful form of red skin irritation, many patients experiences. The problem is that the aspirin has to be taken at least 30 minutes before Tecfidera, turning a simple twice-a-day, one-dose oral drug into a staggered two-drug regimen.

UP­DAT­ED: Bris­tol-My­ers makes Op­di­vo pitch for front­line lung can­cer with open la­bel PhI­II study

Despite a head start, when Bristol-Myers Squibb and its pioneering checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo suffered a key lung cancer setback in 2016, they found themselves relegated to the backseat as Merck’s Keytruda seized the wheel on the road to immunotherapy stardom. Bristol-Myers has since suffered blow after blow in its quest to take a big slice of the lucrative market, peppered with some small successes. On Tuesday, the New Jersey drugmaker touted positive data from a Phase III open-label study in a bid to carve itself a piece of the frontline lung cancer market.

Take­da tees up $420M deal for celi­ac an­ti­dote, con­tin­u­ing R&D re­fo­cus

Sometime in the 1st century AD, a patient presented to Arataeus looking like a varicose ghost. He was “emaciated and atrophied, pale, feeble and incapable of performing any of his accustomed works,” the Greek physician wrote, with hollow temples and huge veins running all over his body.

A dysfunctional digestive system, Arataeus concluded – an imbalance he attributed to a “heat” deficiency in a system he and other Greeks regarded as functioning similarly to an oven – and coined a term: coeliac disease, after the Greek word for abdomen.

UP­DAT­ED: The FDA sets a reg­u­la­to­ry speed record, pro­vid­ing a snap OK for Ver­tex's break­through triplet for cys­tic fi­bro­sis

The FDA has approved Vertex’s new triplet for cystic fibrosis at a record-setting speed.

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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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