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

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, oncology R&D, at EUBIO22 (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

Up­dat­ed: As­traZeneca jumps deep­er in­to cell ther­a­py 2.0 space with $320M biotech M&A

Right from the start, the execs at Neogene had some lofty goals in mind when they decided to try their hand at a cell therapy that could tackle solid tumors.

Its founders have helped hone a new approach that would pack in multiple neoantigen targets to create a personalized TCR treatment that would not just make the leap from blood to solid tumors, but do it with durability. And they managed to make their way rapidly to the clinic, unveiling their first Phase I program for advanced tumors just last May.

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Tim Van Hauwermeiren, argenx CEO

Ar­genx pur­chas­es $100M+ FDA pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er from blue­bird bio

Argenx’s Vyvgart is due for a speedy review at the FDA, thanks to a $102 million priority review voucher (PRV).

The Netherland-based biotech picked up the PRV from bluebird bio, the companies announced on Wednesday. PRVs shorten a drug’s FDA review period from 10 months to 6 months, though they often sell on the open market for around $100 million each.

Argenx plans on using the express ticket on efgartigimod, its neonatal Fc receptor (FcRn) blocker marketed as Vyvgart for adults with generalized myasthenia gravis (gMG). While Vyvgart won its first approval last December for the chronic neuromuscular disease — which is characterized by difficulties with facial expression, speech, swallowing and breathing — CEO Tim Van Hauwermeiren said in a news release that he plans to “be active in fifteen disease targets by 2025.”

Ei­sai’s ex­pand­ed Alzheimer’s da­ta leave open ques­tions about safe­ty and clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Researchers still have key questions about Eisai’s investigational Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab following the publication of more Phase III data in the New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday night.

In the paper, which was released in conjunction with presentations at an Alzheimer’s conference, trial investigators write that a definition of clinical meaningfulness “has not been established.” And the relative lack of new information, following topline data unveiled in September, left experts asking for more — setting up a potential showdown to precisely define how big a difference the drug makes in patients’ lives.

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Lil­ly's Covid-19 mAb no longer au­tho­rized due to Omi­cron sub­vari­ants, FDA says

The FDA on Wednesday announced that Eli Lilly’s Covid-19 drug bebtelovimab is no longer authorized to treat Covid-19 because of the rising numbers of two new subvariants that the drug does not work against.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week published new estimates that the combined proportion of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are greater than 57% nationally, and already above 50% in all individual regions but one.

Uğur Şahin, BioNTech CEO (ddp images/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech bets on dif­fi­cult STING field via small mol­e­cule pact with a Pol­ish biotech

BioNTech is beefing up its relatively thin small molecule pipeline by adding weight to a clinically difficult corner of oncology R&D: STING agonists. To do so, BioNTech is teaming up with a 15-year-old Polish biotech and doling out €40 million, about $41.5 million, to start.

The deal is broken into two parts: First, BioNTech obtains an exclusive global license to develop and market Ryvu Therapeutics’ STING agonist portfolio as small molecules, whether alone or in combination with other agents.

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Tim Walbert, Horizon Therapeutics CEO (via YouTube)

Hori­zon Ther­a­peu­tics in takeover talks with Am­gen, J&J, Sanofi as po­ten­tial buy­ers

Amgen, J&J’s Janssen and Sanofi are all in talks to acquire Horizon Therapeutics, the rare disease biotech disclosed late Tuesday.

Horizon confirmed “highly preliminary discussions” with those companies regarding a potential buyout offer after the Wall Street Journal reported takeover interest.

Although the company — which commands a market cap of close to $18 billion — emphasized that “there can be no certainty that any offer will be made for the Company,” shares $HZNP still surged 31% in after-hours trading to near $103, bringing it to the point where it started the year.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Romuald Meigneux/Sipa via AP Images)

Sanofi and DN­Di aim to elim­i­nate sleep­ing sick­ness in Africa with promis­ing Ph II/III re­sults for new drug

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) and Sanofi today said that their potential sleeping sickness treatment saw success rates of up to 95% from a Phase II/III study investigating the safety and efficacy of single-dose acoziborole.

The potentially transformative treatment for sleeping sickness would mainly be targeted at African countries, according to data published today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal. The clinical trial was led by DNDi and its partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Guinea, with the authors noting:

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

Twit­ter dis­ar­ray con­tin­ues as phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ers ex­tend paus­es and look around for op­tions, but keep tweet­ing

Pharma advertisers on Twitter are done — at least for now. Ad spending among the previous top spenders flattened even further last week, according to the latest data from ad tracker Pathmatics, amid ongoing turmoil after billionaire boss Elon Musk’s takeover now one month ago.

Among 18 top advertisers tracked for Endpoints News, only two are spending: GSK and Bayer. GSK spending for the full week through Sunday was minimal at just under $1,900. Meanwhile, German drugmaker Bayer remains the industry outlier upping its spending to $499,000 last week from $480,000 the previous week. Bayer’s spending also marks a big increase from a month ago and before the Musk takeover, when it spent $16,000 per week.

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Vi­a­tris with­draws ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for top­i­cal an­timi­cro­bial 24 years lat­er

After 24 years without confirming clinical benefit, the FDA announced Tuesday morning that Viatris (formed via Mylan and Pfizer’s Upjohn) has decided to withdraw a topical antimicrobial agent, Sulfamylon (mafenide acetate), after the company said conducting a confirmatory study was not feasible.

Sulfamylon first won FDA’s accelerated nod in 1998 as a topical burn treatment, with the FDA noting that last December, Mylan told the agency that it wasn’t running the trial.

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