Eli Lil­ly's on­col­o­gy R&D spree con­tin­ues with $576M deal to buy a start­up and reel back Au­ro­ra A drug

Eli Lil­ly’s on­col­o­gy deal spree is con­tin­u­ing this morn­ing with a $576 mil­lion deal to buy out a Mon­tre­al-based start­up and reel back in an ear­ly-stage can­cer drug for its pipeline.

Levi Gar­raway

Lil­ly, which has been beef­ing up its can­cer R&D group in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a burst of new projects in the field, is pay­ing $111 mil­lion up front to buy Mon­tre­al-based Au­r­Ka Phar­ma with an­oth­er $465 mil­lion in mile­stones on the ta­ble.

The deal comes just four days af­ter Lil­ly $LLY an­nounced it had ac­quired Ar­mo Bio­Sciences $AR­MO for $1.6 bil­lion in cash. Ar­mo is one of the dar­lings in im­muno-on­col­o­gy which has a strat­e­gy in­volv­ing cy­tokine im­muno-stim­u­la­to­ry ther­a­pies, like Loxo.

In this new deal, Lil­ly wants to re­trieve an Au­ro­ra ki­nase A in­hibitor dubbed AK-01 that’s been demon­strat­ing some ear­ly-stage promise in Phase I stud­ies. TVM (Au­r­Ka’s par­ent com­pa­ny) bagged the drug back in 2016, when Lil­ly was shed­ding as­sets that didn’t fit its pri­or­i­ty list.

The big idea here is that the Au­ro­ra A ki­nase — a mas­ter reg­u­la­tor of mi­tot­ic pro­gres­sion — is need­ed for ge­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty and dis­rupt­ing it can play a role in pre­vent­ing tu­mor pro­gres­sion along a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent path­ways. As such it now fits Lil­ly’s sweet spot and the can­cer team wants it back in their pipeline.

Lil­ly’s on­col­o­gy group has been hir­ing in top tal­ent in an­tic­i­pa­tion of gear­ing up in can­cer drug de­vel­op­ment. The phar­ma gi­ant has scored some sig­nif­i­cant ap­provals in re­cent years, but has a rep in the in­dus­try as a lag­gard that tends to come in last place among more ag­gres­sive ri­vals.

The new lead­er­ship at Lil­ly says they plan to cor­rect past be­hav­iors in a late bid to catch up with the lead­ers in on­col­o­gy R&D. And they’ve laid out plans for do 4 or 5 of these ear­ly-stage deals every year — steer­ing clear of big M&A.

“The ac­qui­si­tion of Au­r­Ka Phar­ma ex­pands our pipeline with a promis­ing on­col­o­gy com­pound tar­get­ing a dis­tinct cell cy­cle path­way,” says Levi Gar­raway, se­nior vice pres­i­dent, glob­al de­vel­op­ment and med­ical af­fairs, Lil­ly On­col­o­gy. “The work done by Au­r­Ka will al­low Lil­ly to lever­age emerg­ing da­ta about can­cers in which this mol­e­cule might be ef­fec­tive, and de­ter­mine if it can be ben­e­fi­cial to peo­ple liv­ing with var­i­ous forms of can­cer.”

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.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

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.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.