Alexis Borisy

EQRx scores $500M to dri­ve its dis­rup­tive drug pric­ing mod­el and late-stage on­col­o­gy hope­fuls to mar­ket

Near­ly a year in­to its mis­sion of rewrit­ing the rules of drug pric­ing, EQRx has made a few key late-stage pick­ups to speed up its march to mar­ket. With the ball rolling faster than ex­pect­ed, in­vestors are jump­ing on board in droves — and EQRx will soon have to prove if its dis­rup­tive busi­ness mod­el holds wa­ter.

EQRx has bagged a $500 mil­lion Se­ries B — among the largest of its kind in re­cent bio­phar­ma his­to­ry — to con­tin­ue dri­ving its on­col­o­gy and in­flam­ma­to­ry can­di­dates to mar­ket, the com­pa­ny said Mon­day.

The Boston area biotech will use the new trea­sure chest to de­vel­op its four in-li­censed Phase III on­col­o­gy hope­fuls as well as the rest of its pipeline, which the com­pa­ny has not pub­licly dis­closed. Those can­di­dates in­clude PD-L1 an­ti­body sug­e­mal­imab, EGFR in­hibitor au­mol­er­tinib, a PD-1 an­ti­body for­mer­ly dubbed CS1003 and CDK4/6 in­hibitor le­ro­ci­clib.

Once plan­ning to have its first in-house drug can­di­date ready for mar­ket in 2025, EQRx “ac­cel­er­at­ed the whole plan of the com­pa­ny” with li­cens­ing deals signed this year for those four drugs, CEO Alex­is Borisy told End­points News. Now, one or more could be com­mer­cial­ized by 2025, a “hot start” that has re­quired EQRx to ramp up its ef­forts to bring pay­ers and the “glob­al buy­ers’ club” on board its mis­sion to bring rock bot­tom-priced on­col­o­gy and in­flam­ma­to­ry prod­ucts to mar­ket.

The com­po­si­tion of EQRx’s most re­cent round could give some promise to that mis­sion, Borisy said, with in­vestors rang­ing from ven­ture cap­i­tal to “mar­ket lead­ing pay­ers and health sys­tems” the com­pa­ny will like­ly work with to help sell its drugs. EQRx is hop­ing to turn that “down pay­ment” from those pay­ers, who cov­er rough­ly 20% of in­sured pa­tients in the US, in­to large-scale col­lab­o­ra­tions cur­rent­ly in the works, Borisy said.

“It shows that what we’re do­ing re­al­ly res­onates,” Borisy said of the se­ries. “Build­ing a busi­ness at the right mo­ment in time is the hard­est thing to do. This is the right mo­ment in time. Peo­ple get it, they un­der­stand it, and they get that it’s doable to­day.”

EQRx launched in ear­ly 2020 with $200 mil­lion in in­vestor cash to help rewrite the mod­el for drug pric­ing, what Borisy called “re­mak­ing and reengi­neer­ing” the field. The com­pa­ny’s goal is even­tu­al­ly to op­er­ate at scale, us­ing its re­la­tion­ships with pay­ers and health sys­tems to de­vel­op and mar­ket on­col­o­gy and in­flam­ma­to­ry can­di­dates that are as ef­fec­tive as ap­proved drugs with a frac­tion of the price tag.

In two li­cens­ing deals signed since then — one in May to snag le­ro­ci­clib and al­moner­tinib from G1 Ther­a­peu­tics and Han­soh Phar­ma, re­spec­tive­ly, and an­oth­er in Oc­to­ber to pick up sug­e­mal­imab and CS1003  from CStone Ther­a­peu­tics — the com­pa­ny ac­quired four late-stage com­pounds that will test its dis­rup­tive busi­ness mod­el soon­er than ex­pect­ed.

While EQRx has on­ly iden­ti­fied four can­di­dates in its pipeline, the com­pa­ny does have more mol­e­cules on deck, Borisy said, all of them tar­get­ing es­tab­lished mar­kets with pre­mi­um-priced drugs. The biotech has the lofty goal of cut­ting the US health­care sys­tem’s an­nu­al drug spend by 50% to 70% across its tar­get­ed ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas.

For in­flam­ma­to­ry, where EQRx hasn’t dis­closed any can­di­dates, those fo­cus ar­eas will like­ly in­clude some of the most preva­lent dis­eases in the field, Borisy said: rheuma­toid arthri­tis, pso­ri­a­sis, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, etc.

In terms of whether EQRx could look to keep in-li­cens­ing ma­ture can­di­dates to com­ple­ment its in-house mol­e­cules, Borisy said his team would use the same stan­dards to judge what qual­i­fies as “an EQRx drug.”

“For it to be an EQRx drug, it needs to have a clear causal tar­get so that we un­der­stand the bio­chem­istry, the bio­physics, the phar­ma­col­o­gy, of the prod­uct,” Borisy said. “That way we can feel con­fi­dent the prod­uct we are in-li­cens­ing or that we are de­sign­ing meets the spec­i­fi­ca­tions of be­ing equal­ly good or bet­ter (than oth­er prod­ucts on the mar­ket).”

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Dipal Doshi, Entrada Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex just found the next big ‘trans­for­ma­tive’ thing for the pipeline — at a biotech just down the street

Back in the summer of 2019, when I was covering Vertex’s executive chairman Jeff Leiden’s plans for the pipeline, I picked up on a distinct focus on myotonic dystrophy Type I, or DM1 — one of what Leiden called “two diseases (with DMD) we’re interested in and we continue to look for those assets.”

Today, Leiden’s successor at the helm of Vertex, CEO Reshma Kewalramani, is plunking down $250 million in cash to go the extra mile on DM1. The lion’s share of that is for the upfront, with a small reserve for equity in a deal that lines Vertex up with a neighbor in Seaport that has been rather quietly going at both of Vertex’s early disease targets with preclinical assets.

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Christian Itin, Autolus CEO (UKBIO19)

Au­to­lus tips its hand, bags $220M as CAR-T show­down with Gilead looms

The first batch of pivotal data on Autolus Therapeutics’ CAR-T is in, and execs are ready to plot a path to market.

With an overall remission rate of 70% at the interim analysis featuring 50 patients, the results set the stage for a BLA filing by the end of 2023, said CEO Christian Itin.

Perhaps more importantly — given that Autolus’ drug, obe-cel, is going after an indication that Gilead’s Tecartus is already approved for — the biotech highlighted “encouraging safety data” in the trial, with a low percentage of patients experiencing severe immune responses.

Rami Elghandour, Arcellx CEO

Up­dat­ed: Gilead, Ar­cel­lx team up on an­ti-BC­MA CAR-T as biotech touts a 100% re­sponse rate at #ASH22

Gilead and Kite are plunking down big cash to get into the anti-BCMA CAR-T game.

The pair will shell out $225 million in cash upfront and $100 million in equity to Arcellx, Kite announced Friday morning, to develop the biotech’s lead CAR-T program together. Kite will handle commercialization and co-development with Arcellx, and profits in the US will be split 50-50.

Concurrent with the deal, Arcellx revealed its latest cut of data for the program known as CART-ddBCMA, ahead of a full presentation at this weekend’s ASH conference — a 100% response rate among patients getting the therapy. Investors jumped at the dual announcements, sending Arcellx shares $ACLX up more than 25% in Friday’s morning session.

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WIB22: Am­ber Salz­man had few op­tions when her son was di­ag­nosed with a rare ge­net­ic dis­ease. So she cre­at­ed a bet­ter one

This profile is part of Endpoints News’ 2022 special report about Women in Biopharma R&D. You can read the full report here.

Amber Salzman’s life changed on a cold, damp day in Paris over tiny plastic cups of lukewarm tea.

She was meeting with Patrick Aubourg, a French neurologist studying adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, a rare genetic condition that causes rapid neurological decline in young boys. It’s a sinister disease that often leads to disability or death within just a few years. Salzman’s nephew was diagnosed at just 6 or 7 years old, and died at the age of 12.

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Ahead of ad­comm, FDA rais­es un­cer­tain­ties on ben­e­fit-risk pro­file of Cy­to­ki­net­ic­s' po­ten­tial heart drug

The FDA’s Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will meet next Tuesday to discuss whether Cytokinetics’ potential heart drug can safely reduce the risk of cardiovascular death and heart failure in patients with symptomatic chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.

The drug, known as omecamtiv mecarbil and in development for more than 15 years, has seen mixed results, with a first Phase III readout from November 2020 hitting the primary endpoint of reducing the odds of hospitalization or other urgent care for heart failure by 8%. But it also missed a key secondary endpoint analysts had pegged as key to breaking into the market.

Ab­b­Vie slapped with age dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit, fol­low­ing oth­er phar­mas

Add AbbVie to the list of pharma companies currently facing age discrimination allegations.

Pennsylvania resident Thomas Hesch filed suit against AbbVie on Wednesday, accusing the company of passing him over for promotions in favor of younger candidates.

Despite 30 years of pharma experience, “Hesch has consistently seen younger, less qualified employees promoted over him,” the complaint states.

WIB22: Lead­ing NK cell re­searcher re­flects on roots in Iran, the UK and Texas

This profile is part of Endpoints News’ 2022 special report about Women in Biopharma R&D. You can read the full report here.

In a small but widely-cited 11-person study published in NEJM in 2020, seven patients saw signs of their cancer completely go away after getting a new therapy made from natural killer cells. The study was one of the earliest to provide clinical proof that the experimental treatment method had promise.

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Jonathan Lim, Erasca CEO (ARCH Venture Partners)

Eras­ca delves fur­ther in­to RAS/MAPK with No­var­tis drug, prices $100M of­fer­ing

After receiving feedback on pivotal studies from European regulators, but not yet the FDA, Novartis is out-licensing a pan-RAF inhibitor going after tumors excited by the RAS/MAPK pathway.

To get the exclusive worldwide license to the asset, Erasca is paying the Swiss Big Pharma $20 million upfront in cash and $80 million worth of shares. Erasca CEO Jonathan Lim told analysts Friday morning that the process was “competitive,” implying his biotech was far from the only one attempting to snag the drug from Novartis, which is going through a reorganization and a fine-tuning to its pipeline.

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