EY: Post-boom biotech still has plen­ty of up­beat trends to boast about

If you just com­pare the top-line biotech num­bers for 2016 to 2015, you’d have good rea­son to de­spair. New drug ap­provals by the FDA plunged, net in­come for pub­lic biotechs cratered and to­tal cap­i­tal raised slid a stom­ach churn­ing 45%, ac­cord­ing to the fig­ures gath­ered by EY. Biotech fi­nanc­ing over­all dropped in 2016, for the first time since 2012.

Glen Gio­van­net­ti

So why are the an­a­lysts at EY — led by team leader Glen Gio­van­net­ti — so hap­py about last year’s per­for­mance?

Step back and look at the glob­al busi­ness over the past 15 years, as EY did for their an­nu­al Be­yond Bor­ders as­sess­ment, and you’ll see that even as the fig­ures year-over-year didn’t look great in every in­stance, they were gen­er­al­ly pos­i­tive — if not down­right bull­ish — com­pared to the pre-boom years.

Look­ing at es­tab­lished biotech cen­ters in the US and Eu­rope, EY con­clud­ed that net rev­enue surged 7% for the pub­lic crowd. The same com­pa­nies bid up their R&D gam­ble by 12% even as net in­come de­clined by slight­ly more than half and their col­lec­tive mar­ket cap sank 17%.

In­dus­try em­ploy­ment in the pub­lic sec­tor in­creased by 14%, ris­ing to 203,210. And while fi­nanc­ing was way down year over year, it was still the third best fig­ure EY has ever tracked as ven­ture in­vest­ing glob­al­ly con­tin­ues to im­press and new drug ap­provals this year surge back up.

EY an­a­lysts tracked 291 seed and Se­ries A biotech rounds in 2016 worth $3.6 bil­lion, just a half step be­hind 2015’s record spike of $3.8 bil­lion, with the VCs clear­ly com­mit­ted to fund­ing a new wave of up­starts in drug de­vel­op­ment.

Leav­ing out the biggest play­ers, New Eng­land biotechs raised a to­tal of $7.1 bil­lion in 2016, com­pared to $4.8 bil­lion in the Bay Area. Biotechs in main­land Chi­na, Japan, Sin­ga­pore, South Ko­rea and Tai­wan — rep­re­sent­ing an in­creas­ing­ly bois­ter­ous mar­ket in Asia —col­lec­tive­ly raised $2.5 bil­lion-plus in over­all fi­nanc­ing, even as more in­vestors in Asia got more deeply in­volved in back­ing US and Eu­ro­pean biotechs.

Like oth­ers in the big ac­count­ing world, EY says that the amount large phar­ma com­pa­nies are spend­ing on re­search is clear­ly un­sus­tain­able, if you look at what they’re get­ting out of it. And against that back­drop, pay­ers have ag­gres­sive­ly adopt­ed for­mu­la­ry con­trols aimed at ratch­et­ing back use of ex­pen­sive ther­a­pies.

But there’s noth­ing new about phar­ma’s poor ROI, un­der­scor­ing that the fun­da­men­tals are all in place to keep the in­dus­try grow­ing.

“This is nev­er go­ing away,” Gio­van­net­ti tells me. “There is go­ing to be pres­sure on pric­ing and val­ue.” But some­thing else isn’t go­ing away: “We’re get­ting old­er and we’re get­ting sick­er.” And no mat­ter how you slice it, Big Phar­ma still ur­gent­ly needs the in­no­va­tion that biotech pro­vides, which will in­evitably dri­ve more M&A in 2017.

EY’s ad­vice: Look to some new tech­nolo­gies to bend the curve on R&D pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and don’t stop be­liev­ing in biotech. All the noise out of Wash­ing­ton, DC on health­care re­form, big changes to the tax code and drug prices — as well as Brex­it in the UK — may best be ig­nored un­til some­thing con­crete emerges.

Per­haps John Mil­li­gan at Gilead said it best, notes Gio­van­net­ti: “I think that un­cer­tain­ty in Wash­ing­ton seems to be the norm in my 27 years here,” not­ed Mil­li­gan. Gilead has “learned to fil­ter that out and fo­cus on the things that are right for the com­pa­ny.”

Bot­tom line, says Gio­van­net­ti: “Stay the course and fil­ter out what you can’t con­trol.”

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).

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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Hal Barron [File photo]

Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Alk­er­mes adds bipo­lar I dis­or­der to its FDA wish­list; Con­go con­firms first Ebo­la case in large city

→ An ever-ambitious Alkermes $ALKS team plans to add bipolar I disorder to its list of conditions for ALKS-3831, which it plans to pitch to the FDA in Q4. Alkermes says they were persuaded to add bipolar I disorder after a pre-NDA meeting with the agency, which came about 7 months after the biotech reported positive data for schizophrenia. The drug is a combo using olanzapine/samidorphan, which they hope will be shown to be as effective as olanzapine without the substantial increase in the risk of weight gain.

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah raise a $300M fund de­vot­ed to biotech star­tups

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah have another $300 million-plus to play with on the biotech venture side of their investment business. 

The two announced Monday morning that they’ve put together their first pure-play venture fund at RA Capital Management, which has been known to bet on just about every angle in healthcare investing — from rounds to follow-on investments at public companies. This new fund of theirs arrives well into a go-go era of new startup financing, with a particular focus on building new biotechs.

Boehringer buys Swiss biotech in its lat­est M&A deal, go­ing the next-gen can­cer vac­cine route

Boehringer Ingelheim has snapped up a Swiss biotech startup and added their group as a new platform for the oncology pipeline. 

The German biopharma company has bagged Geneva-based AMAL Therapeutics, paying out an unspecified upfront in a $358 million deal — cash, milestones and everything else, all in. Plus there’s 100 million euros on the line for commercial milestones.

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Ab­b­Vie beefs up the on­col­o­gy pipeline, bag­ging an up­start STING play­er with its own unique ap­proach

AbbVie isn’t letting its $63 billion buyout of Allergan stop its M&A/deals team from continuing their work.

Monday morning we learned that the pharma giant is snapping up tiny Mavupharma out of Seattle, a Frazier-backed startup that has its own unique take on STING — which is on the threshold of their first clinical trial.

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Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Billing itself as the first AI biotech with programs in the clinic, Salt Lake City-based Recursion now has a $121 million bankroll to start gathering human data to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re trying to build this discovery engine,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two programs in the clinic.” And that, he adds, qualifies as a first for any AI establishment “that actually have something in the clinic.”

FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.