Fast biotech: Gilead hands $200M to com­pu­ta­tion­al wiz Nim­bus as it speeds in­to PhII NASH tri­al

Nim­bus CEO Don Nichol­son

When Nim­bus Ther­a­peu­tics CEO Don Nichol­son struc­tured his $1.2 bil­lion li­cens­ing deal with Gilead $GILD ear­li­er this year, he built it with the Big Biotech’s rep for fo­cus, sci­ence and clin­i­cal speed in mind.

It paid off. Fast.

To­day, Cam­bridge, MA-based Nim­bus is re­veal­ing that it grabbed a $200 mil­lion mile­stone from Gilead for its ear­ly-stage NASH drug, just 6 months af­ter nab­bing a $400 mil­lion up­front pay­ment. The pay­out now gives them $600 mil­lion this year, half of that $1.2 bil­lion deal to­tal that Gilead signed off on.

“It’s a great drug for a com­pa­ny that re­al­ly needs a pipeline,” Nichol­son tells me about his new part­ners at Gilead. “Once they sink their teeth in­to some­thing, they go af­ter it ham­mer and tong.”

Nichol­son says the pay­out is a di­rect ben­e­fit of his de­ci­sion to over­look an­oth­er of­fer for more mon­ey — no, he’s not say­ing which com­pa­ny was left at the deal ta­ble — to fa­vor a part­ner that demon­strat­ed with hep C that it will move heav­en and earth to push rapid­ly through the clin­ic. What he al­so can’t say is ex­act­ly what the mile­stone pay­ment is for, though it seems rea­son­able to as­sume on my end that it might have some­thing to do with the quick ramp up for a mid-stage clin­i­cal pro­gram.

Work­ing with a com­pu­ta­tion­al chem­istry plat­form that has at­tract­ed the back­ing of Mi­crosoft mogul Bill Gates, Nim­bus built a pro­gram for a drug that tar­gets an en­zyme called Acetyl-CoA car­boxy­lase, or ACC, in­volved in the cre­ation of en­doge­nous fat­ty acids and the reg­u­la­tion of be­ta-ox­i­da­tion, de­scribed as the process by which fat­ty acids are bro­ken down at a cel­lu­lar lev­el.

Tack­ling ACC, if it works as planned, should pre­vent the buildup of lipids in the liv­er and break down the ones al­ready present, re­duc­ing the fi­bro­sis that is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the fat­ty liv­er dis­ease. For Gilead, it’s al­so a can­di­date for the kind of com­bi­na­tion ap­proach­es that they fa­vor in look­ing to com­mand a mar­ket like NASH.

Now with $600 mil­lion in hand from the sale of a sub­sidiary, all hands on deck at Nim­bus have switched to work­ing on pre­clin­i­cal ef­forts, with lead ef­forts un­der­way for Tyk2 and STING.

The Gilead deal came along at a per­fect time, adds the CEO. In late 2015, Nim­bus was work­ing on an S-1. Then the IPO mar­ket chilled over — par­tic­u­lar­ly for ear­ly-stage, high-risk biotechs. Now he has the cash to re­ward in­vestors as well as em­ploy­ees while stock­pil­ing enough cash to pay for years of run­way.

Says Nichol­son: “It gave us an aw­ful lot of fi­nan­cial op­tions.”

And the biotech can hang on to the S-1 for a bet­ter mo­ment on the mar­ket.

In cer­tain cir­cles among the scribes that cov­er biotech, biobucks have a faint scent of the dis­rep­utable. The cash awards of­fered for de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial mile­stones can be writ­ten off as un­at­tain­able stacks of Mo­nop­oly mon­ey, of­ten use­ful on­ly in the realm of fan­ta­sy — Lep­rechaun gold found in the pot at the end of every rain­bow.

But Nim­bus Ther­a­peu­tics of­fers us an ex­am­ple of how wrong that view can be.

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Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

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With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.

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The Danish biotech reported Tuesday that it decided to kill their program for enapotamab vedotin after the data gathered from expansion cohorts failed to measure up. According to the company:

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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