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.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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#ES­MO20: Re­gen­eron, Sanofi eye an­oth­er first for their PD-1 con­tender Lib­tayo with promis­ing da­ta for on­col­o­gy niche

Regeneron and Sanofi took another step forward in the long march towards a greatly expanded market for their late-bloomer PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo.

The two occasional allies posted an objective response rate of 31% for Libtayo among 84 patients suffering from advanced cases of basal cell carcinoma at virtual ESMO. That spotlights progress for 26 patients, 5 of whom had a complete response. The data also reflect a boost in the number of responses seen from the last cut of the numbers.

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Seat­tle Ge­net­ic­s' Astel­las-part­nered ADC nails con­fir­ma­to­ry PhI­II in urothe­lial can­cer

Nine months after Seattle Genetics nabbed an accelerated approval for its Astellas-partnered antibody-drug conjugate Padcev, the partners said the therapy has nailed a confirmatory Phase III, proving its worth in locally advanced or metastatic urothelial cancer.

Padcev, which has widely been tapped as a potential blockbuster, scored improvements in both overall survival and progression-free survival compared to chemotherapy, causing a 30% reduction in risk of death (p = 0.001) and 39% reduction in risk of disease progression or death (p<0.00001).

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er ex­ecs con­fi­dent­ly tap their top 10 block­busters-to-be. But what are the chances of sur­viv­ing PhI­II, let alone hit­ting these big peak sales es­ti­mates?

Pfizer’s top executive team doesn’t lack for confidence.

Where many Big Pharmas would be reluctant to put a peak sales figure on their late-stage drugs, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has shrugged off the usual diffidence to outline where the pharma giant expects to get $15 billion-plus.

The list, outlined this week during their investor presentations, is topped by 3 drugs in the $3 billion-plus peak sales category. They are:

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'The biggest in­flec­tion point ever': On R&D day, Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel dou­bles down on vac­cines and lays out a vi­sion for a '40, 50'-drug biotech

The stakes have always been different for Moderna. They didn’t invest more in the Covid-19 vaccine race than Pfizer, Sanofi or AstraZeneca, and they didn’t have more to lose than Novavax — a $100 million biotech that became a $7 billion company virtually overnight. But they had considerably more to gain than anyone.

Born with grand ambitions and the checkbook to match, Moderna spent its first decade of life attracting as many critics of its vision to remake drug development as it did backers. But the pandemic presented a twin opportunity: to prove its technology on a global stage and to give a still-young biotech billions in annual revenue years before anticipated.

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Steve Hurly, Lava CEO

La­va breaks pro­longed si­lence with an $83M Se­ries C and two I/O pro­grams set for the clin­ic

Lava debuted in May of 2018 with $18.9 million, a platform built around something called gamma delta cells and a plan, apparently, of saying nothing else for the next two years. They never announced a program and they did not issue another press release for the next 20 months.

In May, though, the Dutch-American biotech announced a partnership on cancer bispecifics with J&J. And today, CEO Steve Hurly is ready to talk about what they’ve been working on for the last two years in Utrecht and Philadelphia – as well as the $83 million they raised from Novo, Sanofi and others to bring that work into the clinic next year.