Faster, cheap­er, bet­ter? Post-buy­out deal Cel­gene jumps in­to AI al­liance with a $25 mil­lion bet on speed­ing dis­cov­ery work

Cel­gene clear­ly isn’t wait­ing in lim­bo to see when, or if, the big Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb deal will go through. It’s still ex­e­cut­ing deals, and the R&D side of the busi­ness has just en­list­ed one of the more promi­nent AI play­ers to go to work on a trio of new drug projects in on­col­o­gy and im­munol­o­gy. They’re pay­ing $25 mil­lion up front to get the tech par­ty start­ed.

An­drew Hop­kins

Cel­gene, a top 15 R&D group world­wide by re­search bud­get, tied up with Ex­sci­en­tia in Ox­ford, UK for the work. We aren’t get­ting any specifics about the tar­gets, but the com­pa­ny is ex­plor­ing AI to see how it lives up to the emerg­ing field’s big boast: That they can de­liv­er new drugs for hu­man test­ing faster and more ac­cu­rate­ly than the stan­dard in­dus­try ap­proach the big play­ers have been us­ing. In Cel­gene’s case, that would com­mon­ly mean go­ing out and do­ing a dis­cov­ery deal with a biotech, but the ma­jors al­so have their own in-house op­er­a­tions.

“This is the largest AI deal so far,” Ex­sci­en­tia CEO An­drew Hop­kins tells me, with “very sub­stan­tial” mile­stones built in.

The AI play­er’s boast is that they can take you through con­cept to hit dis­cov­ery and lead iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in 12 months or less — which they say they’ve done 4 times now. The first 3 were bis­pecifics, not easy to do, the CEO adds.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing busi­ness mod­el which has at­tract­ed con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion over the last 2 years. It’s al­so de­liv­ered pacts for Ex­sci­en­tia with a bevy of promi­nent in­dus­try play­ers: Roche, GSK, Sanofi and Evotec.

Like oth­ers in the field, Hop­kins likes to point to the num­bers in an in­flu­en­tial study that Steven Paul — now a biotech en­tre­pre­neur — did in the spring of 2010 dur­ing a lengthy stint at Eli Lil­ly which un­der­scored the kind of time and mon­ey that a phar­ma gi­ant spent on dis­cov­ery (How to im­prove R&D pro­duc­tiv­i­ty: the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try’s grand chal­lenge). The cap­i­tal­ized cost of lead op­ti­miza­tion alone, he and his team — which in­clud­ed Bernard Munos — cal­cu­lat­ed, was $414 mil­lion. The out of pock­et for lead op­ti­miza­tion was $146 mil­lion.

These num­bers have been known to cause some hoot­ing in the biotech world, where it’s not un­com­mon to get $30 mil­lion — or con­sid­er­ably less — in VC mon­ey to get through to an IND. Lead op­ti­miza­tion in the biotech world hap­pens less ex­pen­sive­ly. But the ma­jors are play­ing a dif­fer­ent game, which is one rea­son why most of the phar­ma gi­ants have been work­ing on AI as a way to im­prove ef­fi­cien­cies — though many would tell you the ju­ry is out and will re­main out un­til these IND projects turn in­to ap­proved drugs.

One num­ber that Hop­kins was cu­ri­ous­ly un­will­ing to part with was the size of his staff. He de­clined to say how many em­ploy­ees work at the AI com­pa­ny, and a spokesper­son fol­lowed up with “less than 50.” Af­ter this sto­ry post­ed on­line, an­oth­er con­tact came back with “around 50.” So make of that what you will.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.