Fortress Biotech sells bro­ker­age firm fol­low­ing Reuters ex­posé; Tra­con con­tends with an­oth­er set­back in brain can­cer

→ In the af­ter­math of a Reuters re­port shin­ing a light on its ques­tion­able re­la­tion­ship with Na­tion­al Hold­ings, Fortress Biotech an­nounced it is sell­ing con­trol of the bro­ker­age firm that’s pro­vid­ed con­sid­er­able — if in­con­spic­u­ous — fundrais­ing sup­port for its biotech ven­tures. In a deal reg­is­tered at $22.9 mil­lion, Fortress Bio will trans­fer its ma­jor­i­ty stake — 56.1% — to B. Ri­ley Fi­nan­cial, giv­ing the fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pa­ny ac­cess to 700 bro­kers, 90,000 cus­tomer ac­counts and $12 bil­lion-plus in client’s as­sets, the com­pa­nies say.

→ Tiny Tra­con $TCON has suf­fered an­oth­er brain can­cer set­back. Last year, its lead drug TRC105 failed in a Phase III NCI study in pa­tients with re­cur­rent glioblas­toma. On Mon­day, it re­port­ed dis­ap­point­ing ini­tial da­ta from a Phase II NCI study eval­u­at­ing its ex­per­i­men­tal drug, TRC102, in com­bi­na­tion with Mer­ck’s $MRK Temodar, in the same pa­tient pop­u­la­tion. TRC102 plus Temodar did not meet the main goal of re­sen­si­tiz­ing pa­tients to Temodar treat­ment in the ini­tial 19 en­rolled pa­tients, al­though two pa­tients met the sec­ondary end­point of pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival be­yond 6 months, the com­pa­ny said. The drug con­tin­ues to be eval­u­at­ed in four on­go­ing NCI tri­als.

→ Af­ter years of see­ing its stock in the gut­ters, RXi Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $RXII has de­cid­ed to op­er­ate un­der a new ban­ner: Phio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $PHIO. The name change re­flects its de­ci­sion to con­cen­trate on im­muno-on­col­o­gy ap­pli­ca­tions for its RNA tech, the com­pa­ny says, some­thing it’s sig­naled with a T-cell re­search pact with Medi­gene an­nounced late last year.

Har­vard spin­out QurAlis has brought its to­tal amount of seed fund­ing to $5.5 mil­lion by adding BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal and Vi­va Biotech Lim­it­ed to the fold. The mon­ey, as well as a sec­ond year of spon­sored lease at Lab­Cen­tral and a new res­i­den­cy at JLABS, will sup­port QurAlis’ in ad­vanc­ing its treat­ments for amy­otroph­ic lat­er­al scle­ro­sis (ALS) and fron­totem­po­ral de­men­tia to the clin­ic. “My part­ners and I have fol­lowed QurAlis’ progress close­ly dur­ing its time at Lab­Cen­tral,” said Jo­hannes Frue­hauf, pres­i­dent of Lab­Cen­tral and gen­er­al part­ner at BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal. “We be­lieve their nov­el ap­proach has the po­ten­tial to change the tra­jec­to­ry of the dis­ease, just as the an­tivi­ral ther­a­pies did for HIV in the late 1990s; we are ex­cit­ed to pro­vide our sup­port and ex­per­tise to help pro­pel the com­pa­ny for­ward.”

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Gos­samer push­es ahead with failed asth­ma drug; Cull­gen gets $50M Se­ries B for pro­tein de­graders

After getting beaten up by investors over the key failure of its lead drug GB001, Gossamer had already indicated that they thought they could move ahead in asthma, though likely through a partnership. And the biotech is pushing forward on that front, according to a Q4 statement today, following talks with regulators.

The company reported:

Gossamer engaged with the FDA and the EMA about the clinical development path in asthma, and based off those interactions, Gossamer believes that there is a viable clinical development path for GB001, or its backup molecule, in asthma. Gossamer does not currently plan to move forward with GB001, or its backup molecule, in further clinical trials without a partner.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: Com­mit­tee votes 22-0 to rec­om­mend an FDA OK for the J&J vac­cine, set­ting up 3rd US Covid-19 jab

The US could have a third authorized Covid-19 vaccine within hours.

The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously — 22-0 — to recommend the agency issue an emergency use authorization for J&J’s vaccine. If they follow the precedent of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine,  the FDA will likely authorize the vaccine by Saturday, immediately adding a few million doses to the US supply and adding a 100 million by June. An authorization would give the world its first single-dose vaccine, a major weapon in the effort to vaccinate the world and bring the virus to heel, particularly in rural and developing areas.