In­vestors fret as new reg­u­la­to­ry probes spur fresh de­lays to Roche's $4.3B Spark buy­out

An­oth­er day, an­oth­er de­lay. On Mon­day, Roche re­vealed that in ad­di­tion to the US Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion, the UK’s Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Au­thor­i­ty is prob­ing the Spark Ther­a­peu­tics takeover deal, trig­ger­ing an­oth­er de­lay of the $4.3 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion an­nounced in Feb­ru­ary.

Spark share­hold­ers now have un­til Ju­ly 31 to ten­der their shares.

Since its last up­date in mid-May, the per­cent­age of shares al­ready sold inched up to 21.1% from 21%, low­er than 26.1% and 29.4% reg­is­tered on pre­vi­ous dead­lines. These num­bers are still a far cry from the 50% re­quired to con­sum­mate the deal, but Roche has main­tained it’s not un­usu­al for “a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of share­hold­ers” to wait un­til the last days of the of­fer pe­ri­od.

“We think this is ap­pro­pri­ate dili­gence by FTC but there is un­like­ly any ma­jor is­sue and the deal will close smooth­ly,” Jef­feries an­a­lysts wrote in a note, not­ing that he­mo­phil­ia mar­ket is crowd­ed and that the way a gene ther­a­py is en­gi­neered to work is a stark con­trast to Roche’s ex­ist­ing Hem­li­bra he­mo­phil­ia drug.

“If any­thing, the reg­u­la­tors should see the nu­mer­ous com­peti­tors as pos­i­tive for the mar­ket dy­nam­ics where­by price could po­ten­tial­ly come way down over time and all the play­ers will have to bat­tle for pa­tients (sim­i­lar to Hep C mar­ket in that re­spect)…For these fun­da­men­tal im­por­tant rea­sons, we don’t see how this will be an an­ti-com­pet­i­tive merg­er and un­der­stand the reg­u­la­tors are think­ing about it in the long-term,” they wrote.

Roche’s orig­i­nal dead­line for the deal clos­ing was set for the first half of 2019. “(I)t is un­like­ly that the trans­ac­tion will close dur­ing the first half of 2019. The par­ties ex­pect the trans­ac­tion to close in 2019,” a Roche spokesper­son tells End­points News.

Mean­while the UK’s CMA has al­so opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the pro­posed takeover to de­ter­mine whether the deal could hurt com­pe­ti­tion in the UK. Pend­ing the out­come of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the CMA has is­sued an in­ter­im en­force­ment or­der  which pre­cludes Roche from in­te­grat­ing Spark in­to the com­pa­ny, and stip­u­lates the two main­tain and op­er­ate the two busi­ness­es sep­a­rate­ly — for now. Both firms are co­op­er­at­ing with the CMA, they said on Mon­day.

“The is­suance of an IEO does not of it­self mean that the CMA has sub­stan­tive con­cerns about the ac­qui­si­tion nor that the CMA has the le­gal pow­er to in­ter­vene to im­pose con­di­tions to the ac­qui­si­tion pro­ceed­ing,” the spokesper­son added.

Spark’s in­vestors ex­pressed their frus­tra­tion with the lat­est de­lay, as the com­pa­ny’s shares $ONCE tum­bled about 9% to $99.80 in ear­ly morn­ing trad­ing.

In a Feb­ru­ary Q&A doc­u­ment in­tend­ed to pla­cate em­ploy­ees, Spark sug­gest­ed that Roche in­tend­ed to al­low the Philadel­phia-based com­pa­ny to op­er­ate as an au­tonomous gene ther­a­py spe­cial­ist, while pour­ing in the re­sources to build a whole unit around it.

Im­age: Spark CEO Jef­frey Mar­raz­zo at an End­points News break­fast pan­el at the 2019 JP Mor­gan con­fer­ence in San Fran­cis­co – pho­to by Jeff Ru­mans for End­points News

Van­da shares slide af­ter FDA spurns their big end­point and re­jects a pitch on jet lag re­lief

Back in the spring of last year, Vanda Pharmaceuticals $VNDA served up a hot stew of mixed data for a slate of endpoints related to what they called clear evidence that their melatonin sleep drug Hetlioz (tasimelteon) could help millions of travelers suffering from jet lag.

Never mind that they couldn’t get a planned 90 people in the study, settling for 25 instead; Vanda CEO Mihael H. Polymeropoulos said they were building on a body of data to prove it would help jet-lagged patients looking for added sleep benefits. And that, they added, would be worth a major upgrade from the agency as they sought to tackle a big market.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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UP­DAT­ED: 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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Health­i­er, longer lifes­pans will be a re­al­i­ty soon­er than you think, Ju­ve­nes­cence promis­es as it clos­es $100M round

Earlier this year, an executive from Juvenescence-backed AgeX predicted the field of longevity will eventually “dwarf the dotcom boom.” Greg Bailey, the UK-based anti-aging biotech’s CEO, certainly hopes so.

On Monday, Juvenescence completed its $100 million Series B round of financing. The company is backed by British billionaire Jim Mellon — who wrote his 400-page guide to investing in the field of longevity shortly after launching the company in 2017.  Bailey, who served as a board director for seven years at Medivation before Pfizer swallowed the biotech for $14 billion, is joined by Declan Doogan, an industry veteran with stints at Pfizer and Amarin.

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.