Image: Tony Coles, Richard Peters. Yumanity

Fresh out of be­lea­guered Mer­ri­mack, Richard Pe­ters jumps in­to the wel­come arms of Tony Coles at Yu­man­i­ty

In the five-plus years Tony Coles sailed Onyx Phar­ma ul­ti­mate­ly to a multi­bil­lion sale to Am­gen, he saw Richard Pe­ters — then a se­nior di­rec­tor of med­ical af­fairs — as a “stand­out star” who had the unique abil­i­ty to spot an op­por­tu­ni­ty and seize it.

That’s why, more than 10 years lat­er, Coles finds it “huge­ly re­as­sur­ing” to pass Pe­ters the reins to Yu­man­i­ty Ther­a­peu­tics, the biotech he co-found­ed with the late Su­san Lindquist to tack­le neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases with a fresh ap­proach.

Pe­ters, of course, jumps from trou­bled can­cer biotech Mer­ri­mack — the lat­est of sev­er­al lead­er­ship roles he’s tak­en since de­camp­ing Onyx. But while Mer­ri­mack’s press re­lease sec­tion from the past year is pop­u­lat­ed with bad news af­ter bad news, he stands by the or­ga­ni­za­tion­al work he was able to do.

“We achieved a lot of the goals that the board has asked us to achieve, which was to lead a turn­around sit­u­a­tion there at the com­pa­ny,” Pe­ters said, point­ing to as­set sales, fi­nan­cial re­struc­tur­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion in pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal time­lines. “Un­for­tu­nate­ly some of the da­ta read­outs didn’t work out, and in drug de­vel­op­ment some­times you face those hur­dles but I’m proud of the tenure there.”

And Coles came pre­pared with his own ra­tio­nale on why that ac­tu­al­ly makes Pe­ters a bet­ter leader:

Hav­ing been a CEO for a very long time, I ac­tu­al­ly val­ue the skills of CEOs who suc­cess­ful­ly man­age com­pa­nies where things don’t go as planned be­cause while that’s a very dif­fer­ent skillset, it’s equal­ly valu­able to un­der­stand the el­e­ments of a busi­ness, the im­por­tant val­ue dri­vers of a busi­ness, how to man­age ad­ver­si­ty, and how to blend those skills with the growth skills, the val­ue cre­ation skills, re­al­ly to cre­ate the full pack­age. And I would say that Richard is the full pack­age.

As the new ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, Coles will now team up with Pe­ters to ex­e­cute on a de­vel­op­ment plan that will ide­al­ly ush­er three pro­grams to the clin­ic by 2021, with the first Phase I tri­al planned for this fall.

The lead pro­gram is an SCD in­hibitor for Parkin­son’s dis­ease, hit­ting a tar­get iden­ti­fied by Yu­man­i­ty’s dis­cov­ery plat­form. Scour­ing both yeast and hu­man neu­rons, the tech is de­signed to search for com­pounds that can mod­u­late tox­i­c­i­ties ini­ti­at­ed by pro­tein mis­fold­ing.

“As I came to this field it was very clear to me that we need­ed new tar­gets, a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the bi­ol­o­gy of these dis­eases,” Coles said. “And that’s ex­act­ly what Yu­man­i­ty is cre­at­ing which is why the com­pa­ny is at such an ex­cit­ing junc­ture now.”

Pe­ters echoes the sen­ti­ment, call­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders “the great­est ther­a­peu­tic chal­lenge of our time.” In his new job he ex­pects to turn back to some lessons learned at Sanofi Gen­zyme, where he cham­pi­oned and over­saw a rare neu­rol­o­gy unit while head­ing rare dis­eases.

There are prac­tices to be bor­rowed, for in­stance, in uti­liz­ing bio­mark­ers for bet­ter pa­tient se­lec­tion and tri­al de­sign.

“This is some­thing that of course the rare dis­ease space has al­ways done, on­col­o­gy is do­ing now, and I re­al­ly be­lieve that neu­rol­o­gy is al­so go­ing to be fol­low­ing suit,” Pe­ters said.

Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors. 

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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Part club, part guide, part land­lord: Arie Bellde­grun is blue­print­ing a string of be­spoke biotech com­plex­es in glob­al boom­towns — start­ing with Boston

The biotech industry is getting a landlord, unlike anything it’s ever known before.

Inspired by his recent experiences scrounging for space in Boston and the Bay Area, master biotech builder, investor, and global dealmaker Arie Belldegrun has organized a new venture to build a new, 250,000 square foot biopharma building in Boston’s Seaport district — home to Vertex and a number of up-and-coming biotech players.

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