Ben Auspitz, F-Prime

From $30M launch round to $400M buy­out deal — with $250M up­front — in 10 short months

Stephen Farr Zo­genix

F-Prime’s Ben Aus­pitz has turned a mod­est in­vest­ment in his new­ly launched biotech Modis Ther­a­peu­tics in­to a quick score on the M&A side. And the deal comes with some lessons on the speed rare dis­ease biotechs can move these days, as well as the val­ue they can cre­ate in short or­der.

Ra­zor fo­cused on rare mi­to­chon­dr­i­al DNA de­ple­tion dis­or­ders, Oak­land, CA-based Zo­genix $ZGNX has come up with a $400 mil­lion deal to bag the com­pa­ny and its fledg­ling pipeline — just 10 months af­ter Aus­pitz put to­geth­er a $30 mil­lion A round. The buy­out terms in­clude $250 mil­lion in cash and stock along with $150 mil­lion for reg­u­la­to­ry ap­provals in the US and Eu­rope.

The deal gives Zo­genix chief Stephen Farr the chance to get this one right from the start. The com­pa­ny was em­bar­rassed by a refuse-to-file no­tice from the FDA last April for their drug to treat Dravet syn­drome. Reg­u­la­tors called out the com­pa­ny for slop­py and in­ad­e­quate work.

Mi­chio Hi­ra­no Co­lum­bia

Aus­pitz gam­bled on re­search by Mi­chio Hi­ra­no of Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Irv­ing Med­ical Cen­ter and Ra­mon Martí at Barcelona’s Vall d’He­bron Re­search In­sti­tute. They came up with MT1621, the lead drug for thymi­dine ki­nase 2 de­fi­cien­cy (TK2d). 

The VC is shar­ing the wealth with the rest of the syn­di­cate, which in­cludes Or­biMed, Ac­eras Life Sci­ences and Os­age Uni­ver­si­ty Part­ners.

While they were dis­cussing an­i­mal da­ta for the launch round, the drug has since com­plet­ed a Phase II piv­otal pro­gram in 38 pa­tients. Modis re­ports a strong p val­ue (0.004) in sur­vival, com­par­ing their da­ta to a his­tor­i­cal con­trol group. And Modis is al­so boast­ing about hit­ting key goals for “func­tion­al abil­i­ties, in some cas­es re-ac­quir­ing pre­vi­ous­ly lost mo­tor mile­stones.”

Ra­mon Martí VHIR

In re­cent months the biotech al­so picked up break­through sta­tus at the FDA and PRIME sta­tus at the EMA, en­cour­ag­ing plans for a quick di­a­logue with the FDA.

The ther­a­py is not free of safe­ty pit­falls, though.

Modis ex­ecs say that 2 adult-on­set pa­tients “stopped treat­ment due to asymp­to­matic in­creas­es in amino­trans­feras­es, with­out in­creas­es in biliru­bin, which re­solved up­on dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of treat­ment.”

It’s all in Zo­genix’s hands now.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)

Up­dat­ed: Hit by an­oth­er PhI­II flop, Sanofi culls breast can­cer drug — sound­ing alarm for the class

Sanofi is officially giving up on its oral SERD.

The French drugmaker put out word Wednesday morning that it will discontinue the global development program of amcenestrant, the selective estrogen receptor degrader once billed as a top late-stage prospect. Having already failed a Phase II monotherapy test earlier this year, a combo with the drug also missed the bar in a second trial for breast cancer, triggering the decision to drop the whole program.

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Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Kate Haviland, Blueprint Medicines CEO

Blue­print met all its end­points in bid for ex­pand­ed Ay­vak­it la­bel — but stock trends low­er any­way

Blueprint Medicines announced this morning that the second part of its study on Ayvakit in non-advanced systemic mastocytosis (SM) — a rare disease in which a type of white blood cells known as mast cells builds up — met all endpoints, but the biopharma left key questions unanswered.

In 212 patients, with 141 in the treatment arm and 71 in the control arm, patients who got Ayvakit saw an average 15.6-point decrease in their symptom scores compared to a 9.2-point decrease in the placebo arm at 24 weeks. In an extension study, those on Ayvakit saw their symptom scores drop by 20.2 points by week 48.

Atomwise CEO and co-founder Abraham Heifets (left) and co-founder Izhar Wallach

A cou­ple bil­lion for Ex­sci­en­tia was on­ly part of Sanofi's AI am­bi­tions, as the Big Phar­ma adds Atom­wise to the ta­ble

Sanofi made clear its AI ambitions were real at the beginning of this year when the Big Pharma took its drug discovery collaboration with Exscientia to the next level, inking a pact that could birth 15 drugs and deliver $5.3 billion to the UK partner.

Seven months later, the AI blueprint is far from over at the French Big Pharma, as another of the much-hyped drug discovery startups is coming to the table in a five-drug deal. Sanofi will pay Atomwise $20 million to kick off the hunt for up to five targets, which are aimed at leading to the creation of new small molecules. Another $1 billion is on the line — as are royalties — and the companies kept mum on the specific diseases or broader therapeutic areas of interest.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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