From big bio­phar­ma to biotech CEO, John Hous­ton’s R&D jour­ney high­lights a fast-chang­ing world

John Hous­ton spent close to 30 years in the ranks of two big bio­phar­ma R&D or­ga­ni­za­tions. There was a decade at GSK fol­lowed by 18 more years at Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, where he built a re­sume around con­struct­ing their drug dis­cov­ery tech­nol­o­gy base and was cred­it­ed with a key role in de­vel­op­ing a range of ma­jor fran­chise drugs like Op­di­vo and Yer­voy.

Then about two years ago, in­stead of de­vel­op­ing new drugs, he was charged with lend­ing a hand at shut­ting down two big re­search sites in Seat­tle and Walling­ford, CT, while BMS set its sights on a new R&D cen­ter in Cam­bridge.

And he found that he didn’t like the re­struc­tur­ing world so much.

“I de­cid­ed it was not what I want­ed to do, to con­tin­ue to close sites and han­dle the tran­si­tion,” Hous­ton tells me. So he left Bris­tol-My­ers in the sum­mer of 2016, join­ing the mi­gra­tion out of the big com­pa­ny R&D world to see what else bio­phar­ma might have in store for him.

Ear­ly this year, that quest led to the CSO’s job at Arv­inas in New Haven, where the team is work­ing on new pro­tein degra­da­tion tech orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped in the lab of Yale’s Craig Crews. (“It was ex­act­ly the role I want­ed.”) And this morn­ing — fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of CEO Man­ny Litch­man for Mus­tang last spring — Hous­ton has been giv­en the helm as a new­ly mint­ed biotech CEO.

Hous­ton’s tran­si­tion high­lights the boom­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties of a fast-grow­ing US biotech in­dus­try, which has proven to be siren song for a le­gion of ex­pe­ri­enced bio­phar­ma R&D ex­ecs who’ve grown dis­en­chant­ed with their old roles, where re­struc­tur­ing is of­ten the or­der of the day. Hous­ton’s seen it all around New Haven, where new com­pa­nies like Bio­haven have sourced teams from Bris­tol-My­ers’ dis­card­ed op­er­a­tions.

“The ex­cite­ment of mov­ing in­to a biotech, where you can get things done quick­er and have an im­pact, is clear­ly an at­trac­tion,” says Hous­ton. In a start­up biotech, you’re not “weight­ed down by a de­ci­sion-mak­ing bu­reau­cra­cy. Al­so, you want to see new chal­lenges, add val­ue, and cre­at­ing the set­ting gives you a huge pos­si­bil­i­ty to do that.”

Hous­ton’s world now is dom­i­nat­ed by the 46 staffers at Arv­inas who are push­ing two lead drugs for an­dro­gen and es­tro­gen re­cep­tor degra­da­tion for prostate and breast can­cer from the pre­clin­i­cal ef­fort in­to the clin­ic. They’re work­ing on a pair of INDs — with the help of around 80 chemists spread out among WuXi and oth­er Asian con­tract re­search groups — and look­ing to get in­to the clin­ic at the end of 2018.

Hous­ton, who used to run neu­ro­sciences at Bris­tol-My­ers, is al­so more than a lit­tle thrilled to be set­ting up a pre­clin­i­cal pro­tein degra­da­tion pro­gram for tau, one of the key tar­gets in the Alzheimer’s world.

Some­where along the way now, Arv­inas Chair­man Tim Shan­non — a gen­er­al part­ner at Canaan — will look to see how best to arrange the next fundrais­ing for the com­pa­ny, which he says is fund­ed through Q2.

Arv­inas is a ven­ture-backed com­pa­ny, and ven­ture-backed com­pa­nies tend to fol­low a path where you con­cen­trate on deals (Arv­inas is part­nered with a cou­ple of the best: Genen­tech and Mer­ck)  and con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ties of an IPO or a buy­out if the right of­fer comes along.

“The main fo­cus is to grow the com­pa­ny to the point where it can be seen as a valu­able med­ical pro­duc­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion,” says Hous­ton.

And he couldn’t be hap­pi­er.

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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David Loew (Ipsen)

Ipsen snags an ap­proved can­cer drug in $247M M&A deal as an­oth­er bat­tered biotech sells cheap

You can add Paris-based Ipsen to the list of discount buyers patrolling the penny stock pack for a cheap M&A deal.

The French biotech, which has had plenty of its own problems to grapple with, has swooped in to buy Epizyme $EPZM for $247 million in cash and a CVR with milestones attached to it. Epizyme shareholders, who had to suffer through a painfully soft launch of their EZH2a inhibitor cancer drug Tazverik, will get $1.45 per share along with a $1 CVR tied to achieving $250 million in sales from the drug over four consecutive quarters as well as an OK for second-line follicular lymphoma by 1 Jan. 2028.

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AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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Yong Dai, Frontera Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Lit­tle-known Or­biMed-backed biotech clos­es $160M round to start gene ther­a­py tri­al

Frontera Therapeutics, a China and US biotech, has closed a $160 million Series B and received regulatory clearance to test its first gene therapy stateside, Endpoints News has learned.

Led by the largest shareholder, OrbiMed, the biotech has secured $195 million total since its September 2019 founding, according to an email reviewed by Endpoints. The lead AAV gene therapy program is for an undisclosed rare eye disease, according to the source.

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DEM BioPharma CEO David Donabedian (L) and executive chair Jan Skvarka

Long­wood sets an­oth­er 'don't eat me' biotech in­to gear with help of for­mer Tril­li­um CEO Jan Skvar­ka

Jonathan Weissman and team are out with a cancer-fighting biotech riding the appetite for those so-called “don’t eat me” and “eat me” signals.

The scientific co-founder — alongside fellow Whitehead Institute colleague Kipp Weiskopf and Stanford biologist Michael Bassik — has launched DEM BioPharma with incubator Longwood Fund and a crop of other investors.

In all, the nascent, 10-employee biotech has $70 million to bankroll hematology- and solid tumor-based programs, including a lead asset that could enter human trials in two to three years, CEO David Donabedian told Endpoints News.

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Joe Papa (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Joe Pa­pa re­signs as chair of Bausch Health as bil­lion­aire John Paul­son takes over

Joe Papa, chair of Bausch Health, officially resigned on Thursday and the board appointed billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson as the new chair, effective immediately.

The specialty pharma company sought to make clear that Papa’s abrupt departure “was not due to any dispute or disagreement with the Company, its management or the Board on any matter relating to the Company’s operations, policies or practices.”

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Spanish Prime Minister Pédro Sanchez and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

EU to launch vac­cine de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing part­ner­ship with Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean coun­tries

While European companies, including BioNTech, are focused on increasing vaccine access to African countries by setting up vaccine manufacturing facilities, the European Union is looking westward to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Speaking at a press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pédro Sanchez, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU is launching a new initiative for vaccines and medicines manufacturing in Latin America, to get drugs to Latin America and the Caribbean faster.

GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.