From din­ner in Mu­nich to $5.85 a share, Im­mune De­sign ex­ecs pushed for every pen­ny they could get from the Mer­ck bar­gain buy­out

Car­los Paya

Oc­to­ber 11, 2018 was Black Thurs­day at Im­mune De­sign $IMDZ. That’s when the com­pa­ny broad­cast that its lead pro­gram for CMB305 com­bined with Roche’s Tecen­triq was a bust in re­lapsed syn­ovial sar­co­ma. CEO Car­los Paya then shift­ed fo­cus to G100 and slashed the staff by 20% as its stock plunged 34%. Shares closed at $1.85.

Days lat­er, dur­ing a din­ner meet­ing in Mu­nich while at­tend­ing ES­MO, a “se­nior ex­ec­u­tive” at Mer­ck — who had been col­lab­o­rat­ing with Im­mune De­sign for the last 3 years on Keytru­da — said the phar­ma gi­ant $MRK was in­ter­est­ed in switch­ing from li­cens­ing talks to buy­ing the bat­tered com­pa­ny out­right.

Paya’s im­me­di­ate an­swer: The com­pa­ny isn’t for sale — at least not at any­thing like the cur­rent stock price.

That was the be­gin­ning of a lengthy se­ries of back-and-forth bids and par­ries. With its share price on the ropes, the biotech steered away from 2 CVRs worth up to $85 mil­lion each, along with the ini­tial bid of $200 mil­lion in cash. 

Stephen Brady

The M&A deal for Im­mune De­sign is at the op­po­site end of a spec­trum lit up by block­buster deals for the likes of Kite or Loxo and AveX­is. There were no vast rich­es be­stowed on suc­cess­ful com­pa­ny ex­ecs. But at a time when a lot of biotechs are liv­ing with de­pressed share val­ues, it’s like­ly we’ll be see­ing more of these deals — based on terms like the un­pop­u­lar CVR, suc­cess­ful­ly pushed in the Cel­gene buy­out — as the ma­jor play­ers gear up with new ac­qui­si­tions.

But that doesn’t mean you have to give away the store.

Over 4 months of talks — while Im­mune De­sign was try­ing, un­suc­cess­ful­ly, to spark some out­side bids among a slate of prospects — Mer­ck and the lit­tle biotech grad­u­al­ly came to $5.85 per share as a win­ning bid. And it came down to pen­nies, with Im­mune De­sign push­ing for an ex­tra nick­el at the end — even as Mer­ck was ready to call their high­est, best of­fer. Dur­ing that stretch, Im­mune De­sign’s own self-as­sess­ment spurred the board to low­er the prob­a­bil­i­ty of suc­cess for G100 in fol­lic­u­lar lym­phoma as it re­viewed its prospec­tive in­de­pen­dent fu­ture by the num­bers.

Jan ter Meulen

Cu­ri­ous­ly, the com­pa­ny’s SEC fil­ing on the ne­go­ti­a­tions avoids men­tion­ing which se­nior ex­ec­u­tives at Mer­ck were in­volved in the talks. The phar­ma gi­ant rarely shows its hand and clear­ly want­ed to keep as much of this be­hind closed doors as pos­si­ble.

Paya him­self comes away with a ter­mi­na­tion pack­age of $4,033,298, in­clud­ing $1.4 mil­lion for sev­er­ance. EVP of strat­e­gy and fi­nance Stephen Brady gets a pack­age worth $2.1 mil­lion. CSO Jan ter Meulen gets $1.9 mil­lion and CMO Sergey Yurasov slips in at $1.8 mil­lion.

Those num­bers won’t win any records, but af­ter the year that Im­mune De­sign has had, they’ll take it.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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Nicklas Westerholm, Egetis Therapeutics CEO

Ac­qui­si­tion talks on­go­ing for Swedish rare dis­ease biotech Egetis, shares up al­most 40%

Shares of the Sweden-based rare disease biotech Egetis Therapeutics skyrocketed on Thursday afternoon as the company said it’s engaged in “ongoing discussion” with external parties regarding a “potential acquisition.”

Egetis confirmed rumors with a statement on Thursday while noting that there is no certainty that a takeover offer will be made.

Nonetheless, the possibility of an acquisition has shot up Egetis’ share price. By the afternoon on Thursday, its stock price was {$EGTX.ST} up over 38%. An Egetis spokesperson told Endpoints News in an email that it has no further comments.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Mod­er­na so­lid­i­fies deal with Kenya to build mR­NA man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty

The mRNA player Moderna is further cementing its presence on the African continent.

Moderna announced on Thursday that it has finalized an agreement with Kenya’s government to partner up and bring an mRNA manufacturing facility to the east African nation. The new facility aims to manufacture up to 500 million doses of vaccines annually. Moderna also said the new facility will have the ability to spike its production capabilities to respond to public health emergencies on the continent or globally.

Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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Sen­ate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee lobs more bi­par­ti­san pres­sure on­to PBMs

Congress is honing in on how it wants to overhaul the rules of the road for pharmacy benefit managers, with a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday serving as the latest example of the Hill’s readiness to make changes to how pharma middlemen operate.

While pledging to ensure patients and pharmacies “don’t get a raw deal,” Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) laid out the beginning of what looks like a major bipartisan effort — moves the PBM industry is likely to challenge vigorously.

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Deborah Waterhouse, ViiV Healthcare CEO

MPP re­cruits three gener­ic man­u­fac­tur­ers to ex­pand use of Vi­iV's in­jectable PrEP drug

ViiV Healthcare has teamed up with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool and three generic manufacturers to expand access to medicine that can prevent HIV.

ViiV and the Medicines Patent Pool jointly announced Thursday that the MPP signed sub-licensing agreements with Aurobindo, Cipla and Viatris to manufacture generics of a long-acting form of cabotegravir for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). As a result of the agreement, the manufacturers will be able to develop, manufacture and supply generic versions of cabotegravir LA in 90 countries — subject to regulatory approvals.

Lu­pus drug de­vel­op­ment mar­ket heat­ing up, while FDA links with ad­vo­ca­cy group to fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate re­search

The long-underserved systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) market is suddenly buzzing with treatment possibilities. Less than two years after AstraZeneca’s approval for Saphnelo — the first new SLE drug in a decade and joining just one other approved in GSK’s Benlysta – the pipeline of potential drugs numbers in the dozens.

Although most are very early stage — Spherix Global Insights estimates five in Phase II/III — the pharma R&D enthusiasm is catching on among doctors, patients and advocacy groups. On Wednesday, the Lupus Research Alliance and the FDA formed a novel private-public partnership called Lupus Accelerating Breakthroughs Consortium (Lupus ABC) to help advance lupus clinical trial success.

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CSL CEO Paul McKenzie (L) and CMO Bill Mezzanotte

Q&A: New­ly-mint­ed CSL chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul McKen­zie and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Bill Mez­zan­otte

Paul McKenzie took over as CEO of Australian pharma giant CSL this month, following in the footsteps of long-time CSL vet Paul Perreault.

With an eye on mRNA, and quickly commercializing its new, $3.5 million-per-shot gene therapy for hemophilia B, McKenzie and chief medical officer Bill Mezzanotte answered some questions from Endpoints News this afternoon about where McKenzie is going to take the company and what advances may be coming to market from CSL’s pipeline. Below is a lightly edited transcript.