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.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: 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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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.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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CEO Pascal Soriot via Getty Images

As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.