From top an­a­lyst to CFO: Cowen’s Er­ic Schmidt leaps in­to the top ranks of biotech’s lat­est overnight sen­sa­tion

Arie Bellde­grun has long held VIP cre­den­tials at Cowen and Co. The in­vest­ment group helped take Bellde­grun’s com­pa­ny Kite pub­lic. And Er­ic Schmidt, their top biotech an­a­lyst, was an un­abashed sell-side cheer­leader vir­tu­al­ly every step of the risky way, as Kite steered their way through a piv­otal and his­toric CAR-T pro­gram — stand­ing toe-to-toe with No­var­tis as Juno stum­bled bad­ly. 

When Gilead came along with a $12 bil­lion buy­out of­fer at $180 a share, Cowen helped ad­vise the Kite chief.

Arie Bellde­grun

Now, Bellde­grun — who made a for­tune on the Kite sale — has flipped from per­son­al­ized CAR-T in­to the fast lane for off-the-shelf al­lo­gene­ic work, tak­ing over Pfiz­er’s part­ner­ship with Cel­lec­tis while aim­ing to dis­rupt a field he helped cre­ate. And this time, Schmidt is go­ing along for the ride as an in­sid­er on the top team of the new­ly formed biotech Al­lo­gene. To­day, Schmidt ac­knowl­edged in tan­dem state­ments from Cowen and Al­lo­gene a switch that has been much buzzed about, mak­ing the leap to CFO at Al­lo­gene.

The big ques­tion now is, when’s the IPO?

Of course, Schmidt didn’t get this job by jump­ing way out ahead of the pack, mak­ing reck­less promis­es. So it’s no sur­prise that he turned that ques­tion aside with a brief pleas­antry about find­ing the best path for­ward, and so on. To­day is his first day on the job, and there are no time­lines or spe­cif­ic plans in place on fi­nanc­ing the com­pa­ny for the long run. 

David Chang

Be­sides, they got start­ed with a $300 mil­lion raise, and Bellde­grun has ac­cess to a lot more than that.

Bellde­grun and his long­time col­league David Chang reached out to him about the job, Schmidt says.

“I wasn’t sur­prised,” he tells me. “Many of us get those calls; many move on to in­dus­try.” But he goes on that this of­fer “was the first I con­sid­ered to any se­ri­ous de­gree.”

Bellde­grun and Chang are no slouch­es at putting to­geth­er high per­for­mance teams. Their com­pa­ny  progress re­ports at Kite drew rave re­views from those who got a chance to see them. Schmidt was no ex­cep­tion.

“I think they were the best mid-cap man­age­ment team I ever in­ter­act­ed with,” says Schmidt. Now the new com­pa­ny is out to “repli­cate that team chem­istry and that team pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Of course we were born on sec­ond base, with the Pfiz­er group that came over — 40 or so.”

As for in­ter­nal ac­count­ing, he frankly says he has to mas­ter that part of the work.

“I do think I like new chal­lenges,” says Schmidt, who adds that he wel­comes a new chal­lenge that will “use a dif­fer­ent side of my brain; don’t know if I’ll be good.”

Im­age: Er­ic Schmidt. AL­LO­GENE
Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb has a new board po­si­tion to add to the re­sume — and this one is fo­cused on a fa­vorite sub­ject

Scott Gottlieb has another position to add to his lengthy roster of boards and advisory roles in the wake of his departure from the helm of the FDA.

He’ll be joining the advisory board of FasterCures, a think tank which former junk bond king Michael Milken set up to help drive more drugs to the market, looking to accelerate drug R&D. That’s a subject close to the heart of Gottlieb, who blazed a trail at the FDA focused on hustling up the process. That helped endear him to the industry, making him one of the most popular commissioners in FDA history.

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Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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Karyopharm lines up $150 mil­lion cash in­jec­tion to back con­tro­ver­sial drug launch

Karyopharm has entered into a royalty agreement worth up to $150 million to back the launch of their multiple myeloma drug — recently approved by the FDA over the objections of a majority of the agency’s outside experts.

The deal with HealthCare Royalty Partners, worth $75 million now and $75 million once certain regulatory and commercial milestones have been reached, will fund the commercialization of Karyopharm’s oral SINE compound Xpovio (selinexor) for patients with multiple myeloma who have already had at least four prior therapies. The money will help Karyopharm as it markets its newly approved drug and pushes through clinical trials testing the drug on refractory multiple myeloma patients with one to three therapies and patients with treatment-resistant diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. It will give Karyopharm a cushion through mid-2021.

Af­ter a run of CT­LA-4 com­bo fail­ures, sci­en­tists spot­light a way to make it work — in se­lect pa­tients

CTLA-4/PD-(L)1 combinations have been one of the El Dorados of oncology, its promise forever behind that next hill but apparently unattainable after a series of pivotal clinical failures. But researchers at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Technical University of Munich think they may know how to fix what’s wrong and boost the drive to next-gen cancer combos.

In a preclinical animal research program, researchers found that within a cell, checkpoints rely on a specific molecule — RNA-sensing molecule RIG-I — to work. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it has already been identified as a target for boosting immune responses and was subject to at least one Phase I/II trial. Pfizer in December allied itself with Kineta with $15 million upfront and $505 million in potential milestones to develop RIG-I immunotherapies, and three years ago Merck purchased German upstart Rigontec for $137 million upfront and over $400 million in potential milestones for the same purpose.

Pur­due Phar­ma files for bank­rupt­cy as first step in $10B opi­oid set­tle­ment

It’s settled. Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy as part of a deal that would see the OxyContin maker hand over $10 billion in cash and other contributions to mitigate the opioid crisis — without acknowledging any wrongdoing in the protracted epidemic that’s resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The announcement came two weeks after news of a proposed settlement surfaced and largely confirm what’s already been reported.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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