Gear­ing up new part­ner­ships, Boehringer gets an op­tion to buy a new play­er in on­colyt­ic virus­es in $230M deal

Boehringer In­gel­heim is ac­tive­ly join­ing the hunt for the next big on­colyt­ic virus pro­gram in the hot and hap­pen­ing can­cer field.

Dr. Michel Pairet, Mem­ber of the Board of Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tors

Af­ter back­ing a small start­up round for Vi­raTher­a­peu­tics a lit­tle more than a year ago, the phar­ma com­pa­ny has come back with a $230 mil­lion pack­age deal to part­ner on their work — grab­bing an op­tion in the process to buy the com­pa­ny. And the phar­ma gi­ant says the part­ner­ship is a sign of more deals to come as it gears up new pacts.

The com­pa­nies didn’t spell out the terms, but dis­cov­ery-stage col­lab­o­ra­tions like this are usu­al­ly heav­i­ly back end­ed.

The Aus­tri­an biotech is fo­cused on VSV-GP, a chimeric virus de­rived from the Vesic­u­lar Stom­ati­tis Virus which has been stud­ied in the lab by Dorothee von Laer at the Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty of Inns­bruck.

Vi­raTher­a­peu­tics has been in­volved in pre­clin­i­cal test­ing up to now, con­cen­trat­ing on mouse stud­ies to track this drug’s abil­i­ty to be used sys­tem­i­cal­ly in re­peat ap­pli­ca­tions. Boehringer clear­ly must have been im­pressed by the lab work so far, though ac­tu­al clin­i­cal tri­als won’t get un­der­way un­til next year.

Am­gen was the first to make it to the mar­ket with a pi­o­neer­ing on­colyt­ic virus called Im­ly­g­ic (T-Vec), which it bagged in a bil­lion-dol­lar deal to ac­quire BioVex. That drug has had a slow launch since its ap­proval, though, and a grow­ing line­up of biotech com­pa­nies have set out to beat it.

Im­ly­g­ic is in­ject­ed di­rect­ly in­to tu­mors. Like PsiOxus, Vi­raTher­a­peu­tics be­lieves that an on­colyt­ic virus that is de­liv­ered sys­tem­i­cal­ly can have a much bet­ter shot at get­ting in­to can­cer cells, where they can mul­ti­ple and then de­stroy their tar­get. Von Laer al­so says their drug can spur an im­mune sys­tem at­tack on can­cer, and the com­pa­ny is look­ing at at­tach­ing ther­a­peu­tic genes and anti­gens that can dri­ve a bet­ter out­come.

In this fren­zied deal-mak­ing en­vi­ron­ment, next-gen on­colyt­ic virus­es have proved a hot com­mod­i­ty, dri­ving a va­ri­ety of star­tups. Philip Ast­ley-Sparke, who helmed BioVex be­fore Am­gen bought it up for T-Vec, co-found­ed Replimune, an­oth­er next-gen on­colyt­ic virus play­er. Mitchell Fin­er, the for­mer CSO at blue­bird bio, took the helm at the up­start On­corus, which just raised a $57 mil­lion ven­ture round and is us­ing a her­pes sim­plex virus for their work on glioblas­toma. And Duke Uni­ver­si­ty’s Dr. Matthias Gromeier has ge­net­i­cal­ly en­gi­neered his virus to keep it fo­cused on can­cer, and away from healthy tis­sues. Mean­while Cana­da’s On­colyt­ics Biotech and the Pink Army Co­op­er­a­tive—a very un­usu­al, open source col­lec­tive com­mand­ed by Am­gen vet An­drew Hes­sel—are al­so in play.

Dr. Michel Pairet, a mem­ber of Boehringer In­gel­heim’s Board of Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tors, had this to say:

“On­colyt­ic virus­es are among the most promis­ing new ther­a­py ap­proach­es in can­cer re­search and the tech­nol­o­gy de­vel­oped by Vi­raTher­a­peu­tics may of­fer sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tages com­pared to oth­ers cur­rent­ly un­der de­vel­op­ment. The new col­lab­o­ra­tion is an ex­am­ple of Boehringer In­gel­heim’s in­creas­ing fo­cus on part­ner­ing and fur­ther com­ple­ments the com­pa­ny’s grow­ing im­mune-on­col­o­gy pipeline that in­cludes among oth­ers, a ther­a­peu­tic can­cer vac­cine and next gen­er­a­tion check­point in­hibitors.”

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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