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.”

UP­DAT­ED: In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — and they're prep­ping a pitch to the FDA

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company says that a new analysis of an old dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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Failed PhI­II fe­vip­iprant tri­als pour more cold wa­ter on No­var­tis' block­buster R&D en­gine — and spread the chill to a high-pro­file biotech

Back in July, during an investor call where Novartis execs ran through an upbeat assessment of their Q2 performance, CEO Vas Narasimhan and development chief John Tsai were pressed to predict which of the two looming Phase III readouts — involving cardio drug Entresto and asthma therapy fevipiprant, respectively — had a higher likelihood of success. Tsai gave the PARAGON-HF study with Entresto minimally better odds, but Narasimhan emphasized that their strategy of giving fevipiprant to more severe patients gave them confidence.

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UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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Take­da tees up $420M deal for celi­ac an­ti­dote, con­tin­u­ing R&D re­fo­cus

Sometime in the 1st century AD, a patient presented to Arataeus looking like a varicose ghost. He was “emaciated and atrophied, pale, feeble and incapable of performing any of his accustomed works,” the Greek physician wrote, with hollow temples and huge veins running all over his body.

A dysfunctional digestive system, Arataeus concluded – an imbalance he attributed to a “heat” deficiency in a system he and other Greeks regarded as functioning similarly to an oven – and coined a term: coeliac disease, after the Greek word for abdomen.

UP­DAT­ED: The FDA sets a reg­u­la­to­ry speed record, pro­vid­ing a snap OK for Ver­tex's break­through triplet for cys­tic fi­bro­sis

The FDA has approved Vertex’s new triplet for cystic fibrosis at a record-setting speed.

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Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin

Where are the in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars?

In June 2017, Leah Christl, former biosimilar lead at FDA, told a conference in Chicago that interchangeable biosimilars were likely coming to the US market within two years.

And although no interchangeable biosimilar has been approved by FDA yet, and Christl has since moved on to Amgen, progress on interchangeable biosimilars has been slow in the intervening years.

Most recently, Boehringer Ingelheim announced that it has completed, as of last April, a switching study necessary for launching an interchangeable biosimilar for Humira (adalimumab), although the company did not offer any further details on the timing of its submission to FDA or whether there will be an advisory committee to review the data. Boehringer already has an adalimumab biosimilar approved by FDA, which it will launch in the US on 1 July 2023.

FDA re­buffs lit­tle As­ser­tio Ther­a­peu­tic­s' long-act­ing ACTH for­mu­la­tion, shares sink

Tiny Assertio Therapeutics’ shares plunged pre-market on Tuesday, after the FDA has spurned its man-made version of the hormone ACTH, which was being reviewed as a diagnostic for patients presumed to have adrenocortical insufficiency.

The Lake Forest, Illinois-based drugmaker said its development partner West Therapeutic Development had received a complete response letter from the US regulator, which indicated that that certain “pharmacodynamic parameters were not adequately achieved” for the product.

IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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That $335M JV Bay­er set up on CRISPR/Cas9? They’re let­ting the biotech part­ner car­ry on

Bayer committed $300 million to set up a joint venture on CRISPR/Cas9 tech with CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP. But they’re handing off control now to the smaller biotech while retaining a couple of opt-ins for programs nearing an IND.

Bayer $BAY made much of the fact that they were going all-in on gene editing when they did their deal 3 years ago with CRISPR Therapeutics, which pitched $35 million in on their end. This was the cornerstone of their plan to set up new JVs that could make some serious leap forwards in hot new R&D spaces. Now CRISPR will have full management control of Casebia as they pursue programs in hemophilia, ophthalmology and autoimmune diseases.
Samarth Kulkarni, the CEO at CRISPR, made it sound like a natural progression.