Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes weeks af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.

The two treat­ments be­long to a fam­i­ly of drugs that ac­ti­vate pro­teins called per­ox­i­some pro­lif­er­a­tor-ac­ti­vat­ed re­cep­tors (PPARs), which reg­u­late gene ex­pres­sion. Ex­ist­ing ev­i­dence sug­gests that in the liv­er, PPAR ag­o­nists play a role in bile acid syn­the­sis, in­flam­ma­tion, fi­bro­sis and lipid me­tab­o­lism.

NASH is an un­treat­ed fat­ty liv­er dis­ease that has rav­aged the de­vel­oped world, cre­at­ing a lu­cra­tive tar­get that has sparked a flur­ry of drug de­vel­op­ment from bio­phar­ma firms big and small. It is char­ac­ter­ized by a buildup of ex­cess fat in the liv­er that in­duces chron­ic in­flam­ma­tion and even­tu­al­ly cul­mi­nates in scar­ring that can lead to cir­rho­sis, liv­er fail­ure, can­cer and death.

Pas­cal Pri­gen LinkedIn

Dubbed the silent dis­ease, it is hard to di­ag­nose in the ear­ly stages, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate its preva­lence, but stud­ies show that it af­flicts up to 12% of the adult pop­u­la­tion in de­vel­oped coun­tries. Al­though there are no ap­proved drugs for the dis­ease, the size of the NASH mar­ket is ex­pect­ed to cross $20 bil­lion by 2025.

While oth­er ma­jor NASH con­tenders — Gilead $GILD (fail in Phase III) and In­ter­cept $ICPT (mixed win in Phase III) — have dis­closed the top-line num­bers of their late-stage tri­als, Gen­fit is ex­pect­ed to come out with its Phase III in­ter­im re­sults by the end of 2019, or ear­ly 2020.

Late-stage da­ta on In­ter­cept’s drug — obeti­cholic acid (OCA) — showed it in­duced a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in fi­bro­sis, but not NASH res­o­lu­tion, and a high­er-than-ex­pect­ed num­ber of pa­tients dropped out due to the pesky side-ef­fect of itch­ing. In con­trast to In­ter­cept, Gen­fit has em­pha­sized that elafi­bra­nor’s po­ten­tial in NASH res­o­lu­tion and re­duc­ing CV risk along with a be­nign safe­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty pro­file have set it apart.

“We think we’re go­ing to be the first drug on the mar­ket that can re­solve NASH,” Gen­fit’s COO Dean Hum stressed in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

He sug­gest­ed that Cymabay had “made a mis­take” to fo­cus on liv­er fat, when they should have con­cen­trat­ed on in­flam­ma­tion and fi­bro­sis — the fac­tors that con­sti­tute NASH res­o­lu­tion.

But some an­a­lysts are not quite as con­vinced.

In the af­ter­math of the Cymabay da­ta, Baird’s Bri­an Sko­r­ney sug­gest­ed se­ladel­par and elafi­bra­nor are be­gin­ning to ap­pear more sim­i­lar than dif­fer­ent.

“Though the two med­ica­tions were thought to have dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed mech­a­nisms of ac­tion, it seems that this may not be the case, as se­ladel­par’s da­ta sug­gest that the med­ica­tion does not re­duce liv­er fat, which is sim­i­lar to what we have seen from ear­li­er tri­als of elafi­bra­nor. This leads us to be­lieve that these two PPARs look much more sim­i­lar than dif­fer­ent. Hence, CymaBay may be at a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tage mov­ing for­ward as we be­lieve that even if PPAR ag­o­nism is suc­cess­ful in Gen­fit‘s Phase 3 tri­al, with­out any clear signs of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, CymaBay may have an up­hill bat­tle as they work to catch up to Gen­fit in NASH. If elafi­bra­nor fails in NASH, it would prob­a­bly be pre­dic­tive of the out­come of se­ladel­par in NASH. Ei­ther way, we think this makes the PPAR class, as a whole, look like a less sig­nif­i­cant com­pet­i­tive threat to OCA.”

While the bulk of obe­si­ty and re­lat­ed dis­eases have tra­di­tion­al­ly been the wheel­house of the West­ern world, rapid ur­ban­iza­tion in parts of Asia has nor­mal­ized seden­tary lifestyles and over­nu­tri­tion, set­ting the stage for obe­si­ty in epi­dem­ic pro­por­tions. A study pub­lished in 2017 sug­gests the in­ci­dence of obe­si­ty has been in­creas­ing at an alarm­ing rate, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Chi­na, Japan and In­dia. “The num­ber of obese Chi­nese peo­ple was be­low 0.1 mil­lion in 1975, ris­ing to 43.2 mil­lion in 2014 and ac­count­ing for 16.3% of glob­al obe­si­ty,” re­searchers found.

Gen­fit’s new part­ner Terns is well versed in NASH. Last year, it joined forces with Eli Lil­ly to de­vel­op the US drug­mak­er’s ear­ly-stage NASH as­sets, in ad­di­tion to its own.

Un­der the deal, Terns — which has op­er­a­tions in Cal­i­for­nia, as well as a set­up in Chi­na — will hand over $35 mil­lion up­front, in ad­di­tion to up to $193 mil­lion in po­ten­tial mile­stone pay­ments to de­vel­op Gen­fit’s late-stage as­set elafi­bra­nor for use in NASH and pri­ma­ry bil­iary cholan­gi­tis (PBC).

A key rea­son be­hind the deal was that since elafi­bra­nor’s ex­ist­ing late-stage study does not in­clude Chi­nese pa­tients, an­oth­er Phase III study in­clud­ing such pa­tients would be re­quired for Chi­nese ap­proval, Pas­cal Pri­gent, Gen­fit’s ex­ec­u­tive VP of mar­ket­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment, told End­points News.

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In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors. 

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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Part club, part guide, part land­lord: Arie Bellde­grun is blue­print­ing a string of be­spoke biotech com­plex­es in glob­al boom­towns — start­ing with Boston

The biotech industry is getting a landlord, unlike anything it’s ever known before.

Inspired by his recent experiences scrounging for space in Boston and the Bay Area, master biotech builder, investor, and global dealmaker Arie Belldegrun has organized a new venture to build a new, 250,000 square foot biopharma building in Boston’s Seaport district — home to Vertex and a number of up-and-coming biotech players.

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