Gilead swoops in with $567M deal to buy CAR-T 2.0 play­er Cell De­sign Labs

Arie Bellde­grun

Gilead has swooped in on the first of sev­er­al planned new buy­outs to build out its CAR-T op­er­a­tions ac­quired in the $12 bil­lion Kite buy­out. And it’s start­ing with a com­pa­ny that Kite’s Arie Bellde­grun be­lieved held the key to the next-gen cell ther­a­pies that will even­tu­al­ly over­take the pi­o­neers.

The com­pa­ny is Cell De­sign Labs, found­ed on the tech­nol­o­gy or­ches­trat­ed by UC San Fran­cis­co star re­searcher Wen­dell Lim. Gilead has agreed to buy the com­pa­ny, launched with on­ly $34 mil­lion in in­vest­ment cash from Klein­er Perkins, Kite and oth­ers, for up to $567 mil­lion.

We don’t know how much of that is in cash.

John Mil­li­gan, Gilead CEO

“We have been work­ing with Cell De­sign Labs for al­most 18 months, and tru­ly ap­pre­ci­ate the ground­break­ing na­ture of their tech­nol­o­gy plat­forms,” com­ment­ed David D. Chang, the head of R&D at Kite. “We’ve al­ready in­te­grat­ed Throt­tle Switch in­to our CAR-T pipeline and look for­ward to ex­plor­ing the full depth and breadth of the tech­nolo­gies of Gilead, Kite and Cell De­sign Labs to ex­pand the cell ther­a­py tool­box.”

Wen­dell Lim

Gilead promised that it would re­fo­cus its M&A strat­e­gy around CAR-T af­ter it bought Kite and leaped out front of the CAR-T race. And CEO John Mil­li­gan clear­ly plans to keep that promise.

I cov­ered this com­pa­ny back in the fall of 2016. Here’s a seg­ment on what Lim was work­ing on re­gard­ing cell ther­a­py 2.0. It was very cool.

The Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute in­ves­ti­ga­tor has his sights set on a very high bar. Build­ing on ear­li­er work on syn­thet­ic Notch (syn­Notch) — where he tin­kered with the Notch sen­sor so it could pro­gram a cell ther­a­py to go af­ter a par­tic­u­lar can­cer cell tar­get and then is­sue in­struc­tions to turn genes on or off — Lim be­lieves you can use syn­Notch to es­sen­tial­ly cre­ate a cell bot that can be mus­tered in­to armies of pa­trolling ther­a­peu­tics.

In what amounts to de­vel­op­ing liv­ing mi­cro de­vices, Lim be­lieves the tech­nol­o­gy can be used to pro­gram T cells to pro­duce check­point in­hibitors, bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­bod­ies and cus­tomiz­able cy­tokines, among oth­er things. And it can al­so all be in­te­grat­ed in­to CAR-T with a sui­cide switch.

“The way I view the last cou­ple of years and months” of CAR-T work, says Cell De­sign CEO and co-founder Bri­an At­wood, “these are a first-gen­er­a­tion cruise mis­sile. They went to an ad­dress and blew up. The prod­ucts in the clin­ic to­day are pret­ty crude. For ALL and CLL pa­tients, they’re pret­ty amaz­ing, but there’s no con­trol­la­bil­i­ty. That’s Wen­dell’s thing.”

 

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

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The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

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Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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