Gilead wa­gers $109M — cash — that this biotech can il­lu­mi­nate a drug dis­cov­ery path point­ed straight in­to the kid­ney

By any ob­jec­tive mea­sure, Gilead has learned as much or more than vir­tu­al­ly any oth­er bio­phar­ma play­er about the liv­er. Now they’re go­ing deep­er, much deep­er, in­to the kid­ney with the help of a Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech you may have for­got­ten about.

Ab­bie Cel­niker

In a new dis­cov­ery pact be­ing un­veiled Wednes­day morn­ing, the big biotech $GILD is com­mit­ting $109 mil­lion — in cash — to start work with a biotech few in the glob­al in­dus­try will like­ly re­call off hand. Goldfinch Bio, a clas­sic Third Rock start­up craft­ed un­der the lead­er­ship of Ab­bie Cel­niker, has been build­ing what it rather grand­ly calls the Kid­ney Genome At­las to gath­er to­geth­er a trea­sure trove of ge­net­ics and clin­i­cal da­ta de­vot­ed en­tire­ly to the kid­ney. And they’ve added a bi­ol­o­gy plat­form of kid­ney cells and “organoids” to find drugs that can hit the pre­ci­sion tar­gets they’ve iden­ti­fied.

Tony John­son

Now helmed by Tony John­son, an As­traZeneca vet­er­an who had worked with Mene Pan­ga­los’ group in the UK, this is Goldfinch’s first big re­search al­liance. Af­ter get­ting $55 mil­lion in A round mon­ey close to 3 years ago, the com­pa­ny qui­et­ly added $29 mil­lion more to ex­tend the run­way through the tech build­out. 

They are aim­ing at the clin­ic, us­ing their ge­net­ics ex­per­tise and bi­ol­o­gy to avoid the mul­ti­ple mishaps that have oc­curred with kid­ney drug R&D in the past.

“We an­tic­i­pate val­i­dat­ing the first tar­get next year,” John­son tells me, then it’s on to the first mol­e­cule and in­to the clin­ic.

Gilead’s cash com­mit­ment — $50 mil­lion up­front, $5 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and $54 mil­lion for re­search sup­port to flesh out its work specif­i­cal­ly on di­a­bet­ic kid­ney dis­ease — is an un­usu­al­ly large cash com­mit­ment for a dis­cov­ery deal, which helps ex­plain the over­sized $1.95 bil­lion in biobucks on the ta­ble for up to 5 pro­grams. 

The deal doesn’t cap the work at 5 drugs, but it’s a handy way to out­line the up­side.

For Gilead, it’s a way to build out a seg­ment of the pipeline that hasn’t re­ceived a lot of at­ten­tion. John­son notes a mid-stage pro­gram for an ASK1 drug in fi­bro­sis, where the com­pa­ny has been cen­tered on a va­ri­ety of ther­a­pies. A Gilead spokesman tells me:

We have been study­ing kid­ney dis­ease pre­clin­i­cal­ly and clin­i­cal­ly for sev­er­al years. Our pipeline builds up­on our ex­per­tise in the fields of in­flam­ma­tion and fi­bro­sis bi­ol­o­gy. These are process­es in­volved in a num­ber of kid­ney dis­eases in­clud­ing DKD, lu­pus nephri­tis and oth­er con­di­tions. Our aim is to de­vel­op nov­el dis­ease mod­i­fy­ing ther­a­pies for pa­tients with kid­ney dis­eases as we grow our pres­ence in in­flam­ma­tion and fi­bro­sis.

Gilead’s $5 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty makes it part of the syn­di­cate now. John­son says they’ll be think­ing more about the right time for an IPO as they get clos­er to proof of con­cept da­ta on new drugs. In the mean­time, they’ve been build­ing some strength on the AI side, look­ing to cre­ate a com­pu­ta­tion­al group that can plumb the da­ta they’ve been gath­er­ing to help spot­light tar­gets and drugs. 

If this all works out, the next 3 years at Goldfinch will be a lot more noisy than the last 3.

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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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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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.

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.

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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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.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.