Google’s Ver­i­ly and Glax­o­SmithK­line hatch a $713M plan to spark a biorev­o­lu­tion

Glob­al phar­ma gi­ant Glax­o­SmithK­line is team­ing up with Google’s life sci­ences ven­ture Ver­i­ly, chan­nel­ing its four-year ef­fort to cre­ate new nan­otech-based bio­elec­tron­ic ther­a­peu­tics in­to a start­up called Gal­vani Bio­elec­tron­ics, with joint plans to in­vest $713 mil­lion in­to the ven­ture over the next sev­en years.

GSK’s Chair­man of Vac­cines, Mon­cef Slaoui

GSK’s Mon­cef Slaoui has billed this ef­fort as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary at­tempt to break out of the tra­di­tion­al mode of ther­a­peu­tic de­vel­op­ment, re­think­ing the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy of drug R&D to cre­ate a com­plete­ly new de­vel­op­ment field in elec­tro­ceu­ti­cals, which will now be fo­cused on in­flam­ma­to­ry, meta­bol­ic and en­docrine dis­or­ders, in­clud­ing type 2 di­a­betes. And now Ver­i­ly Life Sci­ences, for­mer­ly Google Life Sci­ences which op­er­ates un­der the new Al­pha­bet ban­ner, is mak­ing a big biotech bet that it can live up to its mis­sion to trans­form med­i­cine by part­ner­ing with GSK.

Gal­vani will be based in the UK biotech hub in Steve­nage, with an­oth­er re­search cen­ter at Ver­i­ly’s cam­pus in South San Fran­cis­co. They’ll get start­ed with a staff of 30 and GSK’s start­up en­deav­ors to date. Glaxo will own 55% of the com­pa­ny, with Ver­i­ly tak­ing the rest. Slaoui has been tapped to chair the new com­pa­ny and shep­herd one of his fa­vorite projects.

They’re not think­ing small. And they aren’t stop­ping at 30. A spokesper­son for Ver­i­ly of­fered End­points this in­sight on the new jobs that are ex­pect­ed to be cre­at­ed.

“In ad­di­tion to the 30 ini­tial FTEs, Gal­vani will fund and in­te­grate – both through strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tions with the two par­ent com­pa­nies and with oth­ers – a broad range of oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tions in acad­e­mia and with R&D com­pa­nies, build­ing on the suc­cess­ful mod­el we’ve de­vel­oped in GSK Bio­elec­tron­ics over three years. It will in­volve ap­prox­i­mate­ly 100 FTEs (full time equiv­a­lents) at Ver­i­ly and about 100 FTEs across the spec­trum of oth­er part­ner­ships. By ef­fec­tive­ly ty­ing such a net­work of ex­perts to­geth­er, we be­lieve we can rapid­ly ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of bio­elec­tron­ic med­i­cines.”

“This is an am­bi­tious col­lab­o­ra­tion al­low­ing GSK and Ver­i­ly to com­bine forces and have a huge im­pact on an emerg­ing field,” said Ver­i­ly Chief Tech­nol­o­gy Of­fi­cer Bri­an Otis. “Bio­elec­tron­ic med­i­cine is a new area of ther­a­peu­tic ex­plo­ration, and we know that suc­cess will re­quire the con­flu­ence of deep dis­ease bi­ol­o­gy ex­per­tise and new high­ly minia­turised tech­nolo­gies.

Ver­i­ly’s big agen­da is to har­ness new life sci­ence tech­nol­o­gy in search of a mul­ti­tude of new ways to im­prove hu­man health and rev up a longer life with­out the many af­flic­tions that drag peo­ple down the longer they live.

In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, they start­ed out with spe­cif­ic dis­eases in mind, look­ing to di­rect nerve stim­u­la­tors that could, for ex­am­ple, in­flu­ence rheuma­toid arthri­tis. The com­pa­ny set up a spe­cial $50 mil­lion fund to help jump­start a small group of biotechs spe­cial­iz­ing in elec­tro­ceu­ti­cals. A $1 mil­lion sci­ence prize was set up to help gin up some ex­cite­ment. And col­lab­o­ra­tions fol­lowed with oth­er com­pa­nies in the field. More part­ner­ing is ex­pect­ed as the new com­pa­ny gets up and run­ning.

GSK said ear­li­er this year that it plans to be in the clin­ic with its first pro­grams in 2017.

A cou­ple of years ago, GSK’s Slaoui, who now runs the vac­cines group for GSK, had this to say in an in­ter­view with The Chi­na Post:

(W)e re­al­ized that when we use chem­i­cal struc­ture or re­com­bi­nant pro­tein as a med­i­cine, what we use in fact are the struc­tures of these med­i­cines to in­ter­act with the struc­ture of a re­cep­tor or pro­tein in our body … Our body us­es struc­ture to com­mu­ni­cate with bi­ol­o­gy, but it al­so us­es elec­tri­cal im­puls­es which go through our nerves. So we asked the ques­tion: ‘Can we use elec­tri­cal im­puls­es to mod­i­fy the way or­gans func­tion?’”

“We have ev­i­dence that our body can read elec­tri­cal mes­sages we give it. This has cre­at­ed a new vi­sion to de­sign nano-tech­no­log­i­cal de­vices that will be able to read the elec­tri­cal sig­nals that are trans­mit­ting in our nerves, and hope­ful­ly (we will) be able to iden­ti­fy ab­nor­mal sig­nals … and cor­rect it by giv­ing it a dif­fer­ent sig­nal.”

To test that con­cept, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that the right elec­tron­ic puls­es could spur the pan­creas to pro­duce in­sulin, to treat di­a­betes. And an­oth­er pre­clin­i­cal test worked on blood pres­sure.

Cre­at­ing a new modal­i­ty for ther­a­peu­tic de­vel­op­ment, though, presents huge and ex­pen­sive hur­dles, es­pe­cial­ly when you’re talk­ing about mass ail­ments like di­a­betes and heart dis­ease. Reg­u­la­tors put up high bars on safe­ty that most biotechs could nev­er hope to clear with a small, lim­it­ed re­search bud­get.

Ver­i­ly and Google, though, are a whole dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

Google has the kind of deep pock­ets that most com­pa­ny ex­ecs can on­ly dream about. That’s al­so help­ing fund Cal­i­co, which has stealth­ily moved ahead on a num­ber of pro­grams aimed at healthy longevi­ty.

STAT has been tak­ing some round­house swings at Ver­i­ly, claim­ing that its top de­vel­op­ment pro­grams are more sci­ence fic­tion than po­ten­tial near-term tools for the life sci­ences mar­ket.

GSK doesn’t ap­pear to be both­ered by that, though.

How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Turn­ing the cor­ner on treat­ing the root cause of sick­le cell dis­ease

Early in my career, as a medical resident, I saw first-hand the enormous challenges faced by children and adults with sickle cell disease (SCD), a genetic blood disorder that historically has lacked adequate treatment options. People living with this life-long disease are mainly those with ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as people of Hispanic, South Asian, Southern European and Middle Eastern descent. These patients suffer from devastating physical symptoms, including progressive, eventually fatal, organ damage and excruciating pain. In addition, they encounter emotional, mental and social burdens – non-physical aspects of living with SCD that also take a serious toll on patients and their caregivers.

Rev­o­lu­tion Med shoots for $100M+ IPO — and di­vulges some se­crets about that Warp Dri­ve buy­out

Biotech investors who like to wager on the race to the front of the KRAS market now have a new team to consider.

Revolution Medicines, which extended its reach on RAS with a deal to acquire Warp Drive Bio about 18 months ago, filed their S-1 in search of $100 million-plus. And they gave up a few secrets in the process.

The main clinical claim to fame that Revolution has centers on the SHP2 inhibitor RMC-4630, partnered with Sanofi back in the summer of 2018 — just after John Reed was named the incoming R&D chief. We already knew that the pharma giant handed over $50 million in cash plus a commitment of hundreds of millions more to align itself with Revolution as it makes a fresh foray into oncology. Now we know that Sanofi is also footing 80% of Revolution’s R&D bill on the program, while setting up a smorgasbord of $235 million in development milestones and $285 million in commercial bonuses.

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Olivier Brandicourt, AP Images

#JPM20 ex­clu­sive: Olivi­er Brandi­court fol­lows the Big Phar­ma CEO path to pri­vate eq­ui­ty, join­ing Black­stone ahead of a mam­moth fund de­but

Nick Galakatos Blackstone

Seven months after Olivier Brandicourt’s surprise “early retirement” from Sanofi, he’s back in the game, this time taking meetings at JP Morgan to discuss his new role at Blackstone, where he’s quietly begun work with Nick Galakatos and the life sciences crew.

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Video Re­play: End­points at #JPM20 — news­mak­ers on deal­mak­ing, pric­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing

On Monday, we held our fourth annual #JPM event — and the team hit a key milestone that I’d like to share with the entire Endpoints News audience: We live-streamed the conversation and had nearly triple the number of executives watching online than we had in the sold-out crowd of 320.

For a media company on a mission to connect the biopharma world in bigger and better ways, we’re proud of how we were able to extend the reach of our franchise event. Paid subscribers were given access to the stream in real time, and now, two days later, we’re opening it up to everyone in this post.

Endpoints@JPM: (left to right) Steve Pearson, Nick Leschly, Bari Talente, Stephen Ubl, John Carroll

#JPM20: 'The NPV is al­ways wrong.' Take­da preps an­oth­er spin­out — this time on psych

Editor’s Note: Endpoints News is reporting live from #JPM20 after kicking things off with an action-packed event, which you can replay here. What follows is a stream of tidbits we have collected while wandering around Union Square in San Francisco. Check back in throughout the week for updates by John Carroll and Jason Mast.

SAN FRANCISCO — A year ago Takeda CEO Christophe Weber and R&D chief Andy Plump arrived at JP Morgan right on the heels of closing their big Shire buyout. Now they’re back after shaking up the portfolio, boosting R&D spending by about 50% to $4.5 billion and adjusting the pipeline — a task which isn’t quite finished yet.

Nick Leschly at Endpoints News' panel at the 2020 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Credit: Jeff Rumans

At #JPM20, two CEOs, two rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent ther­a­pies, and a fight to chase down sick­le cell

SAN FRANCISCO – Few CEOs tell a story better than bluebird’s Nick Leschly.

He cuts a Jeff Bezos figure on stage at the Colonial Room, the JP Morgan presentation hall for A-list biotechs: lean and bald, fast-talking and vest-wearing. He explains in simple language, apologizing when he has to brush on the data. It helps that he has a good story to tell.

“We treated them one time,” Leschly tells a packed crowd, gesturing to the slide behind him. “Look what happened.”

The slide shows 9 horizontal bars studded with diamonds. Each bar, he explained, represented a sickle cell patient, and each diamond represented a severe medical event, such as a pain crisis. The diamonds stud one side – before the therapy – and vanish on the other, afterward.

“A 99% reduction in these events — this is a functional cure for sickle cell disease,” Leschly says. “This is unprecedented data.”

Upstairs and an hour later, Ted Love stands before a narrow conference room in his suit and polka-dot tie. Love, the CEO of Global Blood Therapeutics, is a 60-year-old physician. His voice trails off at the end of sentences, and the story he tells is less compelling. There are no cured patients.

“This is the first drug that addresses the root cause of sickle cell disease,” Love says, speaking in front of a slide showing a white pill bottle for GBT’s new drug Oxbryta. “Right in the label, it says that this drug inhibits polymerization.”

In the 60 years after scientists discovered the cause of sickle cell, almost no treatments emerged, even as the condition debilitated hundreds of thousands of Americans, most of them black or Hispanic. But the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest as new technologies have made the disease seem newly beatable.

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Neon Ther­a­peu­tics makes one last re­treat, sell­ing it­self cheap in a bar­gain base­ment M&A deal

Crushed by weak data for what had been their lead drug, Neon Therapeutics is being bought for parts this morning.

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Mark Pruzanski

#JPM20: Af­ter a year of NASH col­laps­es, all eyes on two biotechs

SAN FRANCISCO – It’s not quite Dewey defeats Truman, but Goldman Sachs calling 2019 “The Year of NASH” may well go down in the annals of worst biotech predictions.

Goldman Sachs slapped the label on weeks before 2019’s JP Morgan conference, projecting that long-discussed treatments for the obesity-driven condition suspected to lurk in millions of Americans would begin to bear fruit and investors would move accordingly. That did not quite happen.

“If you look at 2019, it was just a string of disappointing news,” Pascal Prigent, CEO of NASH-focused biotech Genfit, told Endpoints News in an interview.

The Year of NASH, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, became a year of NASH failures. Gilead failed two large Phase III trials. CymaBay went from a $1 billion company to a $100 million company after they found their drug was killing patients’ liver cells. Cirius withdrew an $86 million IPO bid after a disastrous readout. Industry-wide, there were few acqusitions in a market often projected to be worth $35 billion.

Gilead, after dominating the NASH discussion at the 2019 JPM, gave one quick mention to the program in their 2020 presentation before pivoting to other drugs.

“As promising as some of the mechanisms looked in earlier stages, when push comes to shove in large study settings, they just haven’t proven out,” Mark Pruzanski, CEO of the NASH-focused biotech Intercept, told Endpoints in an interview.

As biotech turns from 2019, the failures have refocused eyes away from Gilead and back toward two startups, both facing key events in the coming months: Intercept, which first alerted investors to NASH at JPM 2014, and the France-based Genfit.

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