Grail vet Ba­jaj aims for some broad in­flu­ence with Fore­site bucks

Biotech has lost an­oth­er top ex­ec­u­tive to the al­lure of fi­nance. Vikram Ba­jaj, just one year in­to his job as chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer at Grail, has joined the ranks of Sil­i­con Val­ley VCs.

Vikram Ba­jaj

Ba­jaj is tak­ing a full-time gig as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of SF-based Fore­site Cap­i­tal, a VC and pri­vate eq­ui­ty firm where Ba­jaj hopes to have a big­ger im­pact mov­ing sci­ence for­ward. Fore­site closed a $450 mil­lion fund back in 2015, and ap­pears to still be mak­ing in­vest­ments from that pool. With $1.2 bil­lion in as­sets un­der man­age­ment, Fore­site has made bets on a few big names in­clud­ing Juno, Nan­tK­west, and Grail, Ba­jaj’s for­mer em­ploy­er.

Grail is a high-fly­ing start­up try­ing to make a test that de­tects can­cer ear­ly. Oth­er than its am­bi­tious goals, Grail is prob­a­bly best known for rais­ing $1 bil­lion in un­der two years. It’s al­so known for its c-suite of ex-Googlers (al­though many are now mov­ing on).

But work­ing at a whizbang start­up ap­pears to have on­ly whet­ted Ba­jaj’s ap­petite for in­no­va­tion. He tells me en­ter­ing the VC world is ex­cit­ing be­cause ac­cess to mon­ey means he’ll have a wider im­pact.

“It puts me in a unique po­si­tion to have in­flu­ence in a va­ri­ety of ar­eas, not just one com­pa­ny, but across dif­fer­ent seg­ments of our in­dus­try,” Ba­jaj said.

He’s par­tic­u­lar­ly in­ter­est­ed in the com­pa­nies that com­bine da­ta sci­ence and hu­man bi­ol­o­gy, which is sort of his do­main. On top of be­ing the co-founder of Ver­i­ly (for­mer­ly Google Life Sci­ences), Ba­jaj al­so led lab­o­ra­to­ry and da­ta sci­ence teams at Grail. And as a for­mer aca­d­e­m­ic re­searcher, Ba­jaj and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have de­vel­oped nan­otech and oth­er tools that were lat­er com­mer­cial­ized by star­tups.

Ba­jaj said per­son­al­ized med­i­cine — with the help of da­ta sci­ence — is on­ly get­ting start­ed. He thinks it’s a good time to en­ter this space as an in­vestor, with cash to move the right tech­nolo­gies for­ward.

“I think we’re poised for mas­sive change as se­quenc­ing costs go down and med­i­cine be­comes more pre­cise as a re­sult of this ex­plo­sion of da­ta,” Ba­jaj said.

Fore­site plans to tap his knowl­edge of the space to spot promis­ing star­tups to in­vest in.

“I’ve known of Vik years through his pre­vi­ous roles,” Fore­site’s CEO Jim Tanan­baum tells me. “His ex­per­tise in the field and team-ori­ent­ed and hum­ble ap­proach to his work makes him an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion to our high­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive team here at Fore­site Cap­i­tal. He brings a unique mix of skills and ex­pe­ri­ence that will be par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful as we ex­pand on our in­vest­ments in pre­ci­sion med­i­cine.”

Ba­jaj said Fore­site’s stage-ag­nos­tic in­vest­ment strat­e­gy was re­fresh­ing, and a ma­jor rea­son he want­ed to join the firm.

“There are no ar­bi­trary bar­ri­ers to in­vest­ing at a par­tic­u­lar stage,” Ba­jaj said. “We can in­vest any­where from the seed stage through to pub­lic liq­uid­i­ty and be­yond. I like this ap­proach be­cause health care star­tups are dif­fer­ent from oth­er tech­nol­o­gy star­tups: the time hori­zon is longer, the prob­lems more com­plex, and the reg­u­la­to­ry en­vi­ron­ment more chal­leng­ing to nav­i­gate.”

Ba­jaj will be sta­tioned at the com­pa­ny’s SF of­fice in the Transamer­i­ca Pyra­mid.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three ma­jor buy­outs an­nounced: Take­da/Shire; Bris­tol-My­ers/Cel­gene and now Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan. And with this lat­est deal it’s in­creas­ing­ly clear that the sharp fall from grace suf­fered by high-pro­file play­ers which have seen their share prices blast­ed has cre­at­ed an open­ing for the growth play­ers in big phar­ma to up their game — in sharp con­trast to the pop­u­lar bolt-on deals that have been dri­ving the growth strat­e­gy at No­var­tis, Mer­ck, Roche and oth­ers.

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UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

SQZ, Ery­tech kick off $57M cell ther­a­py part­ner­ship; Jean-Paul Kress lands new CEO gig at Mor­phoSys

→ In a mar­riage of two tech­nolo­gies meant to make cell ther­a­pies more pow­er­ful, SQZ Biotech is team­ing up with France’s Ery­tech Phar­ma for a col­lab­o­ra­tion, with $57 mil­lion re­served for the first project and $50 mil­lion for each sub­se­quent ap­proval (prod­uct or in­di­ca­tion). Hav­ing ac­cess to Ery­tech’s method of fash­ion­ing ther­a­peu­tics from red blood cells, the Cam­bridge, MA-based com­pa­ny said, will am­pli­fy SQZ’s cell en­gi­neer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and al­low them to de­vleop a new class of im­munomod­u­la­to­ry ther­a­pies. Its own tech — so far ap­plied in can­cer but al­so has po­ten­tial in di­a­betes — tem­po­rary dis­rupts the cell mem­brane by squeez­ing the cell, thus cre­at­ing a brief win­dow for tar­get ma­te­ri­als such as anti­gens to en­ter.

FDA re­jects Ac­er's rare dis­ease drug, asks for new tri­al — shares crater

Ac­er Ther­a­peu­tics’ bid to re­pur­pose celipro­lol — a be­ta-block­er on the mar­ket for hy­per­ten­sion — as a treat­ment for a rare, in­her­it­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der has hit a se­vere set­back. The New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny on Tues­day said the FDA re­ject­ed the drug and has asked for an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $AC­ER cratered near­ly 77% to $4.47 in Tues­day morn­ing trad­ing.

Tasly Bio­phar­ma pitch­es long-await­ed IPO — will it trig­ger an­oth­er $1B gold rush on HKEX?

In the run up to the Hong Kong stock ex­change’s an­tic­i­pat­ed rule change — open­ing the door for Chi­nese pre-rev­enue biotechs to go pub­lic clos­er to home — more than a year ago, Tasly Bio­phar­ma was one of the big play­ers whose ru­mored in­ter­est helped stoke en­thu­si­asm for the new list­ing venue. The com­pa­ny has since kept the drum­roll rum­bling in the back­ground, rais­ing a pre-IPO round and con­vinc­ing part­ner Trans­gene to swap own­er­ship in a joint ven­ture for eq­ui­ty. Now the oth­er shoe has fi­nal­ly dropped as ex­ecs out­line plans for a pipeline dom­i­nat­ed by car­dio­vas­cu­lar drugs.

With 4 more biotech IPOs due to wrap up Q2, how is the class of 2019 far­ing?

With 22 biotech IPOs on the books and four more set to price in the last week of June, in­vest­ment ad­vis­er Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal has tak­en the pulse of the re­cent rush.

By the IPO ex­perts’ count, 25 out of 32 health­care of­fer­ings this year have been from biotechs — dif­fer­ing slight­ly from Brad Lon­car’s tal­ly — and the over­all pic­ture is one of un­der­per­for­mance. While they av­er­aged a first-day re­turn of 9.0%, col­lec­tive­ly they have trad­ed down to a 5.9% re­turn. Turn­ing Point $TP­TX and Cor­texyme $CRTX emerged on top at the half-year mark, ris­ing 135% and 109% re­spec­tive­ly.

Eye­ing a $500M peak sales pot, Almi­rall dou­bles down on le­brik­izum­ab as Der­mi­ra lines up PhI­II

With eyes on what it be­lieves is a $500 mil­lion peak rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ty in Eu­rope, Barcelona-based Almi­rall has stepped up with $50 mil­lion in cash to take up the op­tion on Der­mi­ra’s IL-13 an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug le­brik­izum­ab just ahead of the start of Phase III. And there’s an­oth­er $30 mil­lion due as the late-stage pro­gram gets geared up.

That shouldn’t be long from now, as Der­mi­ra ex­pects to be­gin the late-stage tri­al work for atopic der­mati­tis be­fore the end of this year as it fol­lows a trail that ex­ecs in­sist leads to block­buster re­turns. Along the way, they’ll need to take on the 600-pound go­ril­la in atopic der­mati­tis: the IL-13/IL-4 drug Dupix­ent, from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. Ri­vals al­so in­clude Leo Phar­ma, in its piv­otal with tralok­izum­ab, and Anap­tys­Bio in the hunt with a mid-stage pro­gram for etokimab, pre­vi­ous­ly re­ferred to as ANB020.