GSK of­floads two vac­cines in $1.1B deal as it works to re­vive the pipeline

Glax­o­SmithK­line is leav­ing the deep dark woods and its virus­es be­hind.

GSK has agreed to di­vest its vac­cines for ra­bies, RabAvert, and tick-born en­cephali­tis vac­cine, En­cepur, to Bavar­i­an Nordic, part of the com­pa­ny’s broad­er ef­forts to nar­row its pipeline and fo­cus on on­col­o­gy and im­munol­o­gy.

The deal is worth up to near­ly $1.1 bil­lion, with a $336 mil­lion up­front pay­ment. GSK ac­quired the vac­cines from No­var­tis as part of an ex­change for their late-stage on­col­o­gy pro­grams in 2015 un­der for­mer chief Sir An­drew Wit­ty.

It’s been an event­ful year-plus for GSK’s vac­cine en­ter­pris­es. Shin­grix, their shin­gles vac­cine, has proven a block­buster, pulling in near­ly $1 bil­lion through the first half of 2019 — sell­ing so well, in fact, it led to short­ages. Mean­while, the British gi­ant’s Vi­iV sub­sidiary shook Gilead’s strong­hold on the HIV mar­ket with FDA ap­proval for their two-drug reg­i­men of Dova­to and Ju­lu­ca and some for­ti­fy­ing Phase III da­ta.

In May, how­ev­er, GSK un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly cut two oth­er vac­cine pro­grams, one for strep pneu­mo­nia and a can­di­date for the uni­ver­sal flu vac­cine, in a Q1 re­view.

“Those two have been stopped, ex­act­ly as I have just been out­lin­ing, be­cause of the ear­ly da­ta that came through,” CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley told re­porters at the time. “It is not some­thing that’s worth pur­su­ing and we want to be very strict on that, and that con­tin­ues to build on quite an ag­gres­sive pro­gram of stop­ping as­sets when they need to be, and dou­bling down.”

That kind of ruth­less ad­her­ence to da­ta has be­come com­mon­place at GSK, since Walm­s­ley took the CEO post in 2017 and Hal Bar­ron took over the long-strug­gling R&D arm in 2018.

Em­ma Walm­s­ley

The new lead­er­ship has tried to win­now the phar­ma gi­ant’s pipeline to re­fo­cus around key as­sets and ac­quire new ones where in-house com­pounds fall short. Most no­tably, they bought out Tesaro for $5 bil­lion last De­cem­ber, ac­quir­ing not on­ly their PARP in­hibitor Ze­ju­la but al­so drugs to in­hib­it check­points PD-1, TIM-3 and LAG-3.

In­vestors re­coiled at the stick­er price and the amount of Tesaro debt GSK ab­sorbed, pre­cip­i­tat­ing the British gi­ant’s largest slide in a decade, per Reuters. But Bar­ron re­cent­ly told End­points News the deal was cru­cial in re­build­ing the ag­ing com­pa­ny’s shaky pipeline.

“Frankly, they had 10 to 15 pro­grams that they would have loved to have done but didn’t have the band­width, the scale, the re­sources for,” Bar­ron told End­points News’ at the UK Bio Sum­mit ear­li­er this month. “So we came in and said frankly your pro­grams you’re not do­ing are more valu­able and in­ter­est­ing than the ones at the bot­tom of our ef­fi­cien­cy fron­tier, so we killed 11 pro­grams.”

Mon­ey from those 11 pro­grams was fun­neled in­to Tesaro projects. It’s not yet two years in­to Bar­ron’s tenure, but GSK’s lead­er­ship have thus far em­braced the bloody job of pipeline cut­ting with free-ax­ing glee, hap­pi­ly ex­plain­ing to in­vestors and re­porters the long-term strat­e­gy be­hind the moves.

Since then GSK has on­ly culled more, slash­ing an Ebo­la vac­cine and two res­pi­ra­to­ry drugs, while bet­ting un­spec­i­fied mil­lions on Rick Klaus­ner’s $600 mil­lion cell ther­a­py start­up Lyell, which aims at sol­id tu­mors.

Jen­nifer Doud­na

Mean­while, the gi­ant has slow­ly shift­ed the rest of the lead­er­ship team, bring­ing on can­cer ex­perts like Mer­ck KGaA’s Maya Mar­tinez-Davis and No­var­tis and As­traZeneca vet Jonathan Symonds. They’ve al­so paired up with 23andMe and with lead­ing fig­ures such as CRISPR-Cas9 pi­o­neer Jen­nifer Doud­na and Jonathan Weiss­man as part of Bar­ron’s ef­fort to re­shape how the in­dus­try choos­es drug tar­gets, shift­ing from mice to­ward the hu­man genome.

“We do these stud­ies in iso­genic mice and de­cide that some con­trived mod­el is use­ful for hu­man dis­eases and frankly these are tiny lit­tle fur­ry things that live 3 years and don’t have any­thing sim­i­lar to our im­mune sys­tem,” Bar­ron told End­points. “Then we con­vince our­selves that that’s a great tar­get, we take it through and it fails 90% of the time.”

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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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.

José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

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Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

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.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

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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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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