Il­lu­mi­na forks out $1.2B to buy ri­val Pa­cif­ic Bio­sciences, plac­ing long and short-read DNA tech un­der the same roof

Il­lu­mi­na $ILMN is con­sol­i­dat­ing its pole po­si­tion in the gene se­quenc­ing mar­ket by ac­quir­ing small­er ri­val Pa­cif­ic Bio­sciences $PACB in a $1.2 bil­lion all cash deal, the com­pa­nies said on Thurs­day.

Fran­cis deS­ouza

Al­though Il­lu­mi­na is pay­ing a 70% pre­mi­um, it’s less than half the share price at PacBio’s 2009 IPO, which raised $200 mil­lion on the promise of its long-read tech­nol­o­gy as a bet­ter, more ac­cu­rate plat­form for se­quenc­ing DNA than the short-read method em­ployed by Il­lu­mi­na.

As the sto­ry goes in the nine years since, Il­lu­mi­na be­came the $46 bil­lion be­he­moth it is to­day, while PacBio stum­bled and re­quired a res­cue ef­fort by new lead­er­ship — even­tu­al­ly find­ing a niche for its tech­nol­o­gy among a se­lect group of re­searchers whose work­flow isn’t well suit­ed to Il­lu­mi­na tech­nol­o­gy, such as high-qual­i­ty genomes of small or­gan­isms like bac­te­ria, or in di­ag­nos­ing rare hered­i­tary dis­eases with com­plex ge­nom­ic sig­na­tures, al­low­ing for re­arrange­ments to be more eas­i­ly re­vealed. Il­lu­mi­na’s CEO Fran­cis deS­ouza ad­mit­ted as much to Matthew Her­p­er of Forbes:  “The place where PacBio re­al­ly dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self is ac­cu­ra­cy … [the] ac­cu­ra­cy pro­file is re­al­ly bet­ter than any­thing else in the [long-read] mar­ket.”

Il­lu­mi­na un­veiled its No­vaSeq plat­form last year that is de­signed to en­able the cost of se­quenc­ing the hu­man genome down to $100. The pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tion, HiSeq X, en­abled the $1,000 genome. It took over a decade and near­ly $3 bil­lion for sci­en­tists to se­quence the first hu­man genome back in 2003.

“Though the ma­jor­i­ty of the se­quenc­ing mar­ket cen­ters around the short-read tech­nol­o­gy from Il­lu­mi­na – which is both fast and eco­nom­i­cal, the long-read tech­nol­o­gy caters to more ac­cu­ra­cy, re­frac­to­ry/re­peat ge­nom­ic re­gions, and struc­tur­al ge­nomics ap­pli­ca­tions – at a slow­er speed and high­er price tag”, wrote Leerink’s Puneet Sou­da in a note on Fri­day, adding that Il­lu­mi­na will like­ly find a way to ap­ply its low-cost mod­el to cut the cost of long-read se­quenc­ing in the longer term.

The ac­qui­si­tion plugs an im­por­tant gap in Il­lu­mi­na’s port­fo­lio, ex­pands the com­pa­ny’s over­all mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ty and po­si­tions them against com­pet­i­tive over­hangs from UK-based Ox­ford Nanopore and oth­ers, Sou­da added. “The ac­qui­si­tion opens a door to new mar­kets not re­al­ized yet as long-read tech­nol­o­gy fol­lows a path of elas­tic­i­ty of de­mand and cost per Gb (Gi­ga­base) re­duc­tion, with po­ten­tial for an ‘in­te­grat­ed sys­tem’ down the road that could fea­ture both tech­nolo­gies.”

Un­like the many bulky de­vices sold by Il­lu­mi­na and Pa­cif­ic Bio, Ox­ford Nanopore’s tech­nol­o­gy is scal­able, rang­ing from bench-top de­vices to USB sticks. Il­lu­mi­na orig­i­nal­ly in­vest­ed in the UK-based com­pa­ny hav­ing joined a cou­ple of fund­ing rounds, but in 2016 the San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia-based gi­ant sued Ox­ford Nanopore for patent in­fringe­ment.

Mean­while, the CTO of Ox­ford Nanopore, Clive Brown, is al­ready adding fu­el to the fire.

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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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.

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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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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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.