In a change of plans, Nek­tar spins out its opi­oid in­to a new biotech sub­sidiary as FDA PDU­FA date looms

Nek­tar Ther­a­peu­tics is spin­ning off a new biotech com­pa­ny and gift­ing it with their late-stage pain drug NK­TR-181 just three months ahead of a re­vised PDU­FA date. And they’ve re­cruit­ed a for­mer Mer­ck ex­ec to take the lead — mark­ing a big shift from the li­cens­ing deal they had con­fi­dent­ly been pro­ject­ing.

Nek­tar $NK­TR has heav­i­ly tout­ed the drug as the first opi­oid that will be free of the im­me­di­ate eu­phor­ic side ef­fects that have trig­gered an epi­dem­ic of abuse around the coun­try. It’s been test­ed in thou­sands of pa­tients with low­er back pain or non-can­cer pain. In­ves­ti­ga­tors for Nek­tar say that the drug is quick­ly ex­pelled — al­low­ing for twice-dai­ly dos­ing — and has a hard time mak­ing it through the blood-brain bar­ri­er, to lim­it the ad­dic­tive side ef­fects.

Jay Ga­le­o­ta Linkedin

Now it’s be­ing hand­ed off to a whol­ly owned sub­sidiary, In­heris Bio­phar­ma, which is be­ing giv­en con­trol of the com­mer­cial launch — if it’s ap­proved. Jay Ga­le­o­ta has been tapped as CEO. He had been pres­i­dent of G&W Lab­o­ra­to­ries, a job he land­ed af­ter a long stint at Mer­ck that end­ed with his role as the BD and strat­e­gy chief. 

That wasn’t the orig­i­nal plan, though. Two years ago Nek­tar CEO Howard Robin made it crys­tal clear to me that he ex­pect­ed to set up a li­cens­ing deal or co-mar­ket­ing pact to han­dle this drug launch.

“First, you know this is pret­ty much a pri­ma­ry care mar­ket,” Robin told me in the sum­mer of 2017, and Nek­tar’s not in a po­si­tion to mar­ket to a large pri­ma­ry care au­di­ence. “We’re an R&D com­pa­ny at this stage, look­ing for a part­ner who can do this. While it is an opi­oid, it’s nov­el and dif­fer­ent.” A deal “could range from a pure out-li­cens­ing agree­ment with a very sig­nif­i­cant up­front and very sig­nif­i­cant back end, or a joint ven­ture and we keep our hand in sales and mar­ket­ing.”

Howard Robin Twit­ter

He didn’t men­tion set­ting up a whol­ly owned sub­sidiary, the way Io­n­is did with Akcea. He did bur­nish the val­ue, though.

“The reg­u­la­to­ry au­thor­i­ties un­der­stand that this is po­ten­tial­ly a so­lu­tion to the opi­oid abuse in our coun­try. No oth­er mol­e­cule like this is avail­able.”

The ab­sence of any deal un­der­scores that this drug may not be the big one that Nek­tar likes to pro­mote. And some an­a­lysts are dis­tinct­ly unim­pressed. Take Daina Gray­bosch at SVB Leerink.

Giv­en re­cent opi­oid abuse de­ter­rent prod­ucts have strug­gled to gain a foothold amongst gener­ic op­tions, we re­main skep­ti­cal that NK­TR-181 will be a mas­sive com­mer­cial suc­cess, mod­el­ing peak rev­enue at $79M. We agree spin­ning out this unit is a sen­si­ble busi­ness de­ci­sion, giv­en the or­thog­o­nal reg­u­la­to­ry, com­mer­cial, and mar­ket ac­cess chal­lenges in pain vs on­col­o­gy.

Joe Stauf­fer is the new CMO, with re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for the pre­clin­i­cal pipeline that In­heris is get­ting in the se­mi-spin­out. And George Shiebler is the new gen­er­al coun­sel.

In a state­ment, Ga­le­o­ta said the three top ex­ecs will now fo­cus on build­ing out the team as they prep a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion in a huge field.


Im­age: Nek­tar 

Mer­ck is tak­ing the ax to its US op­er­a­tions, cut­ting 500 jobs in its lat­est re­or­ga­ni­za­tion

Merck is cutting 500 jobs in its US sales and headquarters commercial teams in its latest effort to find new ways to streamline the operation.

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Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.

Ronald Herb­st fol­lows Med­Im­mune ex­o­dus to Pyx­is CSO post; Jeff God­dard to suc­ceed CEO of AIT Bio­science

→ The outflow of top execs from MedImmune continues to fill the leadership ranks of smaller biotechs. The latest to take off is Ronald Herbst, the head of oncology research, who’s assuming the CSO post at Pyxis Oncology.  

Herbst was part of the old MedImmune organization AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot restructured earlier this year, reorganizing the company and eliminating the storied subsidiary as a separate organization.

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Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

UP­DAT­ED: J&J's Xarel­to, Amar­in's Vas­cepa are cost-ef­fec­tive, not bud­get friend­ly — ICER

ICER, an increasingly influential cost-effectiveness watchdog in the United States, has concluded in its review of treatments for cardiovascular disease that while the cost of J&J’s Xarelto and Amarin’s Vascepa meet its benchmark for value pricing — the two treatments will not likely treat as many patients as hoped without surpassing the annual budget threshold calculated by ICER for each therapy.