In the hunt for a $100M IPO, Bio­haven pol­ish­es up dis­cards from Bris­tol-My­ers, As­traZeneca

Bio­haven CEO Vlad Coric

When Bio­haven Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal spun out of Yale a few years ago, com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives talked a lot about their fo­cus on de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety — tough tar­gets in R&D by any ac­count. But on Fri­day the stealthy Bio­haven jumped out with a $100 mil­lion IPO fil­ing, af­ter un­der­go­ing a rad­i­cal, low-key re­vamp of its pipeline fo­cus, clear­ly aimed at of­fer­ing in­vestors a chance at a late-stage biotech eye­ing near-term FDA ap­pli­ca­tions.

Now, ac­cord­ing to the S-1, the New Haven-based biotech’s lead drug is a CGRP ther­a­py for mi­graine, a crowd­ed field in the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try with big and lit­tle com­peti­tors — Eli Lil­ly, Am­gen/No­var­tis, Te­va and Alder — lin­ing up NDAs. A num­bers-redact­ed li­cens­ing agree­ment filed just days ago re­veals Bio­haven grabbed its drug from Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. The S-1 spells out a pact that in­cludes up to about $350 mil­lion in de­vel­op­ment and sales mile­stones, but on­ly $9 mil­lion due in 90 days of the fil­ing — $5 mil­lion of that up front.

There’s noth­ing un­usu­al about a biotech com­pa­ny grab­bing drugs off a phar­ma com­pa­ny’s shelf for mis­fit drugs. Vivek Ra­maswamy did the same with GSK when he set up Ax­o­vant $AX­ON and quick­ly turned it in­to a record-set­ting biotech IPO, af­ter tak­ing a failed Alzheimer’s drug for $5 mil­lion up­front. This is a tried and true ap­proach, which al­ways rais­es ques­tions about why these drugs, with hu­man da­ta, are so cheap to come by.

The S-1 for Bio­haven in­cludes the boast that their CGRP drug is the on­ly one to have pos­i­tive mid-stage da­ta on four key end­points rel­a­tive to place­bo. What it ap­par­ent­ly left out was that Bris­tol-My­ers al­so in­clud­ed a cheap gener­ic trip­tan — suma­trip­tan — in the mid-stage study, which beat out all three dos­es of their drug. Bris­tol-My­ers sub­se­quent­ly shelved the drug, un­til Bio­haven came along with a new plan to re­vive it in the clin­ic.

That could take some ex­plain­ing, though the S-1 notes that trip­tans are known for headache re­cur­rence and oth­er side ef­fects. Pa­tients that want to knock out a mi­graine may pre­fer a more ef­fec­tive drug, though pay­ers aren’t like­ly to be wild about cov­er­ing it as a front­line ther­a­py. Bio­haven plans to put the drug through two Phase III stud­ies in the sec­ond half of this year and then take the piv­otal da­ta to the FDA in H1 2018.

In fair­ness, the ri­vals in this field have all been com­pared to place­bos for their ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta. And Bio­haven’s Phase III specif­i­cal­ly in­cludes trip­tan-re­sis­tant pa­tients or oth­ers who would not be good can­di­dates for that class of ther­a­pies.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­volved in Bio­haven al­so had fo­cused on ke­t­a­mine, a NM­DA re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist that’s in­spired a long line­up of aca­d­e­m­ic stud­ies. The horse tran­quil­iz­er is bet­ter known in par­ty cir­cles as Spe­cial K for its psy­che­del­ic qual­i­ties.


In this case, Bio­haven in-li­censed an NM­DA an­tag­o­nist from As­traZeneca in a $210 mil­lion deal, well af­ter the phar­ma gi­ant re­treat­ed from the field. Like Bris­tol-My­ers, Bio­haven nev­er be­fore dis­closed that it did a deal with As­traZeneca, re­fer­ring on­ly to ties with blue-chip phar­mas. Co­in­ci­den­tal­ly, I cov­ered the drug — lan­icem­ine (AZD6765)  — back in 2014 when As­traZeneca un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly swept it out the back door fol­low­ing a failed mid-stage study for de­pres­sion.

But in­stead of stay­ing fo­cused on de­pres­sion, the com­pa­ny took a cue from some pre­clin­i­cal mouse tests and re­pur­posed it for symp­toms of Rett syn­drome. The FDA oblig­ing­ly gave the drug, one of many NM­DA drugs, an or­phan des­ig­na­tion which comes with a set of spe­cial in­cen­tives.

Bio­haven’s mid­dle drug is from its glu­ta­mate mod­u­la­tion plat­form. The drug is called tri­grilu­zole, a re­for­mu­la­tion of rilu­zole cur­rent­ly in a Phase II/III bioe­quiv­a­lence study for the treat­ment of atax­ia with an ini­tial fo­cus on spin­ocere­bel­lar atax­ia, or SCA. Da­ta is due out in ear­ly 2018. Bio­haven ac­quired that drug from ALS Bio­phar­ma.

Cur­rent­ly based in the British Vir­gin Is­lands, Bio­haven is set­ting up a sub­sidiary in the low-tax haven of Ire­land, where the com­pa­ny will tech­ni­cal­ly move its domi­cile. It al­so has a few strings to con­sid­er with Bris­tol-My­ers and As­traZeneca, which have some claw-back pro­vi­sions in their con­tracts and a right of first ne­go­ti­a­tion if they ever come back up on the mar­ket.

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky

The com­pa­ny has burned through more than $75 mil­lion, but raised more than $100 mil­lion from a group that in­clud­ed crossover in­vestor RA Cap­i­tal, which de­lights in com­ing in­to a deal about a year ahead of what the MBA crowd likes to call a val­ue in­flec­tion point. RA’s Pe­ter Kolchin­sky was named to the board as an ob­serv­er a few weeks ago.

CEO and Yale pro­fes­sor Vlad Coric, a Bris­tol-My­ers vet with con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence in drug de­vel­op­ment, scored $784,428 in to­tal com­pen­sa­tion last year and owns 7% of the com­pa­ny. Ex­ec­u­tive chair­man De­clan Doogan runs Portage Biotech, the biggest share­hold­er and seed provider with 28.3% of the stock. Vi­vo Cap­i­tal has a 6.7% chunk and RA is in for 5.1%.

Not long ago Doogan al­so arranged to have Bio­haven in­vest in an­oth­er Yale spin­out, Kleo Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which is de­vel­op­ing new ther­a­pies that re­cruit T-cells in an im­mune sys­tem at­tack on can­cer cells and oth­er tar­gets.

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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First place fin­ish: Eli Lil­ly just moved to fran­chise leader with their sec­ond mi­graine drug OK in 1 year

In a rare twist for Eli Lilly’s historically slow-moving R&D group, the pharma giant has seized bragging rights to a first-in-class new drug approval. And all signs point to an aggressive marketing followup as they look to outclass some major franchise rivals hobbled by internal dissension.

The FDA came through with an OK for lasmiditan on Friday evening, branding it as Reyvow and lining it up — once a substance classification comes through from the DEA — for a major market release. The oral drug binds to 5-HT1F receptors and is designed to stop an acute migraine after it starts. That makes it a complementary therapy to their CGRP drug Emgality, which has a statistically significant impact on preventing attacks.

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Allogene HQ Open House on September 17, 2019 in South San Francisco. (Jeff Rumans, Endpoints News)

The next 10 years: Where is biotech head­ed?

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in drug development. Timelines have shortened, particularly in oncology. Regulators have opened up. Investment has skyrocketed. China became a player. Biotechs have multiplied as gene and cell therapy has exploded — offering major new advances in the way diseases are treated, and sometimes cured.

So where are we headed from here? I journeyed out to San Francisco in September to discuss the answer to that question at Allogene’s open house. If the last 10 years have been an eye-opener, what does the next decade hold in store?

George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scangos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 million pennies short.

Scangos’ vaunted startup Vir Biotechnology raised $143 million in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 million. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 target.

Launched with backing from ARCH Venture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the infectious disease startup was one of a new wave of well-resourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough coffers to pursue a full R&D line rather than slowly build their case by picking off a single lead program.

Patrick Mahaffy, Getty Images

Court green-lights Clo­vis case af­ter de­tail­ing ev­i­dence the board ‘ig­nored red flags’ on false safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Clovis investors have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running case against the board of directors, with a Delaware court making a rare finding that they had a strong enough case against the board to proceed with the action.

In a detailed ruling at the beginning of the month that’s been getting careful scrutiny at firms specializing in biotech and corporate governance, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the attorneys for the investors had made a careful case that the board — a collection of experts that includes high-profile biotech entrepreneurs, a Harvard professor and well-known investigator as well as Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy — repeatedly ignored obvious warnings that Mahaffy’s executive crew was touting inflated, unconfirmed data for their big drug Roci. Serious safety issues were also reportedly overlooked while the company continued a fundraising campaign that brought in more than a half-billion dollars. And that leaves the board open to claims related to their role in the fiasco.

The bottom line:

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Bill Gates backs Gink­go Biowork­s' $350M raise to fu­el the buzzy syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy 'rev­o­lu­tion'

If you want to understand Ginkgo Bioworks, the name should suffice: Bioworks, a spin off “ironworks,” that old industrial linchpin devoted to leveraging scale as a wellspring for vast new industries capable of remaking society. Ginkgo wants to be the ironworks for the revolution it’s heralded with as much fanfare as they can, playing off of one of the buzziest technologies in biotech.

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UCB bags a ri­val to Soliris in $2.1B buy­out deal — but will an in­creas­ing­ly vig­i­lant FTC sign off?

UCB is buying out Ra Pharma $RARX, announcing an acquisition deal that rings up at $48 a share, or $2.1 billion net of cash, and puts them toe-to-toe with Alexion on a clinical showdown.

Ra shares closed at $22.70 on Wednesday.

There’s a small pipeline in play at Ra, but UCB is going for the lead drug — a C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan in Phase III for myasthenia gravis (MG) looking to play rival to Alexion’s Soliris. Soliris has the market advantage, though, with a much earlier approval in MG in late 2017 that UCB feels confident in challenging.

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A new play­er is tak­ing the field in a push for a he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py, and it’s a big one

BioMarin, the execs at Spark (and buyer-to-be Roche) as well as the Sangamo/Pfizer team have a new rival striding onto the hemophilia block. And it’s a big one.

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Stuck with a PhI­II gene ther­a­py fail­ure at 96 weeks, Gen­Sight prefers the up­beat as­sess­ment

Two years after treatment, the best thing that GenSight Biologics $SIGHT can say about their gene therapy for vision-destroying cases of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is that it’s just a bit better than a placebo — just maybe because one treatment can cover both eyes.

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