Is the FTC about to force Roche to di­vest a key he­mo­phil­ia pro­gram be­fore green-light­ing Spark buy­out?

Mizuho Securities analyst Difei Yang has been consulting with the FTC experts at Allen & Overy over Roche’s long-delayed $4.3 billion Spark Therapeutics buyout. And he’s increasingly sure that all the signs are pointing to a clear demand from regulators that would force a divestiture on the hemophilia A side of the pipeline.

The latest analysis centers on the track record at the FTC when they issue a second request for information, which is an extremely rare event that happens in 1 out of 50 M&A cases. Roche got their second request in June. In those instances, the numbers show that there’s an 80% chance that a divestiture demand is coming. And this one could be particularly painful for Roche to accept.

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Jude Samulski, Marianne De Backer

Bay­er buys a biotech ‘race horse’ with a $4B deal — $2B in cash — aimed at go­ing big in­to gene ther­a­py

In the latest sign that Big Pharma wants a leading place in the push to develop a new generation of cell and gene therapies, Bayer is stepping up today with a $2 billion cash deal to buy out one of the fast-moving pioneers in the field, while adding up to $2 billion more in milestones if the new pharma subsidiary can deliver the goods.

As part of a continuing series of deals engineered by Bayer BD chief Marianne De Backer, the pharma player has snapped up Asklepios, more commonly referred to in more casual fashion as AskBio. And they are paying top dollar for a Research Triangle Park-based company that raised $225 million a little more than a year ago to back the brainchild of Jude Samulski, the gene therapy pioneer out of the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Cedric Francois, Apellis CEO (Optum via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: So­bi bets $250M cash, about $1B in mile­stones for rights to a C3 ther­a­py be­ing pushed through 5 piv­otal tri­als

A couple years after licensing Novimmune’s emapalumab and turning around a quick FDA OK, Stockholm-based Sobi is betting up to $1.2 billion for rights to another rare disease drug.

The company is shelling out $250 million upfront and adding up to $915 million in milestones for rights to develop and commercialize Apellis Pharmaceuticals’ drug pegcetacoplan outside the US. Together, the companies will see the systemic C3 therapy through five registrational trials in hematology, nephrology and neurology.

Yung Chyung, Scholar Rock CMO (Business Wire)

A dark horse en­trant in­to the spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy field dou­bles its val­ue on some PhII da­ta

The last four years have seen a sudden explosion in treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, a neurodegenerative condition that once led patients — often young ones — with a grim prognosis and no options. The prognosis still isn’t rosy, but now there are three FDA-approved options, enough to make the choice of one difficult.

Now a fourth potential option has entered the mix. Today, Scholar Rock announced the results from a proof-of-concept testing their SMA drug by itself and in combination with Ionis’ Spinraza, showing that all patient cohorts improved on standard scales used for measuring motor function in people with SMA.

Kevin Conroy (Exact Sciences)

UP­DAT­ED: A month af­ter Il­lu­mi­na's big Grail buy­out, Ex­act Sci­ences scoops up liq­uid biop­sy ri­val Thrive for a rel­a­tive bar­gain

Illumina is going to have a lot of work to do to prove Grail was worth those $8 billion.

Today, Exact Sciences announced that it will acquire Thrive, Grail’s chief rival among the early cancer detection startups, for a sizeable but relatively moderate $2.15 billion. The yawning gap in part reflects the vast differences in capital that have been invested to date in each company.  But both have gone toe-to-toe over the last year and a half, with Grail having published data in over 50 cancers but Thrive recently beating them to a key test for liquid biopsy companies.

Christian Rommel (via Roche)

Bay­er fol­lows R&D deal spree by raid­ing Roche's can­cer group for its new re­search chief

The day after Bayer signed off on a $4 billion deal designed to put the company among the leaders in gene therapy development, the pharma giant has recruited a new chief for its R&D division. And they opted for an expert in the cancer field.

Christian Rommel, Roche’s head of discovery and early-stage oncology development, has been tapped to take over the job. Joerg Moeller, who got the top research post after early and late-stage development roles were combined 2 years ago, is hitting the exit “to pursue other career opportunities.”

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Albert Bourla, AP

UP­DAT­ED: Where's the Pfiz­er ef­fi­ca­cy read­out? CEO Bourla says 'soon,' but you're go­ing to have to wait for it

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had promised repeatedly that the pharma giant would know if its leading Covid-19 vaccine is effective by the end of this month — now just a few days away.

Instead, the company reported early Tuesday that it has yet to conduct any interim efficacy analyses. And it won’t now until sometime next month.

The news was included in a slide for their Q3 report.

In the morning Q3 call with analysts, Bourla says that they expect efficacy data “soon,” but noted that they wouldn’t be able to say anything until all the administrative work was done on the interim, which would take about a week. And he added that Pfizer isn’t going to say anything else about that hot topic until they have the data in hand.

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UP­DAT­ED: The dis­rup­tors at EQRx have their eyes on the PD-(L)1 mar­ket — tee­ing up $150M cash to grab 2 back­bone ther­a­pies from Chi­na

EQRx is paying top dollar to bring a pair of PD-(L)1 drugs into its portfolio of fast-follow therapies, offering $150 million upfront in what could shape up to be a $1.3 billion alliance with China’s CStone.

As early as 2017 Celgene had bet on a made-in-China PD-1 via its pact with BeiGene, quickly followed by Arcus as the second checkpoint wave was looming; more recently Eli Lilly imported longtime partner Innovent’s PD-1 in a $1 billion deal. All are diving into a space now dominated by Merck’s Keytruda franchise, where six other players are trying to catch up by carving out their own niches — and more are on their way to tap into the various I/O pairings anchored by a PD-(L)1. But none so far has quite shared EQRx’s explicit mission to disrupt the multibillion-dollar market by offering a lower cost option.

UP­DAT­ED: Re­searchers shut­ter 2 Covid-19 stud­ies as mon­i­tors flag Eli Lil­ly an­ti­bod­ies as a flop for pneu­mo­nia, hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients — but EUA hunt con­tin­ues

Two weeks after the safety data monitoring group advised researchers to hit the hold button on a clinical trial of Eli Lilly’s antibody bamlanivimab (LYCoV55) for patients hospitalized with Covid-19, the trial overseers are back with fresh directions to shutter the study after losing faith that the drug could help this group of patients.

The monitors concluded, however, that there were no safety issues involved, which will likely encourage continued belief that Lilly can still nail down an emergency marketing application for less-sick patients.