Ter­ri­ble op­tics: As­traZeneca shares take a hit fol­low­ing re­port that CEO So­ri­ot is mov­ing to Te­va

You can in­sert this sto­ry in the WTF? file.

Wednes­day af­ter­noon Is­rael’s Cal­cal­ist re­port­ed that As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot has agreed to take the CEO’s job at Te­va, fill­ing a role left open at a com­pa­ny that is in the mid­dle of a ma­jor up­heaval.

The Is­raeli fi­nan­cial news web site says that So­ri­ot has per­son­al­ly signed off on the new job, ac­cept­ing a $20 mil­lion bonus, ac­cord­ing to a sto­ry from Reuters. And Haaretz fol­lowed up with its own con­fir­ma­tion that So­ri­ot has agreed to take the Te­va job, the sec­ond non-Is­raeli to take the po­si­tion, though they are still dis­cussing terms. The Haaretz re­port al­so in­clud­ed word of the $20 mil­lion bonus.

If true, So­ri­ot would be leav­ing the phar­ma gi­ant 5 years af­ter he took over, and a long way from com­plet­ing the turn­around that he vowed he would bring to As­traZeneca. In par­tic­u­lar, the move would come as jit­ters con­tin­ue to grow about As­traZeneca’s loom­ing MYS­TIC da­ta, which have be­come a ma­jor cat­a­lyst for the com­pa­ny’s can­cer group as they pur­sue a piv­otal study fo­cus­ing on a com­bi­na­tion of dur­val­um­ab, the new­ly ap­proved PD-L1 drug, and treme­li­mum­ab, a CT­LA4 ther­a­py.

Both Te­va and As­traZeneca de­clined to com­ment to Reuters, say­ing they don’t re­spond to ru­mors. In­vestors, though, quick­ly weighed in, dri­ving the phar­ma gi­ant’s shares$AZN down more than 4% — carv­ing bil­lions off its mar­ket share — while boost­ing Te­va $TE­VA 2.5%.

The com­pa­nies may want to make an ex­cep­tion on their no-com­ment rule. So­ri­ot has been or­ches­trat­ing As­traZeneca’s game plan for five long years, aimed at ful­fill­ing a promise to al­most dou­ble last year’s rev­enue. His de­par­ture now would be a tac­it ad­mis­sion of fail­ure, which will like­ly rock the com­pa­ny’s most loy­al in­vestors, many of whom ques­tioned why So­ri­ot would re­ject a buy­out of­fer from Pfiz­er.

Sea­mus Fer­nan­dez at Leerink counts him­self among the shocked. His com­ment:

Yes­ter­day’s re­port from the Is­raeli dai­ly busi­ness pa­per Cal­cal­ist that cur­rent AZN CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot may be leav­ing the com­pa­ny to head TE­VA (NR) comes as a ma­jor sur­prise. We spoke with the com­pa­ny, who sim­ply stat­ed that it does not com­ment on ru­mors; how­ev­er it did not out­right de­ny the re­port. If true, the op­tics around his de­par­ture would be ter­ri­ble ahead of the MYS­TIC read­out (Imfinzi [dur­val­um­ab; an­ti-PD-L1] + treme­li­mum­ab [an­ti-CT­LA-4] in first-line (1L) non-small cell lung can­cer [NSCLC]), which are ex­pect­ed any day now. While the news does not ap­pear to be re­lat­ed to the MYS­TIC out­come (as the com­pa­ny con­firmed that if the blind were bro­ken, the top-line re­sults would have to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed al­most im­me­di­ate­ly), his ex­it would leave AZN rud­der­less in the wake of sev­er­al oth­er re­cent de­par­tures.

Te­va chair­man Sol Bar­er has been look­ing for a new CEO, its fourth in the last 4 years, af­ter the com­pa­ny found it­self un­der the gun for a weak pipeline and shrink­ing gener­ic drug sales. If So­ri­ot, a Roche vet, takes over, he’ll find him­self in much the same sit­u­a­tion as he did in 2012, when he took over at As­traZeneca. For So­ri­ot and Te­va, it could be yet an­oth­er shot at a do-over.

Te­va gave the CEO’s job to Je­re­my Levin in 2013, but he ul­ti­mate­ly fell foul of the board and was forced out be­fore he could re­struc­ture. Levin went on to found the biotech Ovid, which re­cent­ly went pub­lic. Levin was re­placed by Erez Vigod­man, who was squeezed out ear­li­er this year as the num­bers came un­der pres­sure, leav­ing the com­pa­ny in search of a per­ma­nent re­place­ment who could try once again to set things right.

Who would take over at As­traZeneca now is any­one’s guess. Big Phar­ma has seen more ex­its that en­trances in the last few years, as top re­searchers and ex­ecs found new roles in biotech. Iron­i­cal­ly So­ri­ot re­port­ed­ly just com­plet­ed an an­gry show­down with Luke Miels, who left As­traZeneca to join GSK.

Im­age: Get­ty



De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck

#ASH19: Here’s why Mer­ck is pay­ing $2.7B to­day to grab Ar­Qule and its next-gen BTK drug, lin­ing up Eli Lil­ly ri­val­ry

Just a few months after making a splash at the European Hematology Association scientific confab with an early snapshot of positive data for their BTK inhibitor ARQ 531, ArQule has won a $2.7 billion buyout deal from Merck.

Merck is scooping up a next-gen BTK drug — which is making a splash at ASH today — from ArQule in an M&A pact set at $20 a share $ARQL. That’s more than twice Friday’s $9.66 close. And Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter heralded a deal that nets “multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors.”

This is the second biotech buyout pact today, marking a brisk tempo of M&A deals in the lead-up to the big JP Morgan gathering in mid-January. It’s no surprise the acquisitions are both for cancer drugs, where Sanofi will try to make its mark while Merck beefs up a stellar oncology franchise. And bolt-ons are all the rage at the major pharma players, which you could also see in Novartis’ recent $9.7 billion MedCo buyout.

ArQule — which comes out on top after their original lead drug foundered in Phase III — highlighted early data on ‘531 at EHA from a group of 6 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who got the 65 mg dose. Four of them experienced a partial response — a big advance for a company that failed with earlier attempts.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Am­gen puts its foot down in shiny new South San Fran­cis­co hub as it re­or­ga­nizes R&D ops

Amgen has signed up to be AbbVie’s neighbor in South San Francisco as it moves into a nine-story R&D facility in the booming biotech hub.

The arrangement gives Amgen 240,000 square feet of space on the Gateway of Pacific Campus, just a few minutes drive from its current digs at Oyster Point. The new hub will open in 2022 and house the big biotech’s Bay Area employees working on cardiometabolic, inflammation and oncology research.

Ab­b­Vie, Scripps ex­pand part­ner­ship, for­ti­fy fo­cus on can­cer drugs

Scripps and AbbVie go way back. Research conducted in the lab of Scripps scientist Richard Lerner led to the discovery of Humira. The antibody, approved by the FDA in 2002 and sold by AbbVie, went on to become the world’s bestselling treatment. In 2018, the drugmaker and the non-profit organization signed a pact focused on developing cancer treatments — and now, the scope of that partnership has broadened to encompass a range of diseases, including immunological and neurological conditions.

South Ko­rea jails 3 Sam­sung ex­ecs for de­stroy­ing ev­i­dence in Bi­o­Log­ics probe

Three Samsung executives in Korea are going to jail.

The convictions came in what prosecutors had billed as “biggest crime of evidence destruction in the history of South Korea”: a case of alleged corporate intrigue that was thrown open when investigators found what was hidden beneath the floor of a Samsung BioLogics plant. Eight employees in total were found guilty of evidence tampering and the three executives were each sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Nick Plugis, Avak Kahvejian, Cristina Rondinone, Milind Kamkolkar and Chad Nusbaum. (Cellarity)

Cel­lar­i­ty, Flag­ship's $50M bet on net­work bi­ol­o­gy, mar­ries ma­chine learn­ing and sin­gle-cell tech for drug dis­cov­ery

Cellarity started with a simple — but far from easy — idea that Avak Kahvejian and his team were floating around at Flagship Pioneering: to digitally encode a cell.

As he and his senior associate Nick Plugis dug deeper into the concept, they found that most of the models others have developed take a bottom-up approach, where they assemble the molecules inside cells and the connections between them from scratch. What if they opt for a top-down approach, aided by single-cell transcriptomics and machine learning, to gauge the behavior of the entire cellular network?

Left top to right: Mark Timney, Alex Denner, Vas Narasimhan. (The Medicines Company, Getty, AP/Endpoints News)

In a play-by-play of the $9.7B Med­Co buy­out, No­var­tis ad­mits it over­paid while of­fer­ing a huge wind­fall to ex­ecs

A month into his tenure at The Medicines Company, new CEO Mark Timney reached out to then-Novartis pharma chief Paul Hudson: Any interest in a partnership?

No, Hudson told him. Not now, at least.

Ten months later, Hudson had left to run Sanofi and Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan was paying $9.7 billion for the one-drug biotech – the largest in the string of acquisitions Narasimhan has signed since his 2017 appointment.

The deal was the product of an activist investor and his controversial partner working through nearly a year of cat-and-mouse negotiations to secure a deal with Big Pharma’s most expansionist executive. It represented a huge bet in a cardiovascular field that already saw two major busts in recent years and brought massive returns for two of the industry’s most eye-raising names.

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