J&J antes $50M to get Zymework­s' 6th big bis­pecifics al­liance un­der­way, with $6B in to­tal mile­stones on the ta­ble

New­ly pub­lic Zymeworks $ZYME has just lined up its 6th ma­jor bio­phar­ma dis­cov­ery al­liance, this time bring­ing J&J $JNJ in­to a fold that al­ready in­cludes such big play­ers as Mer­ck, Eli Lil­ly, Cel­gene, GSK and Dai­ichi Sankyo. And this deal starts with a sub­stan­tial — for a dis­cov­ery deal — up­front along with $1.4 bil­lion in to­tal mile­stones on the ta­ble.

Zymeworks’ some­what bat­tered shares took off on the news, spik­ing 38% Mon­day morn­ing.

As in some of its oth­er deals, Zymeworks is bring­ing its Azy­met­ric and EFECT plat­forms to the ta­ble — this time look­ing to iden­ti­fy 6 bis­pecifics for a slate of un­de­clared tar­gets picked by Janssen. And J&J is pay­ing $50 mil­lion to get things start­ed with an­oth­er $282 mil­lion in de­vel­op­ment mile­stones and $1.12 bil­lion in com­mer­cial cash on the line for suc­cess­ful work.

Ali Tehrani

Zymeworks CEO Ali Tehrani tells me that this brings the grand to­tal of biobucks now up for grabs to about $6 bil­lion, with around $100 mil­lion claimed in up­fronts and sup­port pay­ments from part­ners.

That’s about all the de­tail you’re go­ing to get on this par­tic­u­lar pact. Tehrani can’t go in­to specifics, a com­mon as­pect of any re­search pact this ear­ly in the game. But he does al­low that J&J isn’t look­ing at this in a nar­row frame­work, in­stead tak­ing a “broad mind­set” on what Zymeworks can do.

This has been some­thing of a tough year for Zymeworks. The Van­cou­ver-based biotech — which has been ab­sorb­ing new plat­form tech in a fast-paced dri­ve to ex­pand al­liances as it went af­ter its own in-house pro­grams — took in $59 mil­lion on its IPO af­ter pen­cil­ing in a high­er fig­ure, then watched its share price grad­u­al­ly slide to about half of the open.

The lock­up on the stock end­ed a cou­ple of weeks ago, says the CEO, and he’s hap­py enough with where the com­pa­ny is on the street. Franklin Tem­ple­ton and Cor­morant came in on the stock. He ex­pects more such longterm in­vestors to fol­low, with a new road show in the off­ing. About $40 mil­lion of the stock was spo­ken for go­ing in, a com­mon fea­ture in the biotech IPO world, and now every time a gen­er­al­ist sells a thou­sand shares on a thin­ly trad­ed stock like this, it can have a big im­pact on the price.

“Our ob­jec­tive was to in­tro­duce the street (to Zymeworks) piece by piece,” he says. And that means deals like this, more da­ta on the in-house drug ZW25, with an up­date com­ing at the San An­to­nio Breast Can­cer Sym­po­sium and a splash planned for AS­CO next sum­mer.

“If you look at every con­ver­sa­tion we’ve had,” Tehrani tells me, “you know we promise and we de­liv­er. We do what we say.”

And as the biotech per­forms for Wall Street, he be­lieves that mes­sage will res­onate and the price will head back up. As it did this morn­ing.

He’s promised. Now he gets to de­liv­er.

GSK's Hal Bar­ron her­alds their sec­ond pos­i­tive PhI­II for cru­cial an­ti-BC­MA ther­a­py, point­ing to a push for quick OKs in a crowd­ed field

Hal Barron has his second positive round of Phase III data in hand for his anti-BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin (GSK2857916). And GSK’s research chief says the data paves the way for their drive in search of an FDA approval for treating multiple myeloma. 

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this drug for GSK, a cornerstone of Barron’s campaign to make a dramatic impact on the oncology market and provide some long-lost excitement for the pharma giant’s pipeline. They’re putting this BCMA program at the front of that charge — looking to lead a host of rivals all aimed at the same target.

Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Am­gen, Al­ler­gan biosim­i­lar of Roche's block­buster Rit­ux­an clears an­oth­er US piv­otal study 

Novartis $NVS may have given up, but Amgen $AMGN and Allergan $AGN are plowing ahead with their knockoff of Roche’s blockbuster biologic Rituxan in the United States.

Their copycat, ABP 798, was found to have a clinically equivalent impact as Rituxan — meeting the main goal of the study involving CD20-positive B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients. This is the second trial supporting the profile of the biosimilar. In January, it came through with positive PK results in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.