J&J ax­es its big BACE pro­gram in asymp­to­matic Alzheimer's pa­tients as the drum­beat of PhI­II fail­ures rolls on

Re­searchers at J&J $JNJ have pulled the plug on yet an­oth­er BACE pro­gram for Alzheimer’s.

Un­like Mer­ck, which scrapped their lead­ing BACE pro­gram for verube­ce­s­tat af­ter it clear­ly failed to help pa­tients on cog­ni­tion and func­tion in a ma­jor Phase III study, J&J was forced to halt the Phase IIb/III tri­al of atabece­s­tat (JNJ-54861911) af­ter some of the pa­tients in the drug arm be­gan to demon­strate se­ri­ous spikes in liv­er en­zymes.

Mer­ck’s study was a clas­sic piv­otal at­tempt to bend the curve of the ero­sion of cog­ni­tion and func­tion among pa­tients suf­fer­ing from what’s been de­fined as an ear­ly stage of the dis­ease, with symp­toms of an ail­ment that is wip­ing the mem­o­ries of mil­lions of pa­tients around the world. And it was a clas­sic fail­ure, join­ing a long and grow­ing list of late-stage prat­falls de­spite do­ing what the re­searchers ex­pect­ed it to — halt­ing the flow of amy­loid be­ta in­to the brain.

J&J’s study, though, was one of sev­er­al that want to see if the BACE ap­proach can work in pre­vent­ing the on­set of the dis­ease in asymp­to­matic pa­tients. They launched their main study — along­side a longterm safe­ty tri­al — back in the fall of 2015. In­ves­ti­ga­tors had treat­ed more than 600 peo­ple with an eye to com­plet­ing a marathon tri­al that would stretch out to 2024, even­tu­al­ly in­clud­ing 1650 sub­jects.

J&J had good rea­son to be leery of tox. Eli Lil­ly had to scrap their ini­tial BACE ef­fort in 2013 for the same rea­son, and Vi­tae Phar­ma and Boehringer In­gel­heim’s BI 1181181 was sus­pend­ed two years lat­er due to skin rash­es.

Eli Lil­ly lat­er went on to in-li­cense As­traZeneca’s BACE drug, pay­ing to jock­ey it in­to a Phase III tri­al for symp­to­matic pa­tients. But a host of an­a­lysts are shak­ing their heads over its prospects now that Mer­ck has of­fered some com­pelling ev­i­dence to show that strat­e­gy is a non-starter.

Alzheimer’s has test­ed the pa­tience and bud­gets of a large group of phar­ma gi­ants and biotechs. Pfiz­er ex­e­cut­ed one of the more re­cent ex­its, ax­ing a group of 300 in the process. And Ax­o­vant shares were shred­ded af­ter its un­sur­pris­ing col­lapse. Still, new play­ers like Cel­gene and De­nali have been ex­pand­ing their pipelines in a hunt for a drug that can help pa­tients. Any­one who’s suc­cess­ful, even mar­gin­al­ly, will have a big league block­buster on their hands. But the odds against it are daunt­ing.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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