J&J woos Mer­ck­'s Math­ai Mam­men to helm of phar­ma R&D, Hait takes over on ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion

J&J is ex­e­cut­ing a change­up in the lead­er­ship of its multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D group.

Math­ai Mam­men

The phar­ma gi­ant, which re­cent­ly sig­naled plans to ex­pand its drug pipeline — which costs about $7 bil­lion a year to op­er­ate (the to­tal R&D bud­get was $9.1 bil­lion last year)— re­cruit­ed Mer­ck SVP Math­ai Mam­men to take Bill Hait’s role as phar­ma R&D chief, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment out Wednes­day night.

Bill Hait

Hait, mean­while, is switch­ing to a new job as glob­al head of ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion, a role that en­com­pass­es a net­work of part­ner­ing teams that span the plan­et, ab­sorb­ing dozens of new part­ner­ships each year in one of the in­dus­try’s most am­bi­tious out­reach ef­forts.

J&J, with one of the world’s top 5 R&D ops, is plan­ning to do this trans­fer in stages. Mam­men, who joined Mer­ck from Ther­a­vance in ear­ly 2016, is join­ing J&J lat­er this month and then mov­ing up to phar­ma R&D chief at the be­gin­ning of 2018.

Paul Stof­fels

Mam­men’s new role will have him re­port­ing di­rect­ly to J&J chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer Paul Stof­fels.

Mam­men will now be in charge of keep­ing an am­bi­tious new promise by Joaquin Du­a­to, J&J’s world­wide chair­man for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, to see J&J’s brand­ed drug mar­ket main­tain a clip of 5% an­nu­al growth through 2020 — even as pub­lic and pri­vate pay­ers in the US press new chal­lenges to what new and old drugs cost.

Un­der Hait, J&J’s R&D group put a ma­jor fo­cus on on­col­o­gy, with a slate of new drugs like Darza­lex, apa­lu­tamide (ARN-509), Ze­ju­la (ni­ra­parib) and ta­la­co­tuzum­ab for AML. Some of these were picked up in a se­ries of bil­lion-dol­lar deals backed by a qui­et but per­sis­tent group of drug de­vel­op­ers not­ed for some ma­jor wins in re­cent years.

Days ago Hait told re­porters that the com­pa­ny ex­pects 14 new meds to ar­rive on the mar­ket in next five years, with 50 line ex­ten­sions on al­ready ap­proved ther­a­pies. And he in­clud­ed a full slate of po­ten­tial block­busters.

Stof­fels, mean­while, has been field­ing teams of deal­mak­ers in glob­al of­fices in­side Lon­don, Shang­hai, Boston/Cam­bridge and the Bay Area, all in­ter­con­nect­ed with gi­ant screen con­nec­tions for in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal meet­ings. He’s cre­at­ed a 24/7 op­er­a­tion that not on­ly scouts for ma­jor new pro­grams it can li­cense, but a host of part­ner­ships where the plan is to wait pa­tient­ly, play a sup­port role and see what these up-and-com­ers can ac­com­plish. Hait will now play a ma­jor role in over­see­ing that group as J&J con­tin­ues to reach out­side to find new ideas.

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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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.

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.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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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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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.