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.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.