Just how much would no-deal Brex­it harm bio­med­ical sci­ence? Re­searchers speak out

As Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty lead­ers face off in a bid to be­come the UK’s next Prime Min­is­ter, sci­en­tists from a range of spe­cial­ties — from can­cer to cli­mate — are sound­ing loud­er alarms about the threats of a loom­ing no-deal Brex­it for their re­search work.

Pamela Kearns Birm­ing­ham

Cit­ing an analy­sis by the Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don of the lat­est EU re­search fund­ing da­ta, the Guardian re­port­ed that UCL and eight oth­er Rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties ran on­ly 20 big Eu­ro­pean re­search col­lab­o­ra­tions in 2018, a steep drop from around 50 in 2016. And in­di­vid­ual re­searchers are feel­ing the cloud of un­cer­tain­ty snuff­ing out prospects.

While the British gov­ern­ment un­der There­sa May had out­lined a co­op­er­a­tive frame­work to nur­ture sci­ence and in­no­va­tion, it all be­came moot when she failed mul­ti­ple at­tempts to get the deal she ne­go­ti­at­ed with the EU through the Par­lia­ment. That murky fu­ture has dri­ven po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tors away, Pamela Kearns, di­rec­tor of Can­cer Re­search UK’s na­tion­al clin­i­cal tri­als unit, told the news­pa­per.

“In one re­cent dis­cus­sion about a fund­ing bid with very long­stand­ing Eu­ro­pean part­ners, it was de­cid­ed they wouldn’t have a UK part­ner on the project as it would be too great a risk,” Kearns, who cur­rent­ly over­sees 16 tri­als across 21 Eu­ro­pean coun­tries, said.

She is al­so wor­ried that UK sci­en­tists will lose ac­cess to Hori­zon Eu­rope, a €100 bil­lion (£89.9 bil­lion) fund­ing pro­gram that fea­tures can­cer as one of its key mis­sions, if it crash­es out of the EU on Oc­to­ber 31 with­out a deal.

Her con­cerns echo those of many oth­ers, in­clud­ing No­bel Prize-win­ning cell bi­ol­o­gist Paul Nurse, who com­pared the fund to the Cham­pi­on’s League. Drop­ping out of it, the Fran­cis Crick di­rec­tor warned, would rep­re­sent a ma­jor blow to UK sci­ence.

Paul Work­man ICR

Paul Work­man of the In­sti­tute of Can­cer Re­search al­so chimed in:

I am con­cerned that it could very well be­come much more dif­fi­cult for UK sci­en­tists to work with their col­leagues in Eu­rope if they can no longer join Eu­ro­pean con­sor­tia or ac­cess EU in­for­ma­tion re­sources that al­low sci­en­tists to find po­ten­tial col­lab­o­ra­tors in fu­ture. In­deed I al­ready hear many sto­ries where our UK sci­en­tists are be­ing dis­cour­aged from join­ing Eu­ro­pean ini­tia­tives – just based on the un­cer­tain­ty.

At the very least, Work­man added, the gov­ern­ment should reaf­firm its com­mit­ment to R&D and work to en­sure a stream of pub­lic and pri­vate in­vest­ments in the long term.

Days ago, 11 groups — in­clud­ing the CRUK, the Acad­e­my of Med­ical Sci­ences and the As­so­ci­a­tion of Med­ical Re­search Char­i­ties — made the same call to the PM hope­fuls, Boris John­son and Je­re­my Hunt:

The next Prime Min­is­ter must set out a long-term plan for re­search and in­no­va­tion in­vest­ment up to 2030. This should build on the Gov­ern­ment tar­get to boost over­all R&D in­vest­ment ini­tial­ly to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 – and the longer-term aim of 3% of GDP. But words and tar­gets will not be enough, the UK needs a co­her­ent long-term plan to build our po­si­tion as the glob­al hub for new world-lead­ing tech­nolo­gies, to draw on our strengths across mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines, to at­tract tal­ent from around the world and to pro­mote British en­tre­pre­neur­ship.

The 160,000 To­ries tasked with se­lect­ing the coun­try’s next leader will be­gin vot­ing next week, with re­sults ex­pect­ed on Ju­ly 23.

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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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.

Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.

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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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.