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.

Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors. 

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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Part club, part guide, part land­lord: Arie Bellde­grun is blue­print­ing a string of be­spoke biotech com­plex­es in glob­al boom­towns — start­ing with Boston

The biotech industry is getting a landlord, unlike anything it’s ever known before.

Inspired by his recent experiences scrounging for space in Boston and the Bay Area, master biotech builder, investor, and global dealmaker Arie Belldegrun has organized a new venture to build a new, 250,000 square foot biopharma building in Boston’s Seaport district — home to Vertex and a number of up-and-coming biotech players.

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