King can­cer: The top 10 ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas in bio­phar­ma R&D

It’s not go­ing to come as a sur­prise to any­one who’s been pay­ing at­ten­tion to drug R&D trends that can­cer is the num­ber 1 dis­ease in terms of new drug de­vel­op­ment projects. But it is amaz­ing to see ex­act­ly how much on­col­o­gy dom­i­nates the in­dus­try as nev­er be­fore.

At a time the first CAR-T looks to be on the thresh­old of a pi­o­neer­ing ap­proval and the first wave of PD-(L)1 drugs are spurring hun­dreds of com­bi­na­tion stud­ies, can­cer ac­count­ed for 8,651 of the to­tal num­ber of pipeline projects count­ed by the Analy­sis Group, crunch­ing the num­bers in a new re­port com­mis­sioned by PhRMA. That’s more than a third of the 24,389 pre­clin­i­cal through Phase III pro­grams tracked by Eval­u­atePhar­ma, which pro­vid­ed the data­base for this re­view.

That’s al­so more than the next 5 dis­ease fields com­bined, start­ing with num­ber 2, neu­rol­o­gy — a field that in­cludes Parkin­son’s and Alzheimer’s. Psy­chi­a­try, once a ma­jor fo­cus for phar­ma R&D, didn’t even make the top 10, with 468 projects.

Mov­ing down­stream, can­cer stud­ies are over­whelm­ing­ly in the lead. Sin­gling out Phase I projects, can­cer ac­count­ed for 1,757 out of a to­tal of 3,723 ini­tia­tives, close to half. In Phase II it’s the fo­cus of 1,920 of 4,424 projects. On­ly in late-stage stud­ies does can­cer start to lose its over­whelm­ing dom­i­nance, falling to 329 of 1,257 projects.

PhRMA com­mis­sioned this re­port to un­der­score just how much the in­dus­try is com­mit­ted to R&D and sig­nif­i­cant new drug de­vel­op­ment, a sub­ject that rou­tine­ly comes in­to ques­tion as an­a­lysts eval­u­ate how much mon­ey is de­vot­ed to de­vel­op­ing new drugs in­stead of, say, mar­ket­ing or share buy­backs.

The re­port makes a few oth­er points to un­der­score the na­ture of the work these days.

— Three out of four projects in the clin­ic were an­gling for first-in-class sta­tus, spot­light­ing the em­pha­sis on ad­vanc­ing new med­i­cines that can make a dif­fer­ence for pa­tients. Me-too drugs are com­plete­ly out of fash­ion, un­like­ly to com­mand much weight with pay­ers.

— Of all the projects in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, 822 were for or­phan drugs look­ing to serve a mar­ket of 200,000 or less. Or­phan drugs have per­formed well, able to com­mand high prices and ben­e­fit­ing from in­cen­tives un­der fed­er­al law.

— There were 731 cell and gene ther­a­py projects in the clin­ic, with bio­phar­ma look­ing at pi­o­neer­ing ap­provals in CAR-T, with No­var­tis and Kite, as well as the first US OK for a gene ther­a­py, with the first ap­pli­ca­tion ac­cept­ed this week for a pri­or­i­ty re­view of a new ther­a­py from Spark Ther­a­peu­tics.


Dis­tri­b­u­tion of prod­ucts and projects by ther­a­peu­tic area and phase


Source: Analy­sis Group, us­ing Eval­u­atePhar­ma da­ta


Unique NMEs in de­vel­op­ment by stage (Au­gust 2016)

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.

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.

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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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.