Lig­and scoops up Pfenex for up to $516M, adding pro­teins to their an­ti­body chick­ens and de­liv­ery tech

The tech­nol­o­gy hunt­ing folks over at Lig­and Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals have picked up a new one from across town, for a sig­nif­i­cant price.

Lig­and has ac­quired fel­low San Diego-based biotech Pfenex and their pro­tein ex­pres­sion plat­form for $438 mil­lion cash, plus $78 mil­lion in con­tin­gent val­ue agree­ments should an undis­closed mile­stone be hit be­fore the end of next year.  The deal pays $12 per share, or $4.34 more than what Pfenex had been trad­ing at be­fore the an­nounce­ment.

For Lig­and, the new ac­qui­si­tion adds an­oth­er plat­form to a port­fo­lio and a busi­ness mod­el that has turned a biotech that as re­cent­ly as 2005 was delist­ed from the Nas­daq and as re­cent­ly as 2007 ex­pe­ri­enced a CEO-oust­ing a share­hold­er re­volt in­to a $1.9 bil­lion com­pa­ny. Ba­si­cal­ly, they ac­quired and de­vel­oped a se­ries of plat­forms — in­clud­ing an­ti­body-pro­duc­ing mice and bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body-pro­duc­ing chick­en and sev­er­al drug de­liv­ery meth­ods — and li­cense those out to oth­er com­pa­nies for fees and mile­stones. They al­so do the same with in­di­vid­ual as­sets.

Most no­tably at the mo­ment, Gilead us­es their sol­u­bil­i­ty tech­nol­o­gy, called Cap­ti­sol, to make the Covid-19 an­tivi­ral remde­sivir sol­u­ble in IV flu­ids and able to be ad­min­is­tered to pa­tients. Oth­er part­ners for their var­i­ous prod­ucts in­clude many of the big phar­mas and a long list of biotechs. Most re­cent­ly, Chi­na’s CStone an­nounced pos­i­tive Phase III re­sults this month from a Lig­and-de­vel­oped PD-L1 an­ti­body in non-small cell lung can­cer.

Al­ready, Lig­and had ac­quired sev­er­al as­sets from Se­lex­is’s pro­tein ex­pres­sion plat­form and li­censed them out. Pfenex will bring them a plat­form to de­vel­op those in-house.

Found­ed in 2009, Pfenex went pub­lic for $50 mil­lion in 2014 and has racked a se­ries of part­ner­ships for their pro­teins. The diph­the­ria tox­in they de­vel­oped is used in the ex­per­i­men­tal pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cine Mer­ck has put in­to Phase III tri­als (diph­the­ria tox­in is a back­bone of vir­tu­al­ly all pneu­mo­coc­cal vac­cines, in­clud­ing Pre­vnar). One pro­tein, PF708, was FDA-ap­proved last year for os­teo­poro­sis. An an­thrax vac­cine deal with BAR­DA was ter­mi­nat­ed by the agency, but the com­pa­ny has pro­teins in­cor­po­rat­ed in late and ear­ly-stage drugs at Jazz Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and in ear­ly-stage drugs at Ar­cel­lx.

John Hig­gins

In­clud­ing a $15 mil­lion mile­stone from Jazz, Pfenex earned $50.3 mil­lion last year. Lig­and ex­pects it to add to their rev­enue in 2021.

“The ac­qui­si­tion holds po­ten­tial to have a sig­nif­i­cant­ly pos­i­tive sci­en­tif­ic and fi­nan­cial im­pact on our busi­ness in the short and long term, sim­i­lar to how our Cap­ti­sol and Om­niAb ac­qui­si­tions have played out,” CEO John Hig­gins said in a state­ment. “Pfenex will add an es­tab­lished, proven pro­tein ex­pres­sion plat­form to Lig­and that is high­ly com­ple­men­tary to our es­sen­tial, pro­pri­etary drug dis­cov­ery and for­mu­la­tion tech­nolo­gies.”

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.

UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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Clay Siegall (Life Science Washington via YouTube)

#ES­MO20: Seat­tle Ge­net­ics eyes 4th ap­proval with new da­ta in a crowd­ed field

Does Seattle Genetics have another approval on its hands?

The last 12 months, not so great for the world, has been great for Seattle Genetics. The company landed two separate FDA approvals, signed a $4.5 billion deal with Merck and watched antibody-drug conjugates — the technology they spent years developing to broad industry skepticism — emerge suddenly as one of the most popular approaches in oncology. And on Monday at ESMO, the company and their partners at Genmab unveiled the data behind the ADC it hopes will provide its next major FDA approval.

Jonathan Rigby, Immune Regulation group CEO

Im­mune Reg­u­la­tion, tak­ing two clin­i­cal pro­grams to 're­set' the im­mune sys­tem, nets $53M+ Se­ries B

A little under two years after a company rebranding, Immune Regulation is taking an even bigger step toward advancing its goals.

Formerly known as Peptinnovate, the British biotech announced a $53.4 million Series B early Monday morning, helping to further advance two clinical programs in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Though those are the two initial indications the company is focusing on, CEO Jonathan Rigby told Endpoints News he hopes the candidates can be applied to a broad swath of autoimmune disorders.

Israel Lowy (Regeneron)

#ES­MO20: 'As good as any PD-1 out there': Re­gen­eron flash­es PD-(L)1 lung can­cer da­ta to ri­val Mer­ck

Regeneron entered the PD-(L)1 game late, so they devised a two-pronged strategy to catch up with Big Pharma rivals: They would push it into cancers where PD-1s had yet been tested, and they would prove that it’s as powerful in the big indications as any other on the market.

They cleared a hurdle on the first goal Friday, showing a 31% response in patients with the rare skin cancer basal cell carcinoma. And with the data they’re rolling out Monday, Regeneron cancer chief Israel Lowy is ready to declare success on the second.

Sebastian Nijman (file photo)

Roche looks to ge­net­ic mod­i­fiers for new drug tar­gets, team­ing up with Dutch biotech in $375M deal

Roche is gambling on a new way of discovering drug targets and, ultimately, promising to infuse more than $375 million into a small biotech if all goes well.

A spinout of the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Oxford University, Scenic Biotech set out to pioneer a field that’s gaining some traction among top VCs in the US: to harness the natural protecting powers of genetic modifiers — specific genes that suppress a disease phenotype.