Lig­and ac­quires Ver­nalis at bar­gain price of $43M; Pfiz­er, No­vo back $60M round for dwarfism biotech

→ Five months af­ter a be­lea­guered Ver­nalis (LSE: $VER) de­cid­ed to sell it­self in the af­ter­math of back-to-back FDA re­jec­tions, the biotech has found a buy­er in San Diego-based Lig­and Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $LGND, which is pay­ing $43 mil­lion to get their hands on eight part­nered pro­grams and an op­er­a­tion in the UK.

Hav­ing built a busi­ness mod­el heav­i­ly re­liant on part­ner­ships, Ver­nalis’ pro­grams — with part­ners such as Servi­er, Lund­beck and Dai­ichi Sankyo — re­main in progress and “ful­ly-fund­ed” de­spite set­backs in a pair of cold meds, de­vel­oped with Tris Phar­ma. Like Lig­and, Ver­nalis has a di­verse port­fo­lio than spans res­pi­ra­to­ry, on­col­o­gy and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem dis­eases. Tak­ing around $4 mil­lion in deal costs in­to ac­count, Lig­and ex­pects to gain $32 mil­lion of net cash from the trans­ac­tion.

The ac­qui­si­tion, if ap­proved by Ver­nalis’ share­hold­ers, al­so opens a win­dow to Eu­rope for Lig­and to “more ef­fi­cient­ly pur­sue in­vest­ment and ac­qui­si­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties in Eu­rope and the Unit­ed King­dom.” That in­cludes a 70-per­son R&D team in Cam­bridge, Eng­land work­ing on both the ex­ist­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions and ad­di­tion­al ear­ly-stage pro­grams avail­able for fu­ture out-li­cens­ing.

→ Basel-based Ther­a­chon has raised a sol­id $60 mil­lion round to back its clin­i­cal work on a new drug for achon­dropla­sia, or dwarfism. Al­ready in Phase I, the biotech has been work­ing on a pipeline of rare dis­ease drugs. No­vo Hold­ings led the round, with new in­vestors Cowen Health­care In­vest­ments, Pfiz­er Ven­tures and funds man­aged by Tekla Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment LLC join­ing in. Ex­ist­ing in­vestors Ver­sant Ven­tures, Or­biMed, Bpifrance and In­serm Trans­fert Ini­tia­tive al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed. “With this fi­nanc­ing, we will be able to de­vote more re­sources to our lead clin­i­cal pro­gram in achon­dropla­sia. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, we look for­ward to ex­plor­ing ad­di­tion­al pipeline op­por­tu­ni­ties in the rare dis­ease space,” says CEO Lu­ca Santarel­li, the for­mer neu­ro­sciences chief at Roche.

Roche and Sanofi are both hand­ing back rights ob­tained in col­lab­o­ra­tion deals with Boston-based Pieris $PIRS. Each of the phar­ma gi­ants had paid a mod­est up­front to part­ner with the com­pa­ny on its An­ti­calin plat­form. And in Sanofi’s case they inked the orig­i­nal pact 8 years ago.

Emer­gent BioSo­lu­tions is pay­ing $270 mil­lion to snap up Pax­Vax, gain­ing a port­fo­lio of mar­ket­ed vac­cines as well as some ex­per­i­men­tal ones. Pax­Vax is be­ing bought out from Cer­berus Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment. Pax­Vax sells the cholera vac­cine Vax­cho­ra as well as Viv­o­tif for ty­phoid fever.

→ Tokyo-based drug dis­cov­ery com­pa­ny Mod­u­lus has gath­ered $7.2 mil­lion in Se­ries A mon­ey with help from their col­lab­o­ra­tors at Pep­tiDream. In ad­di­tion to in­vest­ing in the tech and re­search pro­grams, Mod­u­lus plans to ex­pand its R&D and busi­ness teams, which will then be tasked with pur­su­ing new part­ners. Japan­ese VCs Fast Track Ini­tia­tive and DBJ Cap­i­tal al­so played big roles in the round.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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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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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.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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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.