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.

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VP Oncology Biology
Skyhawk Therapeutics Waltham, MA
Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT

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