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.

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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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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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.

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.

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.

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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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.