Managing directors Hakan Goker (L) and Owen Lozman, M Ventures

Mer­ck KGaA's ven­ture arm is ready to make new in­vest­ments, rais­ing more than $675M to get things go­ing

Mer­ck KGaA’s ven­ture cap­i­tal arm has closed its lat­est fund, bring­ing the Eu­ro­pean con­glom­er­ate fresh cash to in­vest in up-and-com­ing biotechs.

M Ven­tures raised €600 mil­lion, or rough­ly $677 mil­lion, Mer­ck KGaA an­nounced Wednes­day morn­ing, in the fund’s third in­crease since be­ing es­tab­lished back in 2009. The fund’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Hakan Gok­er, told End­points News in an in­ter­view that while M Ven­tures isn’t putting an ex­act num­ber on the com­pa­nies it’ll fund, the cash will like­ly go to­ward seed rounds and ear­ly in­vest­ments.

Gok­er al­so not­ed that the fund likes to keep its op­tions open and is large­ly ag­nos­tic to­ward spe­cif­ic ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas. M Ven­tures fur­ther doesn’t lim­it it­self to on­ly seed or Se­ries A rounds, he stressed.

“Any nov­el plat­form, nov­el modal­i­ty, nov­el mech­a­nism that promis­es to make a sig­nif­i­cant ex­po­nen­tial leap in the clin­ic for pa­tients is of in­ter­est to us,” Gok­er told End­points.

The fund is led by both Gok­er and an­oth­er man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Owen Loz­man, who’ve help build more than 80 com­pa­nies from “cre­ation to ex­it.” Along with in­vest­ing in Mer­ck KGaA’s cor­po­rate in­ter­ests, Gok­er said M Ven­tures has an ever­green rem­e­dy that al­lows it to re­cy­cle cap­i­tal from some of its re­turns.

“With the sig­nif­i­cant amount of cash that is be­ing al­lo­cat­ed to us, we will be able to build more com­pa­nies and fi­nance them ei­ther larg­er or longer to­wards them reach­ing their max­i­mal val­ue propo­si­tion,” Gok­er said, “be it debt, list­ing, M&A, stand­alone, larg­er com­pa­ny, what­ev­er it may be.”

Right now serves as an op­por­tune time to in­vest, he added, as the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic has brought with it in­creased in­vestor in­ter­est in the life sci­ences area. Gok­er said he thinks that feel­ing will re­main for a while, with the in­dus­try al­ready flush with cash from sev­er­al high-pro­file IPOs and oth­er large fi­nanc­ing rounds.

The new fund clos­es as Mer­ck KGaA’s larg­er R&D ef­forts have stum­bled in re­cent months, most no­tably af­ter the com­pa­ny called off a $4 bil­lion part­ner­ship with Glax­o­SmithK­line in Sep­tem­ber. The Big Phar­mas were de­vel­op­ing a once-promis­ing can­cer drug called bin­tra­fusp al­fa, but it failed piv­otal stud­ies in both sec­ond-line BTC and NSCLC this year.

But Mer­ck KGaA is al­so tak­ing oth­er steps to in­vest in its fu­ture, fi­nal­iz­ing plans for an­oth­er $319 mil­lion to beef up two new fa­cil­i­ties at its head­quar­ters. The blue­prints for a trans­la­tion­al sci­ence cen­ter for sci­en­tists in its health­care busi­ness unit, as well as a new learn­ing cen­ter to on­board new em­ploy­ees, come as part of a larg­er $1 bil­lion-plus ren­o­va­tion un­veiled in 2019.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er de­buts Pre­vnar 20 TV ads; Lil­ly gets first FDA 2022 pro­mo slap down let­ter

Pfizer debuted its first TV ad for its Prevnar 20 next-generation pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. In the 60-second spot, several people (actor portrayals) with their ages listed as 65 or older are shown walking into a clinic as they turn to say they’re getting vaccinated with Prevnar 20 because they’re at risk.

The update to Pfizer’s blockbuster Prevnar 13 vaccine was approved in June, and as its name suggests is a vaccine for 20 serotypes — the original 13 plus seven more that cause pneumococcal disease. Pfizer used to spend heavily on TV ads to promote Prevnar 13 in 2018 and 2019 but cut back its TV budgets in the past two fall and winter seasonal spending cycles. Prevnar had been Pfizer’s top-selling drug, notching sales of just under $6 billion in 2020, and was the world’s top-selling vaccine before the Covid-19 vaccines came to market last year.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Pfiz­er fields a CRL for a $295M rare dis­ease play, giv­ing ri­val a big head start

Pfizer won’t be adding a new rare disease drug to the franchise club — for now, anyway.

The pharma giant put out word that their FDA application for the growth hormone therapy somatrogon got the regulatory heave-ho, though they didn’t even hint at a reason for the CRL. Following standard operating procedure, Pfizer said in a terse missive that they would be working with regulators on a followup.

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Graphic: Alexander Lefterov for Endpoints News

Small biotechs with big drug am­bi­tions threat­en to up­end the tra­di­tion­al drug launch play­book

Of the countless decisions Vlad Coric had to make as Biohaven’s CEO over the past seven years, there was one that felt particularly nerve-wracking: Instead of selling to a Big Pharma, the company decided it would commercialize its migraine drug itself.

“I remember some investors yelling and pounding on the table like, you can’t do this. What are you thinking? You’re going to get crushed by AbbVie,” he recalled.

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A new can­cer im­munother­a­py brings cau­tious hope for a field long await­ing the next big break­through

Bob Seibert sat silent across from his daughter at their favorite Spanish restaurant near his home in Charleston County, SC, their paella growing cold as he read through all the places in his body doctors found tumors.

He had texted his wife, a pediatric intensive care nurse, when he got the alert that his online chart was ready. Although he saw immediately it was bad, many of the terms — peritoneal, right iliac — were inscrutable. But she was five hours downstate, at a loud group dinner the night before another daughter’s cheer competition.

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Not cheap­er by the dozen: Bris­tol My­ers be­comes the 12th phar­ma com­pa­ny to re­strict 340B sales

Bristol Myers Squibb recently joined 11 of its peer pharma companies in limiting how many contract pharmacies can access certain drugs discounted by a federal program known as 340B.

Bristol Myers is just the latest in a series of high-profile pharma companies moving in their own direction as the Biden administration’s Health Resources and Services Administration struggles to rein in the drug discount program for the neediest Americans.

Joaquin Duato, J&J CEO (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

New J&J CEO Joaquin Du­a­to promis­es an ag­gres­sive M&A hunt in quest to grow phar­ma sales

Joaquin Duato stepped away from the sideline and directly into the spotlight on Tuesday, delivering his first quarterly review for J&J as its newly-tapped CEO after an 11-year run in senior posts. And he had some mixed financial news to deliver today while laying claim to a string of blockbuster drugs in the making and outlining an appetite for small and medium-sized M&A deals.

Duato also didn’t exactly shun large buyouts when asked about the future of the company’s medtech business — where they look to be in either the top or number 2 position in every segment they’re in — even though the bar for getting those deals done is so much higher.

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Amgen's Twitter campaign #DearAsthma inspired thousands of people to express struggles and frustrations with the disease

Am­gen’s #Dear­Asth­ma spon­sored tweet lands big on game day, spark­ing thou­sands to re­spond

Amgen wanted to know how people with asthma really felt about daily life with the disease. So it bought a promoted tweet on Twitter noting the not-so-simple realities of life with asthma and ended the post with a #DearAsthma hashtag, a megaphone emoji and a re-tweet button.

That was just over one week ago and the responses haven’t stopped. More than 7,000 posts so far on Twitter replied to #DearAsthma to detail struggles of daily life, expressing humor, frustration and sometimes anger. More than a few f-bombs have been typed or gif-ed in reply to communicate just how much many people “hate” the disease.

Pfiz­er, Bris­tol My­ers dom­i­nate top 10 pre­dic­tions for the best-sell­ing drugs of 2022

The annual exercise where analysts try and predict which drugs will become blockbusters and make the most money tends to highlight the biggest trends in biopharma R&D. 2022 is no exception.

The team at Evaluate Vantage published its predictions for the top 10 selling drugs for the year — expecting tens of billions of dollars in sales and highlighting an industry-wide focus on certain diseases and indications.

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Nabiha Saklayen, Cellino co-founder and CEO (via Cellino)

Backed by Bay­er's Leaps, Boston-based Celli­no lands $80M for cell ther­a­py-in-box

The summer before Cellino CEO and co-founder Nabiha Saklayen started at Harvard, she lost her grandmother following complications to diabetes. Before then, she hadn’t taken a biology class since ninth or tenth grade — the mark of a classic physicist — but it was then she decided she wanted the rest to sit at the intersection of the two for the rest of her career

Combine that with being across the way from the University’s stem cell institute in Cambridge, and you get the birth of Cellino, an autonomous cell therapy manufacturing company that just announced the closing of its Series A.