Mer­ck part­ners up on T-cell tech plat­form in $374M au­toim­mune deal; Turn­stone taps BMS vet Mike Burgess for top R&D role

→ Back at the be­gin­ning of the year, the team at Cue Bio­phar­ma brought its A round up to $26 mil­lion af­ter build­ing a plat­form tech that re­volves around its work or­ches­trat­ing T cell re­spons­es. Any­one fa­mil­iar with the field will rec­og­nize an im­por­tant strat­e­gy here that in­volves amp­ing up an im­mune re­sponse (can­cer, for one) or dis­man­tling it (au­toim­mune dis­eases). To­day, gi­ant Mer­ck — which has an R&D team that is built to progress its PD-1 drug Keytru­da — has cho­sen to part­ner up with the new-wave Cam­bridge, MA com­pa­ny. In­ter­est­ing­ly, Mer­ck’s in­ter­est is on the au­toim­mune side of things. We have no idea what the up­front is — Mer­ck likes to be qui­et about the cash it spends — but R&D chief Roger Perl­mut­ter has en­gi­neered a string of small li­cens­ing deals and ac­qui­si­tions to aug­ment their pipeline op­er­a­tions. The mile­stones to­tal up to $374 mil­lion. This is all we hear about the fo­cus: “The mul­ti-year col­lab­o­ra­tion will en­com­pass mul­ti­ple dis­ease tar­gets across cer­tain pri­ma­ry dis­ease in­di­ca­tion ar­eas.” Now you know.

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s Mike Burgess is leav­ing Big Phar­ma be­hind and be­com­ing pres­i­dent of re­search and de­vel­op­ment at Cana­da’s Turn­stone Bi­o­log­ics, where he will lead all R&D ac­tiv­i­ties. The role builds up­on Burgess’ ex­pe­ri­ence at BMS head­ing trans­la­tion­al re­search and can­cer de­vel­op­ment, af­ter stints at Roche and Eli Lil­ly. In a state­ment, Burgess ex­pressed con­fi­dence in the on­colyt­ic con­tender’s two-in-one can­cer vac­cine, which got a boost from Ab­b­Vie just last month: “Turn­stone Bi­o­log­ics is unique­ly po­si­tioned to de­liv­er break­through vi­ral-based im­munother­a­pies for pa­tients with can­cer. … I look for­ward to work­ing close­ly with Turn­stone’s ex­pe­ri­enced team and founders, who are dri­ven by sci­ence and in­no­va­tion, to bring these break­through med­i­cines to pa­tients.”

→ Eu­rope has grant­ed mar­ket­ing au­tho­riza­tion for Glax­o­SmithK­line’s $GSK Trel­e­gy El­lip­ta, a three-in-one com­bo for COPD they de­vel­oped with In­no­vi­va $IN­VA, fol­low­ing an EMA rec­om­men­da­tion (and FDA ap­proval) in Sep­tem­ber. The duo ex­pects to launch the once-dai­ly in­haler in Eu­rope by the end of 2017 — an im­por­tant step as GSK looks to get ahead of ri­vals in a mar­ket ex­pect­ed to grow dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the next decade.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

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As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.