Mer­ck pulls the trig­ger on a new West Coast R&D cam­pus in the heart of a mega-hub

Mer­ck has staked out a new R&D cam­pus for it­self in the heart of South San Fran­cis­co, the epi­cen­ter of the Bay Area’s biotech mega-hub.

Alexan­dria Re­al Es­tate Eq­ui­ties, the builder of many biotech fa­cil­i­ties around the coun­try, will be break­ing ground on the site soon af­ter Mer­ck bought in­to a new, 294,000-square-foot West Coast re­search com­plex at 213 East Grand Av­enue. The move-in date is be­ing set for 2019.

The new cam­pus will come with a wa­ter­front view, a 300-seat au­di­to­ri­um with a fit­ness cen­ter and green spaces.

A Mer­ck spokesman told me back in Ju­ly that a cen­tral re­search cam­pus in San Fran­cis­co would al­so open the door to about 100 new hires.

“We will ul­ti­mate­ly con­sol­i­date our On­col­o­gy, Im­muno-on­col­o­gy, Bi­o­log­ics and CMR dis­cov­ery work in­to a com­bined re­search site,” she not­ed at the time. “Our Pa­lo Al­to site will con­tin­ue to fo­cus on Im­muno-On­col­o­gy and Bi­o­log­ics and Vac­cines dis­cov­ery un­til the long-term fa­cil­i­ty is up and run­ning.”

The west­ern mi­gra­tion fol­lows a move by Mer­ck to re­duce staff lev­els at its op­er­a­tions in Ke­nil­worth and Rah­way, NJ. The move al­so af­fect­ed its North Wales, PA screen­ing fa­cil­i­ty. And Mer­ck has al­ready picked out a lab in Cam­bridge, MA for its ex­pand­ed work in the East Coast hub. Now it’s well along the way to do­ing the same on the West Coast.

All of that fits neat­ly in­to a broad in­dus­try trend that has dom­i­nat­ed R&D over the past 5 years. Big Phar­ma has been iden­ti­fy­ing cen­tral hubs, of­ten in the mega-cen­ters like Cam­bridge, MA, Cam­bridge, UK and San Fran­cis­co, to con­cen­trate its forces. The ba­sic idea is that plant­i­ng these fa­cil­i­ties square­ly in the most dense con­cen­tra­tions of biotech com­pa­nies is one way to pol­li­nate new re­search work with some new ideas. And No­var­tis, As­traZeneca, Roche, GSK, Mer­ck and oth­ers have all fol­lowed suit, in one way or an­oth­er.

A few years ago, Mer­ck’s R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion was all but snake bit, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing one set­back af­ter the next. Roger Perl­mut­ter’s re­turn to Mer­ck as R&D chief — quick­ly fol­lowed by a ma­jor over­haul — co­in­cid­ed with break­out da­ta for its check­point pro­gram for Keytru­da, which now is the cen­ter of at­ten­tion in some 360 clin­i­cal tri­als. And af­ter sham­ing Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb in non-small cell lunger can­cer, its prospects have nev­er been brighter in on­col­o­gy.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a rather narrow market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Ex-My­lan em­ploy­ee pleads guilty to in­sid­er trad­ing, il­le­gal­ly deal­ing on FDA ap­provals, earn­ings and Up­john merg­er

A former Mylan IT executive pleaded guilty Friday to an insider trading scheme where he bought and sold stock options on another executive’s advice.

Prosecutors secured the plea from Dayakar Mallu, Mylan’s former VP of global operations information technology, after uncovering the plan. Mallu collaborated with an unnamed “senior manager,” the SEC said, to trade options ahead of Mylan public announcements regarding FDA approvals, revenue reports and its merger with the Pfizer generics subsidiary Upjohn. The two subsequently shared profits.

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Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.