Neo­vacs signs €65M Chi­na deal; An­oth­er biotech CEO chat­ters on about a pos­si­ble buy­out

BioSense CEO Andy Li

• Paris-based Neo­vacs says it signed up BioSense Glob­al for a €65 mil­lion deal cov­er­ing the de­vel­op­ment of its IFNα Ki­noid vac­cine to treat lu­pus and der­mato­myosi­tis in the Chi­nese mar­ket. BioSense CEO Andy Li says he will launch a Phase III in Chi­na for the drug, pro­vid­ed it clears an on­go­ing Phase IIb tri­al con­duct­ed by Neo­vacs. The cash cov­ers an up­front and mile­stones, though the an­nounce­ment didn’t break out the prices.

• St. Louis-based Af­fi­gen has raised a $17 mil­lion Se­ries A round. “We found­ed Af­fi­gen to re­al­ize the promise of tar­get­ing cell-lin­eage spe­cif­ic tu­mor pro­teins with ther­a­peu­tics that have di­rect, po­tent an­ti-tu­mor ac­tiv­i­ty and un­ri­valed safe­ty,” said Car­los F. San­tos, PhD, CEO of Af­fi­gen. “Pi­o­neer­ing work con­duct­ed over the past three decades has demon­strat­ed the pro­found po­ten­tial of this ap­proach, but on­ly re­cent­ly has it be­come fea­si­ble to de­vel­op ther­a­peu­tics of this kind in a man­ner that is both clin­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant and com­mer­cial­ly vi­able. We look for­ward to work­ing with our aca­d­e­m­ic, in­dus­try and fi­nan­cial part­ners to bring this new class of ther­a­peu­tics to pa­tients with crit­i­cal­ly un­met med­ical needs.”

• An­oth­er biotech CEO is tout­ing his pub­lic com­pa­ny’s shot at a buy­out. Late last week Sage’s Jeff Jonas had to walk back com­ments that sug­gest­ed his com­pa­ny was the tar­get of M&A dis­cus­sions. Now Nor­way’s Nordic Nanovec­tor has fol­lowed suit, with CEO Lui­go Cos­ta telling Reuters that his non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma drug could be on the mar­ket in 2019 — pro­vid­ed it clears a late-stage study. “We talk a lot with com­pa­nies, and as the da­ta im­proves and the com­pa­ny de­vel­ops, the more in­ter­est we have, that’s for sure,” Cos­ta told Reuters, shame­less­ly tout­ing a pos­si­ble deal.

• Hous­ton-based Bel­licum Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $BLCM has dosed the first pa­tient with BPX-601, the “first CAR T-cell prod­uct can­di­date to en­ter clin­i­cal stud­ies that is de­signed to en­able con­trol over the ex­pan­sion and stim­u­la­tion of the cells.”

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

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.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

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.

David Chang steps up to CEO spot at WuX­i's cell and gene ther­a­py CD­MO; David Meline is the new CFO at Mod­er­na

David Meline didn’t stay retired for long. As reported yesterday, the former Amgen exec will replace Lorence Kim as CFO of Moderna as the Big Pharma has sprinted to the front of the Covid-19 vaccine pack, getting selected as one of the finalists for Operation Warp Speed. Meline, who gets started on Monday, announced his retirement as Amgen’s CFO in October 2019, remaining in the role until the end of the year. But he’s back in the saddle at a crucial time as Moderna prepares for Phase III studies of their SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Meline previously held leadership positions at 3M and General Motors.

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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Michael Gladstone, partner at Atlas Venture

At­las rais­es new $400M fund amid spree of VC rais­es. Here’s what they’ll spend it on

You can add another few hundred million to the now Montana-sized reservoir of cash biotech VCs have raised since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

Atlas Venture, the prominent Kendall Square incubator, has raised $400 million for its twelfth biotech fund, their first in 3 years. After a string of mammoth new raises from other major VCs in April and May, the total pot now stands between $5 billion and $6 billion, depending on how you slice it.

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