No­var­tis fol­lows up on big CAR-T win by nam­ing Vas Narasimhan as its new CEO

No­var­tis, one of the world’s biggest spenders on drug R&D, will soon be run by a de­vel­op­ment ex­pert.

The phar­ma gi­ant an­nounced Mon­day morn­ing that Joe Jimenez is step­ping down in Feb­ru­ary and hand­ing the reins over to 41-year-old Vas Narasimhan, an ex­u­ber­ant ad­vo­cate of cut­ting-edge sci­ence who’s been mak­ing his mark with a slate of suc­cess­ful pro­grams for the com­pa­ny’s next wave of block­buster drugs.

Narasimhan is now join­ing one of the most ex­clu­sive clubs in bio­phar­ma — CEO of a bio­phar­ma or­ga­ni­za­tion with ac­tiv­i­ties that span the globe. In nam­ing him CEO, the Basel-based com­pa­ny is keep­ing an Amer­i­can at the top. But in­stead of the mar­ket­ing or le­gal back­ground of most of his peers, Narasimhan brings ex­pe­ri­ence in new prod­uct de­vel­op­ment.

His ap­point­ment came fast on the heels of an his­toric ap­proval of Kym­ri­ah (ti­s­agen­le­cleu­cel), the world’s first CAR-T ther­a­py, wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed as a key sci­en­tif­ic break­through with pro­found ther­a­peu­tic po­ten­tial.

But the de­vel­op­ment chief has al­so had some suc­cess with canakinum­ab, an an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry ther­a­py for heart dis­ease, along with new late-stage drug for mi­graine headaches part­nered with Am­gen, BAF312 (sipon­i­mod) for re­laps­ing mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, a slate of biosim­i­lars, and add-on da­ta for port­fo­lio ther­a­pies like the pso­ri­a­sis drug Con­sen­tyx.

To be sure, there have been set­backs along the way (sere­lax­in, for ex­am­ple). But Narasimhan has presided over one of the biggest pipelines in the busi­ness for the past 18 months and an R&D ef­fort that con­sumed $9 bil­lion last year alone.

In mak­ing the move, the en­gag­ing Narasimhan will al­so be work­ing close­ly with a board that has a rep for their rest­less search for cost ef­fi­cien­cies wher­ev­er they can be found. The com­pa­ny has lost a long stream of top tal­ent in the last few years, but it’s al­so re­cruit­ed a new gen­er­a­tion of sci­en­tists like Jay Brad­ner out of Dana-Far­ber.

The big ques­tion now is how Narasimhan will change things in R&D now that he has his hand on the tiller. Every new CEO in the busi­ness this past year — and we’ve seen a stream of them at GSK, Eli Lil­ly, Bio­gen and more — start­ed by re­struc­tur­ing their pipelines and ini­ti­at­ing a new round of deals. Now it’s Narasimhan’s turn to put his stamp on No­var­tis af­ter Jimenez has shunned big in­dus­try M&A — in a mar­ket where even mid-sized bolt-ons can look un­ap­peal­ing.

Narasimhan took the job pledg­ing that the com­pa­ny would con­tin­ue its glob­al ef­fort to nail down piv­otal da­ta on game-chang­ing drugs — the kind of ther­a­pies that can make a big dif­fer­ence for pa­tients, and earn bil­lions in rev­enue.

His state­ment:

We will con­tin­ue our lega­cy of bring­ing lead­ing in­no­va­tion to pa­tients around the world. With our re­cent launch­es, our strong pipeline, broad ca­pa­bil­i­ties, world-class lead­er­ship team, and com­mit­ted peo­ple, I am very con­fi­dent about our fu­ture.


Vas­ant Narasimhan at a Jan­u­ary 2017 news con­fer­ence in Basel Michele Lim­i­na/Bloomberg

Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.