No­var­tis los­es a head hon­cho, with US on­col­o­gy head Bill Hin­shaw ex­it­ing for new gig at Ax­cel­la

Big Phar­ma has lost yet an­oth­er top ex­ec­u­tive to the glossy ranks of small — but cash-rich — biotech, with Bill Hin­shaw, the for­mer head of US on­col­o­gy at No­var­tis, ex­it­ing the com­pa­ny to join Ax­cel­la Health.

Bill Hin­shaw

Hin­shaw will head up Ax­cel­la, a Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing-backed biotech in Cam­bridge, MA, as CEO and pres­i­dent, tak­ing the reins just in time for the biotech to start form­ing a com­mer­cial­iza­tion plan for its pipeline. Hin­shaw tells me he felt ready to take a dive — a risk — to work on some­thing tru­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al, and the new gen­er­a­tion of small biotechs like Ax­cel­la have the flex­i­bil­i­ty to make big change.

“In Big Phar­ma, you can paint on a big can­vas and that’s com­pelling at dif­fer­ent stages, but there’s in­no­v­a­tive pow­er avail­able right now in biotech,” Hin­shaw said.

Ax­cel­la came on Hin­shaw’s radar due to his long­time ties to David Ep­stein, Ax­cel­la’s chair­man and an ex­ec­u­tive part­ner at Flag­ship. The two worked to­geth­er in the past at No­var­tis, where Hin­shaw led the de­vel­op­ment and launch of drugs like Tasigna, Gleevec, and Kym­ri­ah. Ep­stein said Hin­shaw’s back­ground was crit­i­cal in po­si­tion­ing Ax­cel­la for its next phase.

The com­pa­ny is work­ing on a sci­en­tif­ic plat­form in a fair­ly new area of re­search: meta­bol­ic mod­u­la­tors. Ax­cel­la has been tack­ling pre­clin­i­cal mod­els to pre­dict which com­bi­na­tion of amino acids re­store health across a net­work of dys­reg­u­lat­ed path­ways, and the plat­form has de­liv­ered clin­i­cal pro­grams in liv­er, meta­bol­ic, CNS, and or­phan dis­eases.

Hin­shaw and Ep­stein wouldn’t say which pro­gram is pinned as most promis­ing, but not­ed up­com­ing da­ta in NASH and mus­cle dis­ease will help point Ax­cel­la to­wards a lead pro­gram.

David Ep­stein

For Hin­shaw, Ax­cel­la’s tech was com­pelling enough to take a risk and say good­bye to No­var­tis af­ter 15 years with the com­pa­ny.

“I think the sci­ence it­self (at Ax­cel­la) is fun­da­men­tal to hu­man health, and it of­fers the po­ten­tial to re­store the bal­ance of health in a nat­ur­al and pow­er­ful way,” Hin­shaw said. “We’ve seen the evo­lu­tion of sci­ence move from pro­teins to cel­lu­lar ther­a­pies, and I was look­ing for some­thing that had the po­ten­tial to be tru­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al. But it al­so had to be fun­da­men­tal­ly sound and with broad ap­plic­a­bil­i­ty.”

It’s not the first time a Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing com­pa­ny snagged top tal­ent from Big Phar­ma. Ep­stein said its nat­ur­al for ex­ec­u­tives like Hin­shaw to ex­it the gi­ants of yes­ter­year at time when small­er com­pa­nies are flush with cash.

“It’s pret­ty ex­cit­ing to take one’s ex­pe­ri­ences and ap­ply it to cut­ting edge sci­ence rather than do­ing some­thing that’s in­cre­men­tal,” Ep­stein said. “The fund­ing is much bet­ter than it was five or six years ago, and more cap­i­tal means you don’t have to do just one drug. You can do a whole plat­form tech­nol­o­gy.”

Plus, Big Phar­ma is los­ing its ap­peal.

“It’s get­ting hard­er and hard­er to en­joy one’s time there, as the in­dus­try is con­stant­ly un­der pres­sure,” Ep­stein said. In Cam­bridge, he says, ex­ec­u­tives are sur­round­ed by ex­cit­ing sci­ence, ven­ture cap­i­tal, and an “en­gag­ing and stim­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­ment.” It’s no won­der top tal­ent wan­ders.

“We’re prob­a­bly just at the be­gin­ning of peo­ple mov­ing on from big com­pa­nies to small­er biotechs,” Ep­stein said.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.

No­var­tis holds back the copy­cat brigade's at­tack on its top drug fran­chise — for now

A fed­er­al judge has put a gener­ic chal­lenge to No­var­tis’ block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Gilenya on hold while a patent fight plays out in court.

Judge Leonard P. Stark is­sued a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion ear­li­er this week, forc­ing My­lan, Dr. Red­dy’s Lab­o­ra­to­ries and Au­robindo Phar­ma to shelve their launch plans to al­low the patent fight to pro­ceed. He ruled that al­low­ing the gener­ics in­to the mar­ket now would per­ma­nent­ly slash the price for No­var­tis, even if it pre­vails. 

Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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While Ako­rn works to re­vive its for­tunes, the FDA hits it with an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter

Ako­rn just can’t dig it­self out of its hole.

The spe­cial­ty gener­ic drug­mak­er has re­ceived yet an­oth­er warn­ing let­ter from the FDA this year. With­out dis­clos­ing any specifics, the Lake For­est, Illi­nois-based drug­mak­er on Wednes­day said the US reg­u­la­tor had is­sued the let­ter, cit­ing an in­spec­tion of its Som­er­set, New Jer­sey man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty in Ju­ly and Au­gust of 2018. The com­pa­ny’s shares $AKRX dipped about 1.7% to $4.65 be­fore the bell.