No­vo helps birth start­up ad­vanc­ing an As­traZeneca castoff with $15M; Japan's Fu­ji Phar­ma wa­gers $50M on Alvotech's biosim­i­lars

→ With back­ing from No­vo Hold­ings and a drug from As­traZeneca, Aris­tea Ther­a­peu­tics is un­veil­ing a $15 mil­lion Se­ries A that will kick­start Phase II stud­ies of its lead pro­gram, RIST4721. James Mack­ay, who used to run As­traZeneca-ac­quired Ardea Bio­sciences, is the founder and CEO of the San Diego-based start­up. He’s stay­ing mum on de­tails about Aris­tea’s pipeline of treat­ments for se­ri­ous in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases, pre­fer­ring in­stead to high­light the com­bined ex­per­tise of his crew of ex-Ardea ex­ecs: John Mon­tana, SVP of de­vel­op­ment; Sara Mc­Cutchan, reg­u­la­to­ry af­fairs man­ag­er; and DeAnne Reid, di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions. Ti­ba Aynechi and Ken Har­ri­son of No­vo Ven­tures are join­ing the board.

Ver­tex says that its NaV1.8 in­hibitor pain drug VX-150 came through in their third mid-stage proof-of-con­cept study, this time test­ing the ther­a­py in pa­tients with pain caused by small fiber neu­ropa­thy. “We are ex­cit­ed to now have three pos­i­tive proof-of-con­cept stud­ies that val­i­date the po­ten­tial role for NaV1.8 in­hibitors to treat a va­ri­ety of pain con­di­tions,” said CEO Jef­frey Lei­den. “These re­sults show a po­ten­tial path for the treat­ment of pain at a time when there is great clin­i­cal and so­ci­etal need for new med­i­cines. We con­tin­ue to progress VX-150 to­ward piv­otal de­vel­op­ment and al­so plan to ad­vance ad­di­tion­al NaV1.8 pain med­i­cines in­to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment be­gin­ning in 2019.”

Fu­ji Phar­ma is team­ing up with Ice­land’s Alvotech to in­tro­duce more prod­ucts to Japan’s bur­geon­ing biosim­i­lars mar­ket. As Alvotech con­tin­ues to de­vel­op and man­u­fac­ture its biosim­i­lars in the ar­eas of on­col­o­gy, oph­thal­mol­o­gy and au­toim­mune dis­ease, Fu­ji will take over reg­is­tra­tion and com­mer­cial­iza­tion of these as­sets in Japan. And to show its com­mit­ment for a longterm re­la­tion­ship, Fu­ji Phar­ma is ac­quir­ing a 4.2% stake in Alvotech for $50 mil­lion.

→ Adding a rare dis­ease drug to its col­lec­tion of roy­al­ty-earn­ing as­sets, San Diego-based Lig­and Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $LGND has paid Palvel­la Ther­a­peu­tics $10 mil­lion for rights to a Phase II/III treat­ment for a skin dis­or­der called pachy­ony­chia con­geni­ta. The mon­ey, says Lig­and CEO John Hig­gins, will pro­vide their part­ners with cap­i­tal to com­plete reg­is­tra­tional clin­i­cal tri­als.

→ Ver­tex CFO Thomas Graney has re­signed. The bell­wether Boston biotech says that COO Ian Smith will fill in on a tem­po­rary ba­sis. Graney hand­ed in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter on De­cem­ber 13 — out­lined in an SEC fil­ing Mon­day morn­ing. UP­DATE: Af­ter we re­port­ed this Mon­day, a start­up named Gen­er­a­tion Bio — helmed by Ge­off Mc­Do­nough — put out a no­tice that Graney had de­cid­ed to jump over to be­come their CFO. So mys­tery solved.

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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UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.

As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

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.

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. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.