Omega-backed start­up sells it­self qui­et­ly; Ab­b­Vie breaks out more Rin­voq da­ta; Re­vance gets FDA date for Botox ri­val

→ When it came in­to the lime­light with a $35 mil­lion Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing in 2018, At­ten­ua promised to re­pur­pose three oral neu­ronal nico­tinic re­cep­tor as­sets dis­card­ed by Cat­a­lyst Bio­sciences (which in turn got the drugs through a merg­er with Tar­ga­cept). But now that it’s wrapped a proof-of-con­cept tri­al of the lead drug in chron­ic cough, At­ten­ua is flip­ping the port­fo­lio to an­oth­er buy­er for yet an­oth­er use.

CO­DA Bio­ther­a­peu­tics has bought At­ten­ua and its clin­i­cal stage small mol­e­cule can­di­dates, which they say will serve to con­trol their chemo­ge­net­ic re­cep­tors de­signed to treat neu­ro­path­ic pain, fo­cal epilep­sy and oth­er neu­ro­log­ic dis­or­ders.

The South San Fran­cis­co biotech liked that At­ten­ua’s drugs come with “high-qual­i­ty drug de­vel­op­ment work al­ready com­plet­ed, one with a cur­rent­ly ac­tive IND,” CEO Michael Narachi said.

Ac­cord­ing to clin­i­cal­tri­als.gov At­ten­ua com­plet­ed its chron­ic cough study in May last year, where it com­pared bradan­i­cline to place­bo, but has not post­ed the re­sults pub­licly. “We un­der­stand that the Phase II study end­points were not met,” Narachi told End­points News via email.

Omega Funds, Abing­worth, Or­biMed and Red­mile Group in­vest­ed in At­ten­ua. The fi­nan­cial terms of the buy­out deal were not dis­closed.

Ab­b­Vie’s oral JAK in­hibitor Rin­voq, which is part­ly ex­pect­ed to fill the gi­ant Hu­mi­ra hole af­ter the megablock­buster falls off its patent cliff, has more pos­i­tive da­ta back­ing its use. The com­pa­ny on Wednes­day is­sued da­ta from a piv­otal study in pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis pa­tients, months af­ter pub­lish­ing sim­i­lar­ly pos­i­tive re­sults from an­oth­er Phase III tri­al in the same pa­tient pop­u­la­tion. Rin­voq was ap­proved by the FDA in Au­gust for use in pa­tients with rheuma­toid arthri­tis, al­though the la­bel came with the dread­ed black box warn­ing that have plagued the class of drugs.

→  Co-founder Dan Browne may have stepped down in Oc­to­ber fol­low­ing a “mis­judg­ment in han­dling an em­ploy­ee mat­ter,” but Cal­i­for­nia-based Re­vance is go­ing full steam ahead with its Botox ri­val Dax­i­bot­u­linum­tox­i­nA for In­jec­tion (DAXI). The prod­uct has been ac­cept­ed for re­view by the FDA for use in frown lines, and the agency is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by No­vem­ber 25. DAXI is po­si­tioned as a di­rect com­peti­tor to Al­ler­gan’s Botox fran­chise — a prod­uct that is ap­proved for 13 in­di­ca­tions and gen­er­at­ed close to $3.6 bil­lion in 2018, de­spite the emer­gence of ri­vals: Ipsen’s Dys­port (man­u­fac­tured by Gal­der­ma for cos­met­ic use), Merz Phar­ma’s Xeomin. An­oth­er com­peti­tor, Evo­lus, scored FDA ap­proval for its prod­uct, Jeu­veau, in Feb­ru­ary 2019.

→ Italy’s Chiesi, which has al­lied with Is­raeli biotech Pro­tal­ix to de­vel­op an en­zyme re­place­ment ther­a­py for Fab­ry dis­ease, is now carv­ing out a whole new di­vi­sion to fo­cus on rare and ul­tra-rare dis­eases. It will be head­quar­tered in Boston and con­duct R&D in lyso­so­mal stor­age dis­or­ders, as well as rare hema­tol­ogy and oph­thal­mol­o­gy dis­eases.

→ Tiny Tonix, whose ex­per­i­men­tal PTSD drug Ton­mya lost its break­through ther­a­py sta­tus, ceased en­roll­ment of a piv­otal study on Wednes­day af­ter an in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor­ing pan­el rec­om­mend­ed stop­ping the tri­al due to fu­til­i­ty on the ba­sis that the drug like­ly does not work. Be­set with mul­ti­ple set­backs, Tonix has done every­thing in its pow­er to get Ton­mya across the fin­ish line, in­clud­ing chang­ing tri­al goal­posts and us­ing sub­set analy­ses to take the pro­gram for­ward. The drug will con­tin­ue to be test­ed in pa­tients with fi­bromyal­gia.

→ The Chi­nese tech gi­ant Ten­cent man­aged to riv­et at­ten­tion its way when the com­pa­ny tem­porar­i­ly post­ed an up­date on the coro­n­avirus epi­dem­ic that list­ed close to 25,000 deaths and more than 154,000 cas­es in Chi­na. The of­fi­cial num­ber of deaths is a bit more than 500. The con­glom­er­ate quick­ly re­vert­ed to the of­fi­cial num­bers once the re­port had been flagged by alarmed ob­servers.

Tai­wan News re­port­ed that the com­pa­ny may have in­ad­ver­tent­ly re­vealed the ac­tu­al fig­ures be­ing tracked, as op­posed to the num­bers Chi­na prefers. Ei­ther way, the re­port un­der­scores some lin­ger­ing doubts that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is not be­ing com­plete­ly up­front about the way it’s han­dled the brew­ing pan­dem­ic so far. The gov­ern­ment has about 60 mil­lion cit­i­zens un­der lock­down to try and help con­tain the spread of the Wuhan virus, which has se­vere­ly dis­rupt­ed the coun­try’s econ­o­my.

→ Fol­low­ing up on some promis­ing mid-stage da­ta out of ES­MO, Curis has con­vinced its part­ners at Au­ri­gene to fund and con­duct a Phase IIb/III study of CA-170 among pa­tients with non-squa­mous non-small cell lung can­cer (nsNSCLC). In ex­change Au­ri­gene, a sub­sidiary of In­dia’s Dr. Red­dy’s Labs, gets the rights to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize the drug in all of Asia — adding to an ex­ist­ing agree­ment for In­dia and Rus­sia. De­signed to be used in com­bi­na­tion with chemora­di­a­tion, CA-170 is an oral drug that in­hibits both PD-L1 and VISTA.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Covid-19 roundup: Mer­ck­'s $356M sup­ply deal on hold as FDA asks for more da­ta; UK stud­ies of­fer more in­for­ma­tion on ef­fi­ca­cy of Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech vac­cine af­ter one dose

Merck is pushing back plans to supply the US government with a Covid-19 drug after the FDA asked for more data to support an emergency use authorization.

The antibody, MK-7110, had looked promising in a Phase III study conducted by OncoImmune before Merck came along and bought the biotech for $425 million. At the interim analysis, investigators looked at data from 203 patients and concluded that a single dose of the drug cut the risk of death or respiratory failure by more than 50% among severe patients. And those taking the drug had a 60% higher chance of improvement in clinical status compared to placebo.

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CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

Fatty liver conceptual image, 3D illustration showing fatty liver silhouette made from micrograph of liver steatosis (Shutterstock)

The path to NASH: un­der­stand­ing the role of se­vere obe­si­ty in a com­plex, mul­ti-sys­tem dis­ease

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We often think a person’s transition from a healthy to a diseased state is binary. But that’s often not the case. In reality, the onset of a disease is not something that occurs overnight, and the majority lie on a continuum that is impacted by a multitude of factors. Some of these factors are in a patient’s control. Others are not.

This is the case in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), two of the most complex diseases that “live” on this proverbial continuum. The clinical onset of NAFLD — and ultimately NASH — is a complex process that is closely related to obesity, insulin resistance and impaired adipose tissue metabolism.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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