Phar­ma gi­ants re­turn to an­tibi­otics hud­dle to launch $1B ven­ture fund — re­port

Big Phar­ma ex­it­ed from the an­tibi­otics space one by one. And now they may be com­ing back to­geth­er.

Pfiz­er, Eli Lil­ly, No­vo Nordisk, Boehringer In­gel­heim, Bay­er Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, Mer­ck KGaA and the Amer­i­can Mer­ck — one of the last gi­ants stand­ing — are team­ing up to cre­ate a $1 bil­lion for-prof­it ven­ture to bet on small biotechs de­vel­op­ing mid-stage an­tibi­otics, Ed Sil­ver­man re­port­ed for STAT.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from Ger­many, Swe­den, France and the UK, as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Well­come Trust and Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts, will join the com­pa­nies to an­nounce the ini­tia­tive on Ju­ly 9, Sil­ver­man wrote. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Eu­ro­pean In­vest­ment Bank are al­so in­volved in what is be­ing billed as a new so­lu­tion to the “an­tibi­ot­ic in­no­va­tion chal­lenge.”

Con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of play­ers and the col­lec­tive heft they bring — plus the fact that the EIB might con­tribute as much as 10% — the mon­ey isn’t much. By phar­ma stan­dards, $1 bil­lion won’t even buy you a bolt-on deal, typ­i­cal­ly in the $2 bil­lion to $5 bil­lion range. It al­so marks the thresh­old for block­buster sta­tus that any big can­cer drug fran­chise could eas­i­ly sur­pass.

Still, mil­lions of dol­lars could pro­vide a life­line for biotechs starved of cash, es­pe­cial­ly in a field that many VCs are stay­ing out of.

Just days ago La Jol­la sealed the third — and seem­ing­ly fi­nal — buy­out for Tetraphase and its com­mer­cial an­tibi­ot­ic, pre­vail­ing over mul­ti­ple com­pet­ing bids by Acel­Rx and Melin­ta. And even that on­ly cost $43 mil­lion in up­front cash and $16 mil­lion in po­ten­tial CVRs.

The key ques­tion will be whether the cre­ation of this new ven­ture, which Sil­ver­man de­scribed as an ex­ten­sion of the work of pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship CARB-X in back­ing ear­ly-stage an­tibi­otics de­vel­op­ment, will be ac­com­pa­nied by changes in the re­im­burse­ment sys­tem. At the end of the day, if de­vel­op­ers can’t make much mon­ey off their drugs, in­vestors may not see a point in try­ing to help get them ap­proved at all.

As con­cerns about an­tibi­ot­ic re­sis­tance loom ever larg­er, though, the ef­fort it­self may count.

“The think­ing is that, ide­al­ly, if they put mon­ey in [the fund], this will serve them in the long run, but al­so make them look good,” reads a key quote. “They got pret­ty bad press when they walked out on an­tibi­otics.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.