Vishal Doshi, AUM Biosciences CEO

Play­boy, dig­i­tal health, elec­tric ve­hi­cles and now can­cer drugs: A moun­tain­ous SPAC jour­ney

A pro­lif­ic SPAC cre­ator has found a busi­ness part­ner for its fifth blank check com­pa­ny with just four weeks to go be­fore a busi­ness com­bi­na­tion dead­line. Its part­ner had on­ly dis­closed a mod­est $27 mil­lion Se­ries A last Oc­to­ber as it plans to go af­ter sim­i­lar tar­gets as Bay­er and Roche.

The name of the SPAC op­er­a­tor might not be fa­mil­iar but its first part­ner like­ly is: Play­boy. Then, pre­scrip­tion dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics start­up Bet­ter Ther­a­peu­tics. Third in line: dig­i­tal health­care com­pa­ny ETAO, which had its val­u­a­tion slashed from $2.5 bil­lion to $1 bil­lion dur­ing the SPAC process. In May, a Chi­na-based elec­tric ve­hi­cle mak­er signed up.

Now, it’s AUM Bio­sciences’ turn. The clin­i­cal-stage Sin­ga­pore-based can­cer biotech — with of­fices in Bethes­da, MD; Colling­wood, Aus­tralia; and Suzhou, Chi­na — makes the move just days af­ter an­oth­er life sci­ences SPAC threw in the tow­el and as a sec­ond struck a deal.

The blank check route has been a bumpy ride in the past year, fol­low­ing a pan­dem­ic boon for the quick­er-to-Wall Street ve­hi­cle than the tra­di­tion­al list­ing, but mul­ti­ple deals in the drug de­vel­op­ment world have been re­vealed in re­cent weeks. Some biotechs have com­plete­ly re­neged on com­bi­na­tion plans.

With the planned en­try on­to Nas­daq as AUMB, the start­up will gain $69 mil­lion from the deal with Moun­tain Crest Ac­qui­si­tion Corp. V. But AUM will like­ly face an up­hill bat­tle as have so many life sci­ences com­pa­nies and those in oth­er in­dus­tries fol­low­ing a SPAC merg­er. Bet­ter Ther­a­peu­tics is a shell of the $10 at which its pub­lic jour­ney be­gan. So is Play­boy, er, PL­BY Group.

AUM will have a pre-mon­ey val­u­a­tion of $400 mil­lion, and the fi­nanc­ing will help beef up US op­er­a­tions and clin­i­cal work, the com­pa­ny said.

Ac­cord­ing to a fed­er­al tri­als data­base, AUM was slat­ed to kick off a Phase II last week test­ing its lead drug, AUM001, as a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with Mer­ck’s Keytru­da in metasta­t­ic col­orec­tal can­cer. An­oth­er com­bi­na­tion study of the MNK in­hibitor, paired up with Roche’s Tecen­triq, is al­so planned for pa­tients with non-small cell lung can­cer and urothe­lial can­cer.

Al­so in the MNK space is eF­FEC­TOR Ther­a­peu­tics, with tomivosert­ib in mid-stage stud­ies, al­so com­bined with Keytru­da. That pro­gram ran in­to a hur­dle at the be­gin­ning of this year, months af­ter eF­FEC­TOR went pub­lic via its own SPAC deal.

Fur­ther down in the pipeline are AUM601 and AUM302. The first is “on track to en­ter Phase 2,” AUM said Thurs­day, not­ing it’s tar­get­ing TRK mu­ta­tions. The lat­ter is a macro­cyclic oral ki­nase in­hibitor small mol­e­cule that the biotech claims will com­bine in­hi­bi­tion of pan-PIM ki­nase, pan-PI3K and mTOR all in one.

The TRK in­hibitor comes from Han­dok and CMG Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, un­der undis­closed terms and for world­wide rights, save for Ko­rea. TRK is fa­mil­iar among Big Phar­ma: Bay­er’s Vi­t­rakvi (via Loxo On­col­o­gy) blocks the pro­tein, and Roche’s Ro­z­lytrek al­so goes af­ter TRK.

AUM is al­so about to en­ter year three of a five-year tie-up with New­soara Bio­phar­ma, in which the lat­ter gains Greater Chi­na rights to co-de­vel­op up to six on­col­o­gy drugs, in­clud­ing ‘001 and ‘302.

Suy­ing Liu

As for the SPAC op­er­a­tor, Moun­tain Crest has lit­tle biotech ex­pe­ri­ence on its board. The chair, Suy­ing Liu, was on the busi­ness fac­ul­ty at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis and then held stints across JP Mor­gan and oth­er firms, main­ly fo­cused on re­al es­tate. Al­so on the board is Liu’s fel­low Wash U col­league Todd Mil­bourn; Azia Cap­i­tal Fund part­ner Wen­hua Zhang; and oil & gas ex­ec­u­tive Nel­son Haight.

In a Nas­daq video post­ed last De­cem­ber, Liu talks about his SPAC part­ners’ strat­e­gy of rolling up ad­di­tion­al com­pa­nies post-merg­er. Time will tell if AUM finds more biotechs to bring in­to the fold.

AUM CEO Vishal Doshi said in pre­pared re­marks that the com­pa­ny is on track to hit mul­ti­ple mile­stones in the next two years. Liu tout­ed the deal will give AUM a “greater US foot­print.”

Ex­pect a trans­ac­tion clos­ing in the first three months of 2023.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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Nicklas Westerholm, Egetis Therapeutics CEO

Ac­qui­si­tion talks on­go­ing for Swedish rare dis­ease biotech Egetis, shares up al­most 40%

Shares of the Sweden-based rare disease biotech Egetis Therapeutics skyrocketed on Thursday afternoon as the company said it’s engaged in “ongoing discussion” with external parties regarding a “potential acquisition.”

Egetis confirmed rumors with a statement on Thursday while noting that there is no certainty that a takeover offer will be made.

Nonetheless, the possibility of an acquisition has shot up Egetis’ share price. By the afternoon on Thursday, its stock price was {$EGTX.ST} up over 38%. An Egetis spokesperson told Endpoints News in an email that it has no further comments.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Mod­er­na so­lid­i­fies deal with Kenya to build mR­NA man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty

The mRNA player Moderna is further cementing its presence on the African continent.

Moderna announced on Thursday that it has finalized an agreement with Kenya’s government to partner up and bring an mRNA manufacturing facility to the east African nation. The new facility aims to manufacture up to 500 million doses of vaccines annually. Moderna also said the new facility will have the ability to spike its production capabilities to respond to public health emergencies on the continent or globally.

Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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Sen­ate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee lobs more bi­par­ti­san pres­sure on­to PBMs

Congress is honing in on how it wants to overhaul the rules of the road for pharmacy benefit managers, with a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday serving as the latest example of the Hill’s readiness to make changes to how pharma middlemen operate.

While pledging to ensure patients and pharmacies “don’t get a raw deal,” Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) laid out the beginning of what looks like a major bipartisan effort — moves the PBM industry is likely to challenge vigorously.

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Deborah Waterhouse, ViiV Healthcare CEO

MPP re­cruits three gener­ic man­u­fac­tur­ers to ex­pand use of Vi­iV's in­jectable PrEP drug

ViiV Healthcare has teamed up with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool and three generic manufacturers to expand access to medicine that can prevent HIV.

ViiV and the Medicines Patent Pool jointly announced Thursday that the MPP signed sub-licensing agreements with Aurobindo, Cipla and Viatris to manufacture generics of a long-acting form of cabotegravir for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). As a result of the agreement, the manufacturers will be able to develop, manufacture and supply generic versions of cabotegravir LA in 90 countries — subject to regulatory approvals.

Lu­pus drug de­vel­op­ment mar­ket heat­ing up, while FDA links with ad­vo­ca­cy group to fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate re­search

The long-underserved systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) market is suddenly buzzing with treatment possibilities. Less than two years after AstraZeneca’s approval for Saphnelo — the first new SLE drug in a decade and joining just one other approved in GSK’s Benlysta – the pipeline of potential drugs numbers in the dozens.

Although most are very early stage — Spherix Global Insights estimates five in Phase II/III — the pharma R&D enthusiasm is catching on among doctors, patients and advocacy groups. On Wednesday, the Lupus Research Alliance and the FDA formed a novel private-public partnership called Lupus Accelerating Breakthroughs Consortium (Lupus ABC) to help advance lupus clinical trial success.

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Cedric Ververken, Confo Therapeutics CEO

Dai­ichi Sankyo inks $183M dis­cov­ery deal with GPCR biotech for CNS tar­get

Belgian biotech Confo Therapeutics has landed $183 million, plus potential royalties, in a drug-discovery deal with Daiichi Sankyo.

Early Thursday, Confo Therapeutics put out word of the deal that will be focused on small molecule antagonists to go after an undisclosed target that the company says is associated with CNS diseases.

Confo CEO Cedric Ververken told Endpoints News that Daiichi originally reached out to learn about the biotech’s technology. He added that Confo, founded in 2015, will use its platform to drug a GPCR target that Daiichi has struggled with internally.