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.

Big Phar­ma's Twit­ter ex­o­dus; Mer­ck wa­gers $1.35B on buy­out; $3.5M gene ther­a­py; and more

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Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Up­dat­ed: No Seagen here: 'Do more' means a small $1.35B pur­chase of Ima­go for Mer­ck

Merck is making an acquisition, the Big Pharma announced before Monday’s opening bell. No, Seagen is not entering the fold, as had been speculated for quarters.

Folding under Merck’s wings will be Pfizer-backed Imago BioSciences. For nearly a year, Merck CEO Rob Davis has been saying the pharma giant needs to “do more” on the business development front after its 2021 $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron.

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL lands FDA ap­proval for he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py, sets $3.5M list price

The FDA has approved the world’s first gene therapy for hemophilia B, ushering into the market a treatment that’s historic in both what it promises to do and how much it will cost.

CSL will be marketing the drug, Hemgenix, at a list price of $3.5 million — which sets a new record for the most expensive single-use gene therapy in the US.

In a statement provided to Endpoints News, the Australian company noted that the current costs of treating people with moderate to severe hemophilia B can be significant over a lifetime. By some estimates, healthcare systems could spend more than $20 million per person.

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Andrew Phillips, Nexo Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Ver­sant, NEA launch new biotech helmed by ex-CEO of pro­tein de­grad­er C4 Ther­a­peu­tics

Long-time biotech venture firms Versant and New Enterprise Associates are backing a new startup run by former C4 Therapeutics chief executive Andrew Phillips.

The fledgling biotech has raised at least $30 million so far, according to paperwork filed with the SEC this week. The round could balloon to $60 million.

Phillips, who left protein degradation startup C4 in 2020 to be a managing director at Cormorant Asset Management, is running the show of the new venture as president, the SEC filing outlines. He also served as interim CEO of Cormorant-backed and Hansoh Pharmaceutical-partnered Blossom Bioscience last year.

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Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Biggest drug com­pa­nies halt­ed Twit­ter ad buys af­ter Lil­ly in­sulin spoof

Almost all of the drug industry’s biggest advertisers cut their spending on Twitter to zero or near-zero over the last two weeks amid worries about impersonation of their brands by pranksters and the future of the social media company.

Among 18 of the biggest pharmaceutical advertisers in the US market, 12 cut their Twitter ad spending to nothing for the week beginning Nov. 14, according to Pathmatics, which tracks data on prescription drug ad spending as well as general corporate advertising. The list of drugmakers cutting spending to zero includes Merck, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer and others.

Alzheimer’s drug bites the dust; Re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture; Land­mark di­a­betes OK; 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.

Being in the news business can give one a warped sense of time — it feels like quite a while since we published some of these stories below. But next Saturday’s Endpoints Weekly will definitely be shorter, as we take off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. We will still have the abbreviated edition in your inbox at the usual time.

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Peter Hecht, Cyclerion CEO

Cy­cle­ri­on board quick­ly nix­es CEO Pe­ter Hecht's un­ortho­dox pitch for low cash re­serves

It’s been less than two months since Cyclerion laid out a new R&D strategy around its lead drug in mitochondrial diseases, one that triggered the company to lay off close to half of its employees and explore licensing deals for the rest of the pipeline. But CEO Peter Hecht apparently has other plans in mind.

Hecht, who led Ironwood for close to 20 years before spinning out Cyclerion, disclosed in an SEC filing Monday that a “newly-formed private company” that he “may have or may acquire an interest” submitted a proposal to Cyclerion the day prior to purchase Cyclerion’s CNS assets, including CY6463 and CY3018 — the top two programs listed in the pipeline.

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Image: Shutterstock

MIT re­searchers re­veal DNA "Paste" tech be­hind lat­est gene edit­ing start­up

MIT scientists have developed a tool that they say can insert large gene sequences where they want in the genome.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature Biotechnology, MIT fellows Omar Abudayyeh, Jonathan Gootenberg and colleagues detail a technology they call PASTE, which they say can potentially be used to insert long strands of DNA and treat genetic diseases caused by many different mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that causes blindness.

J&J's Spra­va­to pulls a PhI­II win against Sero­quel XR in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion

A day before Thanksgiving, J&J’s Janssen has a new cut of Phase III Spravato data to be grateful for.

The pharma giant announced on Wednesday that its nasal spray, also known as esketamine, beat extended-release quetiapine, previously sold by AstraZeneca as Seroquel XR, in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Of 676 adults, a significantly higher number of patients on Spravato were able to achieve remission and avoid relapse after 32 weeks, according to J&J.