Pol­i­tics, pric­ing con­tro­ver­sy, tax re­form and steep val­u­a­tions con­spire to con­fuse Sanofi’s M&A strat­e­gy

Feb 7, 2007: Pres­i­dent George W. Bush and NIH Di­rec­tor Dr. Elias Zer­houni en­joy an ex­change. NIH – Screen­shot

One of the big ques­tions fac­ing the in­dus­try right now is whether or not the M&A train will get rolling in a mean­ing­ful way in 2017. It’s clear that many of the ma­jor play­ers — the ones ex­pect­ed to add bil­lions in meaty deals to the bare bones of what we’ve been see­ing — have been caught at least some­what off bal­ance by a new pres­i­dent that con­stant­ly spouts off about out­ra­geous­ly high drug costs as well as plans to re­form cor­po­rate tax­es.

That in­de­ci­sion was cap­tured per­fect­ly over the week­end by the Fi­nan­cial Times, which in­ter­viewed Sanofi R&D chief Elias Zer­houni. Sanofi has tried, and failed, to bag Medi­va­tion as well as Acte­lion, beat out by big­ger check books (Pfiz­er/Medi­va­tion) and more con­sis­tent play­ers (J&J/Acte­lion). What­ev­er hap­pens to its re­port­ed in­ter­est in Flex­ion, that deal won’t tip the M&A scales very much.

Zer­houni un­der­stands to pric­ing un­cer­tain­ty per­fect­ly.

“There is a lot of un­cer­tain­ty right now in the val­ues of all com­pa­nies be­cause of pric­ing is­sues in the US . . . in par­tic­u­lar, but world­wide,” he told the FT. “And so when you see the val­ues that are be­ing paid you ques­tion your­self as to the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of those val­ues, giv­en the un­cer­tain­ty in the pric­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

He al­so has the lux­u­ry of count­ing on Re­gen­eron to pro­vide the in­no­va­tion the com­pa­ny has failed to pro­vide for it­self. That is ev­i­dent with the big new ap­proval for Dupix­ent and the con­tin­u­a­tion of its lon­grun­ning le­gal bat­tle with Am­gen. And so there’s some lee­way in when and what Sanofi goes af­ter next, though a num­ber of an­a­lysts and big in­vestors aren’t about to let Sanofi CEO Olivi­er Brandi­court off the hook on M&A. Says Zer­houni:

It’s not fair to say that we’re not in­ter­est­ed, but we’re al­so very dis­ci­plined. There is an in­fla­tion of prices for these as­sets and they are quite un­usu­al.

So val­u­a­tions are high, US pol­i­tics are par­tic­u­lar­ly un­cer­tain and Sanofi ex­ecs nat­u­ral­ly don’t like to sweat in pub­lic. It should be an in­ter­est­ing year, but with the di­a­betes fran­chise on the wane, mark­ing time is not a lux­u­ry that Sanofi can af­ford — what­ev­er Zer­houni says in an in­ter­view.

The M&A train at the French com­pa­ny can’t stay in the sta­tion in­def­i­nite­ly.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.