Roche beefs up di­ag­nos­tic arm with an­oth­er bet on faster, cheap­er DNA se­quenc­ing

While Roche pours half a bil­lion dol­lars in­to its Covid-19 an­ti­body test, the Swiss com­pa­ny is qui­et­ly beef­ing up the rest of their di­ag­nos­tics arm.

Roche to­day ac­quired Stratos Ge­nomics, a Seat­tle-based de­vel­op­er of a new DNA tech­nol­o­gy de­signed to make ge­net­ic strands more easy to read. Roche said it will use the Stratos tech­nol­o­gy, along­side its ex­ist­ing ef­forts, to de­vel­op a nanopore se­quenc­ing de­vice that can quick­ly and cheap­ly read pa­tients’ DNA in clin­ics to di­ag­no­sis dis­ease and as­sess the risk of de­vel­op­ing one.

Mark Koko­ris

”We are thrilled to join the Roche fam­i­ly, which will al­low us to com­bine our unique Se­quenc­ing by Ex­pan­sion chem­istry with the Roche nanopore se­quencer,” Stratos CEO Mark Koko­ris said in a state­ment.

Though known chiefly for ther­a­peu­tics, Roche has long had a strong — al­most ag­gres­sive — in­ter­est in di­ag­nos­tic se­quenc­ing. In 2012, the com­pa­ny at­tempt­ed a $5.7 bil­lion hos­tile takeover of the se­quenc­ing gi­ant Il­lu­mi­na, go­ing di­rect­ly to share­hold­ers af­ter failed ef­forts to start talks with man­age­ment. At the time, that price tag was a 63% pre­mi­um on Il­lu­mi­na’s stock price. To­day, the com­pa­ny is worth $55 bil­lion.

The same year, Ox­ford Nanopore un­veiled its first dis­pos­able se­quenc­ing de­vice. It promised to used nanopore se­quenc­ing — a process that in­volves draw­ing a long strand of DNA through a tiny or­gan­ic pore with an elec­tri­cal cur­rent — to read DNA for less than $900, a cru­cial step for mak­ing ge­net­ic se­quenc­ing ac­ces­si­ble in a doc­tor’s of­fice. It’s an area in which Roche has long been in­ter­est­ed; the com­pa­ny ac­quired the se­quenc­ing com­pa­ny 454 Life Sci­ences back in 2007 and signed a part­ner­ship with Pa­cif­ic Bio in 2013, though they broke it off 3 years lat­er, set­ting the stage for a failed buy­out by Il­lu­mi­na.

Stratos tries to ex­pand on the tra­di­tion­al nanopore ap­proach with the de­vel­op­ment of a mol­e­cule it calls an “Xpandomer.” This mol­e­cule comes in 4 types — one for each dif­fer­ent DNA base pair. The idea is that be­fore send­ing the strand through a nanopore, these mol­e­cules will bind to it, base by base, and am­pli­fy the sig­nal 50-fold, lead­ing to a more ac­cu­rate read­out.

The com­pa­ny will con­tin­ue to op­er­ate in Seat­tle. There is no time­line yet for the com­ple­tion of Roche’s nanopore de­vice.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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