Senators grill Alex Azar on drug prices; MorphoSys sells rights to Darzalex rival in $120M deal; Serial dealmaker X-Chem enters new discovery pact with Gilead
→ Alex Azar faced a group of skeptical senators on Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans, as they reviewed his nomination as chief of HHS under President Donald Trump. And for the bulk of the first half of the discussion, the subject was drug prices; as in, the price of drugs is too damn high. Azar, who wrapped a lengthy stint as a senior exec at Eli Lilly about a year ago, was not known for driving down drug prices. But he repeatedly agreed that drug prices need to come down now. In one of the sharpest attacks, Republican Rand Paul told Azar he has a lot of work to do to convince the American people that he’s working on their behalf, rather than Big Pharma. And he vowed to withhold his support unless Azar could come up with an effective reimportation plan. Despite the back-and-forth, Azar will likely win confirmation and isn’t expected to do much beyond encouraging more generic drug approvals as a strategy to rein in drug prices.
→ German biotech MorphoSys has sold rights to its multiple myeloma candidate MOR202 to Shanghai’s I-Mab, nabbing a $20 million upfront payment with an extra $100 million available in potential milestones. The regional licensing deal allows I-Mab’s affiliate I-Mab Biopharma to develop and commercialize the C38 antibody in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. MOR202 is a purported rival to Janssen/Genmab’s Darzalex (daratumumab), with MorphoSys’ drug candidate showing shorter infusion times in a Phase I/II study. MorphoSys is bringing on partners to support clinical development. As a result of this new deal, the company has upped its revenue projection by €15 million, pushing it into the €63 million to €65 million range for 2017.
→ X-Chem has inked yet another discovery deal, this time with Gilead. In the agreement, which comes with an unspecified upfront payment, X-Chem will put its library of “120 billion DNA-encoded small molecules” to work in search of anti-viral drugs and other unnamed therapeutic targets. Gilead has the option to license drug leads found under the collaboration, and will do further development and commercialization of those programs. The Waltham, MA company has inked a long lineup of research pacts with big players in the industry, including Roche, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Pfizer, Alexion, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Sanofi and J&J. Most recently, the company’s announced deals with Ono, Astellas and Janssen. On this new pact with Gilead, X-Chem also has a shot at licensing fees and milestone payments on leads that come out the agreement.
→ Biotech veteran Shao-Lee Lin will start at Horizon Pharma early next year as executive vice president, research and development and chief scientific officer. In this new position, Lin joins CMO Jeffrey Sherman in managing the company’s growing pipeline. As Horizon $HZNP gains a larger presence in the orphan drug field while and builds on its portfolio of marketed drugs, it could like use Lin’s experience at AbbVie, Gilead and Amgen leading drug development across immunology, virology, inflammation and respiratory therapeutics. Said Lin in a statement: “I’m impressed by Horizon’s rapid growth and its strategy for evolution from primary care, with a focus on marketed medicines, to diversifying into rare diseases and rheumatology and now committed to the next stage in its transformation of building a robust and sustainable research and development portfolio.”