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.

Shao-Lee Lin

→ 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.”

Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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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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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.

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.

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.

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.

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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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.