SQZ play: Roche dou­bles down on a $1.37B-plus deal for a new ap­proach to im­muno-on­col­o­gy out of Bob Langer's lab

Ar­mon Sharei

What­ev­er Roche $ROG learned about SQZ over the last 33 months clear­ly on­ly whet­ted their ap­petite for much, much more.

This morn­ing SQZ is un­veil­ing a re­vise-re­place-and-ex­pand de­vel­op­ment pact with the Wa­ter­town, MA-based biotech, one of many to emerge from the lab of MIT’s Bob Langer. 

In this new deal Roche is putting up $125 mil­lion for an up­front and near-term mile­stones in a col­lab­o­ra­tion deal em­bed­ded with $1 bil­lion in de­vel­op­ment goal mon­ey. An­oth­er $250 mil­lion is on the line for each new ther­a­py that man­ages to make it all the way to an ap­proval.

“It’s a huge step for us,” CEO Ar­mon Sharei told me over the week­end in an ad­vance re­view of the news that ar­rived Mon­day morn­ing. 

An per­haps it’s an even big­ger step than he may be will­ing to al­low right now.

Amy Schul­man

Sharei popped up over the sum­mer with a $72 mil­lion round to back his com­pa­ny, which start­ed 5 years ago on a shoe­string bud­get to es­sen­tial­ly work on an in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment tool. Now the com­pa­ny has 76 staffers — head­ed to 100 — with a gi­ant part­ner al­lied on a clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­gram set to be­gin next year.

Add in a Big Phar­ma vet, Po­laris part­ner Amy Schul­man, as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, and you have the per­fect pro­file for an IPO.

Sharei and Schul­man veered away from that top­ic in our dis­cus­sion, pre­fer­ring to talk about a ma­tur­ing de­vel­op­ment strat­e­gy to build a pipeline around their plat­form cell tech­nol­o­gy.

Bob Langer

What Sharei had worked on in Langer’s lab was a de­vice that squeezed a cell, cre­at­ing open­ings for reengi­neer­ing the cell in­to some­thing new. In this case, they’re adding anti­gens that are in­tend­ed to pro­voke a storm of CD8 killer cells that can be di­rect­ed against can­cer, the kind of im­muno-on­col­o­gy play that’s at­trac­tive on Wall Street. And they’re promis­ing that their drugs can be man­u­fac­tured rel­a­tive­ly eas­i­ly, giv­ing them a clear com­mer­cial path to fol­low.

This new deal is with Basel-based pRED, as op­posed to Genen­tech’s gRED side of the R&D op­er­a­tion at Roche. 

That’s the kind of com­pa­ny you want to keep in a lead-up to an IPO, es­pe­cial­ly when the VC mon­ey has piled up.

We’ll like­ly see how the SQZ play works on Wall Street.

UP­DAT­ED: In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — and they're prep­ping a pitch to the FDA

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company says that a new analysis of an old dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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Vas Narasimhan. Getty Images

Failed PhI­II fe­vip­iprant tri­als pour more cold wa­ter on No­var­tis' block­buster R&D en­gine — and spread the chill to a high-pro­file biotech

Back in July, during an investor call where Novartis execs ran through an upbeat assessment of their Q2 performance, CEO Vas Narasimhan and development chief John Tsai were pressed to predict which of the two looming Phase III readouts — involving cardio drug Entresto and asthma therapy fevipiprant, respectively — had a higher likelihood of success. Tsai gave the PARAGON-HF study with Entresto minimally better odds, but Narasimhan emphasized that their strategy of giving fevipiprant to more severe patients gave them confidence.

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UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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Take­da tees up $420M deal for celi­ac an­ti­dote, con­tin­u­ing R&D re­fo­cus

Sometime in the 1st century AD, a patient presented to Arataeus looking like a varicose ghost. He was “emaciated and atrophied, pale, feeble and incapable of performing any of his accustomed works,” the Greek physician wrote, with hollow temples and huge veins running all over his body.

A dysfunctional digestive system, Arataeus concluded – an imbalance he attributed to a “heat” deficiency in a system he and other Greeks regarded as functioning similarly to an oven – and coined a term: coeliac disease, after the Greek word for abdomen.

UP­DAT­ED: The FDA sets a reg­u­la­to­ry speed record, pro­vid­ing a snap OK for Ver­tex's break­through triplet for cys­tic fi­bro­sis

The FDA has approved Vertex’s new triplet for cystic fibrosis at a record-setting speed.

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Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin

Where are the in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars?

In June 2017, Leah Christl, former biosimilar lead at FDA, told a conference in Chicago that interchangeable biosimilars were likely coming to the US market within two years.

And although no interchangeable biosimilar has been approved by FDA yet, and Christl has since moved on to Amgen, progress on interchangeable biosimilars has been slow in the intervening years.

Most recently, Boehringer Ingelheim announced that it has completed, as of last April, a switching study necessary for launching an interchangeable biosimilar for Humira (adalimumab), although the company did not offer any further details on the timing of its submission to FDA or whether there will be an advisory committee to review the data. Boehringer already has an adalimumab biosimilar approved by FDA, which it will launch in the US on 1 July 2023.

IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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That $335M JV Bay­er set up on CRISPR/Cas9? They’re let­ting the biotech part­ner car­ry on

Bayer committed $300 million to set up a joint venture on CRISPR/Cas9 tech with CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP. But they’re handing off control now to the smaller biotech while retaining a couple of opt-ins for programs nearing an IND.

Bayer $BAY made much of the fact that they were going all-in on gene editing when they did their deal 3 years ago with CRISPR Therapeutics, which pitched $35 million in on their end. This was the cornerstone of their plan to set up new JVs that could make some serious leap forwards in hot new R&D spaces. Now CRISPR will have full management control of Casebia as they pursue programs in hemophilia, ophthalmology and autoimmune diseases.
Samarth Kulkarni, the CEO at CRISPR, made it sound like a natural progression.

J&J's block­buster Ste­lara wins US ap­proval for ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis

J&J’s Stelara, which is set to be in the top ten list of blockbusters come 2025, is now cleared by the FDA for use in ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory disease of the large intestine.

The biologic targets interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-23 cytokines, which are known to play a key role in inflammatory and immune responses. Stelara, which generated about $4.7 billion in the first nine months of 2019, is a key player in the crowded marketplace of drugs to treat autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. AbbVie’s star therapy, Humira, continues to dominate, despite its looming patent cliff in the United States, while others including J&J’s $JNJ own anti-IL23 Tremfya, Lilly’s $LLY anti-IL-17 Taltz and AbbVie’s $ABBV recently approved anti-IL-23 antibody Skyrizi carve out a slice of market share.