The dis­rup­tors at EQRx have their eyes on the PD-(L)1 mar­ket — tee­ing up $150M cash to grab 2 back­bone ther­a­pies from Chi­na

EQRx is pay­ing top dol­lar to bring a pair of PD-(L)1 drugs in­to its port­fo­lio of fast-fol­low ther­a­pies, of­fer­ing $150 mil­lion up­front in what could shape up to be a $1.3 bil­lion al­liance with Chi­na’s CStone.

As ear­ly as 2017 Cel­gene had bet on a made-in-Chi­na PD-1 via its pact with BeiGene, quick­ly fol­lowed by Ar­cus as the sec­ond check­point wave was loom­ing; more re­cent­ly Eli Lil­ly im­port­ed long­time part­ner In­novent’s PD-1 in a $1 bil­lion deal. All are div­ing in­to a space now dom­i­nat­ed by Mer­ck’s Keytru­da fran­chise, where six oth­er play­ers are try­ing to catch up by carv­ing out their own nich­es — and more are on their way to tap in­to the var­i­ous I/O pair­ings an­chored by a PD-(L)1. But none so far has quite shared EQRx’s ex­plic­it mis­sion to dis­rupt the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar mar­ket by of­fer­ing a low­er cost op­tion.

With sev­en drugs al­ready ap­proved, though, one has to won­der: Why hasn’t there been more com­pe­ti­tion on price? And what makes EQRx think it can make any dif­fer­ence?

“That’s a re­al­ly in­ter­est­ing ques­tion, isn’t it? In most in­dus­tries that’s what you’d ex­pect,” Alex­is Borisy, co-founder and CEO, told End­points News. “There’s a lot of an­swers to it[…] It’s a very com­plex set of in­ter­ac­tions, the net re­sult of which has been spi­ral­ing ever high­er prices in our in­dus­try.”

The promise at EQRx, as Borisy and Melanie Nal­licheri wide­ly pitched at this year’s JP Mor­gan con­fab, is not just to de­vel­op drugs against known tar­gets more ef­fi­cient­ly — but al­so set a new mod­el for how the in­dus­try brings drugs to mar­ket.

Frank Jiang

A Sanofi vet who spent sev­er­al years in New Jer­sey be­fore mov­ing back to Shang­hai, CStone CEO Frank Jiang is clear­ly a big fan of what Borisy is build­ing at EQRx in terms of sell­ing drugs and paving a path to adop­tion, even though the de­tails won’t be pub­lic for an­oth­er year or two.

“Many of those things are con­fi­den­tial but when you look in­to it, these are re­al­ly trans­form­ing the way that we do the busi­ness, like nor­mal busi­ness,” Jiang told in­vestors on a call. “Their in­no­v­a­tive mod­el can po­si­tion them, put both sug­e­mal­imab and PD-1 com­pet­i­tive­ly against the ex­ist­ing al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies in many of the largest health­care glob­al mar­kets by hav­ing strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tions with pay­ers and health sys­tems.”

Aside from scor­ing cash to in­vest in what he calls CStone’s pipeline 2.0, Jiang not­ed that his R&D team will be able to tag along as EQRx plots glob­al tri­als for var­i­ous com­bi­na­tion ther­a­pies uti­liz­ing CS1003 as a back­bone.

The CStone deal is no­tably larg­er than the oth­er two EQRx has dis­closed so far: Li­cens­ing the CDK4/6 in­hibitor le­ro­ci­clib from G1 Ther­a­peu­tics took $20 mil­lion up­front and $290 mil­lion in mile­stones, while the li­cense for Han­soh Phar­ma’s EGFR-tar­get­ed al­moner­tinib is val­ued at around $100 mil­lion.

Yet sug­e­mal­imab is al­so ar­guably high­er pro­file, hav­ing scored break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion from the FDA just days ago for re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry ex­tra­n­odal nat­ur­al killer/T-cell lym­phoma. CStone has re­peat­ed tout­ed it as a po­ten­tial best-in-class drug, post­ing some en­cour­ag­ing Phase III da­ta in non-small cell lung can­cer this sum­mer.

While a Third Rock part­ner, Borisy al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines, a CStone part­ner that’s con­tributed three clin­i­cal as­sets to the pipeline. And that’s giv­en him a front row seat in how Jiang does his busi­ness.

“The qual­i­ty of the da­ta that they gen­er­ate and the qual­i­ty of the team is ab­solute­ly ex­cel­lent,” he said.

Hav­ing launched with a time­line to bring its first med­i­cine to mar­ket by 2025, Borisy added that his crew is now ahead of the orig­i­nal sched­ule, with mul­ti­ple drugs slat­ed for ap­proval in the next hand­ful of years.

With the deal — which cov­ers world­wide rights ex­cept in the re­gion known as Greater Chi­na — CStone has now ful­ly sold all rights to the PD-L1 drug sug­e­mal­imab. In a li­cens­ing pact un­veiled last month, Pfiz­er bagged Chi­na com­mer­cial­iza­tion rights by buy­ing up $200 mil­lion worth of CStone stock.

The Chi­nese biotech, though, re­tains rights to de­vel­op the PD-1 in­hibitor CS1003 in main­land Chi­na, Tai­wan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Spe­cial re­port: Meet 20 ex­tra­or­di­nary women who are su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D

Even though many biopharma leaders have come together in recent years to address its gender gap, the consensus is clear: We still have a long way to go.

Companies this year were 2.5 times more likely than last year to have a diversity and inclusion program in place, according to a recent BIO survey, but women are still largely absent from executive roles. Getting women to enter the industry isn’t the problem — studies show that they represent just under half of all biotech employees around the world. But climbing through the ranks can be challenging, as women still report facing stereotypes, and, unfortunately, harassment.

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Op­ti­miz­ing Oral Drug De­liv­ery us­ing Zy­dis® Oral­ly Dis­in­te­grat­ing Tablet Tech­nol­o­gy to Ad­dress Pa­tient Chal­lenges

KEY POINTS

Patients prefer oral dosing, but swallowing tablets can be a challenge for many patients.
The Zydis® orally disintegrating tablet (ODT) platform addresses challenges associated with oral dosing, expanding benefits for patients and options for healthcare providers.
A strong growth trajectory is expected for ODTs given therapeutic innovation and continued technology development.

Many patients prefer conventional tablets for the administration of medications, but some geriatric and pediatric patients and those with altered mental status and physical impairments find swallowing tablets to be difficult. Orally disintegrating tablets (ODTs), which dissolve completely without chewing or sucking, offer a patient-friendly dosage form for the administration of small-molecule drugs, peptides and proteins. With the potential for multiple sites of drug absorption, often faster onset action for the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and potentially greater bioavailability, ODTs are an attractive option for drug developers considering first-to-market formulations or product line extensions of existing drugs with compatible API. In this report, we look at how innovation in the industry-leading Zydis ODT platform is expanding oral formulation options and bringing benefits to patients.

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Geoffrey Porges (SVB Leerink)

The 2022 wave com­ing? Top an­a­lyst says Big Phar­ma will have more than $1T avail­able to sat­is­fy its grow­ing ap­petite for biotech M&A

All through this year you could practically feel the frustration of the biotech investor class as M&A activity continued to drag behind expectations — or desires. Buyouts of public companies provide the essential juice for keeping stocks lively, and there’s been a notable lack of juice in 2021.

So is all that about to change, big time?

SVB Leerink’s Geoffrey Porges, a longtime student of biotech M&A, thinks so. In a lengthy analysis he put out last week, Porges totted up the cash flow of the major pharmas and determined that there was a good long list of industry buyers who would have around a half trillion dollars of cash to play with in 2022. Leverage that up with added debt and you could get that deal cache to $1.6 trillion.

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James Sabry

'We're in': Roche and Genen­tech join forces on a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar dis­cov­ery pact with a brash AI up­start

Over the past couple of years, the top execs at Roche and Genentech have inked a flurry of deals aligning the global pair with several of the new players that have emerged in the booming AI and machine learning world. That strategy was supercharged in the spring of 2020 by their decision to recruit Aviv Regev out of the computational world she occupied at the Broad. And today they’re taking that computational approach in R&D to a whole new level.

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Brett Monia, Ionis CEO

As­traZeneca grabs PhI­II AT­TR drug from Io­n­is — in­fus­ing $200M cash in­to strug­gling part­ner

AstraZeneca is plucking another antisense drug out of Ionis’ prolific pipeline.

Paying $200 million in cash, AstraZeneca has inked a development and commercialization deal around eplontersen — the Phase III TTR amyloidosis drug formerly known as IONIS-TTR-LRX. On top of the upfront and $485 million worth of conditional payments to follow regulatory approvals, the pharma giant is promising $2.9 billion in sales-related milestones should the drug reach megablockbuster status, plus royalties.

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Mar­ket­ingRx Matchup: How Ab­b­Vie and Bio­haven ads rank in head-to-head mi­graine chal­lenge

Are you ready to rumble? DTC brands that is. MarketingRx is launching a new monthly feature today called MarketingRx Matchup. We’re pitting two pharma brands’ DTC advertising in the same therapeutic category against each other to find out what consumers and patients really think.

Market research company Leger is handling the polling and analysis each month, and I’ll be writing up the results — along with my own take — inside MRx on the first Tuesday of the month.

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Wendy Lund, Organon chief communications officer

Q&A: Organon chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Wendy Lund talks about the Mer­ck spin­off, women’s health and why it mat­ters

One of Wendy Lund’s earliest jobs was head of marketing at Planned Parenthood. As the youngest person on its management team, she introduced them to emerging new technologies, and in return, she learned the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

Now as chief communications officer at Organon, the women’s health company recently spun off by Merck, Lund is keeping that point top of mind. That’s in part because women’s health hasn’t been a spotlight therapy area for Big Pharma in years. Several companies have spun off, sold or at least considered selling women’s health assets to focus on “core” products.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er re-ups pneu­mo­nia ads as Mer­ck threat looms; Re­al Chem­istry founder CEO Jim Weiss steps back

Every autumn, leaves fall from the trees and people start holiday shopping – and for the last few years Pfizer debuts a new “Know Pneumonia” awareness TV ad. This year the commercial, launched a week ago, features different people who talk about why they got vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. Actors portray a young female firefighter with asthma, a mechanic with heart disease and an older woman with her grandchild. A Pfizer spokesperson declined comment on the latest iteration of the long-running campaign.

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Mer­ck pumps the brakes on two more PhI­II tri­als for its lead an­ti-HIV drug

After trial investigators flagged a drop in immune cell counts that an external committee determined was related to treatment last month, Merck has been pausing HIV-related Phase II and III trials ever since.

On Monday, the biopharma company announced it’s pausing enrollment in two of its Phase III trials evaluating its leading anti-HIV drug candidate, which is the once-monthly, oral islatravir.

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