The new CEOs in bio­phar­ma are join­ing the big play­ers at the bil­lion-dol­lar chip ta­ble

Call it new CEO syn­drome.

Every time a new CEO takes over at a bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny of some size, the in­stinc­tive re­sponse is to look for some deal or deals that will help set the tone for the new leader, prefer­ably one that is pre­dic­tive of a bold — but not reck­less — de­sign on fu­ture growth.

Lars Fruer­gaard Jor­gensen, No­vo

So per­haps it was no great sur­prise to see No­vo Nordisk fig­ure in­to the lat­est round of buy­out ru­mors — this time fo­cused on Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics and its lead drug for sick­le cell dis­ease. No­vo’s new CEO, Lars Fruer­gaard Jor­gensen, per­haps telling­ly wouldn’t com­ment on that to Reuters. But he had plen­ty to say about his in­ter­est in deal­mak­ing.

“We will more and more have to do deals like any oth­er com­pa­ny to make sure we have a broad­er plat­form to grow on,” Jor­gensen told Reuters’ vet­er­an scribe Ben Hirschler. “In my view we should do small­er deals; low sin­gle-dig­it bil­lions of dol­lars.”

So more of the ever-pop­u­lar biotech bolt-ons you can find at the bil­lion-dol­lar chip ta­ble, not big M&A.

Pre­dictably, that strat­e­gy in­cludes a taste for deals re­lat­ed to blood dis­eases, where the com­pa­ny is work­ing on he­mo­phil­ia, straight through to its core fo­cus on di­a­betes and obe­si­ty. And it’s a de­par­ture from the un­re­lent­ing fo­cus that his pre­de­ces­sor, the straight talk­ing Lars Re­bi­en Sorensen, had on the com­pa­ny’s pipeline drugs.

David Ricks, Lil­ly

Jor­gensen is just the lat­est mem­ber of the new CEO club, join­ing new Eli Lil­ly CEO David Ricks, who quick­ly inked a $960 mil­lion deal to buy CoLu­cid and a late-stage mi­graine drug a cou­ple of months ago, il­lus­trat­ing a re­turn to the deal ta­ble for a com­pa­ny that large­ly shunned bil­lion-dol­lar deals un­der John Lech­leit­er.

Oth­er new CEOs still look­ing to es­tab­lish their own M&A style in­clude Gilead CEO John Mil­li­gan and Bio­gen CEO Michel Vounatsos, both lead­ers of bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies that are all but be­ing or­dered by an­a­lysts to land a few big fish. Mark Alles, the new CEO at Cel­gene, has a dif­fer­ent kind of chal­lenge. Cel­gene set the in­dus­try’s fastest pace on drug deals un­der Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man Bob Hug­in and now in­dus­try ob­servers will see if Alles and his pro BD team can keep up the same fre­net­ic pace.

There cer­tain­ly are risks to this game. Rel­a­tive­ly new Sanofi CEO Olivi­er Brandi­court is still work­ing on mak­ing a good first im­pres­sion at the deal ta­ble, with lit­tle suc­cess. Af­ter get­ting shoved aside on Medi­va­tion, Acte­lion open­ly dissed the com­pa­ny’s takeover at­tempt in ex­plain­ing why it went with the vet­er­ans at J&J. Next time around, Sanofi in­vestors will ex­pect to see suc­cess.

Em­ma Walm­s­ley, GSK

Next up: New Glax­o­SmithK­line CEO Em­ma Walm­s­ley, who gets the top job April 1, as gener­ic com­pe­ti­tion starts to re­al­ly kill the Ad­vair fran­chise. She faces her own unique set of ex­pec­ta­tions at a com­pa­ny with one of the least ex­cit­ing pipelines in Big Phar­ma.

Soon we’ll see if she will look to the deal ta­ble to ac­com­plish some­thing that An­drew Wit­ty was nev­er able to suc­ceed at; Cre­ate a slate of new block­buster drug fran­chis­es, out­side of the vac­cines are­na. If so, she’ll need a few bil­lion-dol­lar chips of her own.

The view from End­points News

Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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Alk­er­mes adds bipo­lar de­pres­sion to its FDA wish­list; Con­go con­firms first Ebo­la case in large city

→ An ever-ambitious Alkermes $ALKS team plans to add bipolar depression to its list of conditions for ALKS-3831, which it plans to pitch to the FDA in Q4. Alkermes says they were persuaded to add bipolar depression after a pre-NDA meeting with the agency, which came about 7 months after the biotech reported positive data for schizophrenia. The drug is a combo using olanzapine/samidorphan, which they hope will be shown to be as effective as olanzapine without the substantial increase in the risk of weight gain.

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah raise a $300M fund de­vot­ed to biotech star­tups

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah have another $300 million-plus to play with on the biotech venture side of their investment business. 

The two announced Monday morning that they’ve put together their first pure-play venture fund at RA Capital Management, which has been known to bet on just about every angle in healthcare investing — from rounds to follow-on investments at public companies. This new fund of theirs arrives well into a go-go era of new startup financing, with a particular focus on building new biotechs.

Boehringer buys Swiss biotech in its lat­est M&A deal, go­ing the next-gen can­cer vac­cine route

Boehringer Ingelheim has snapped up a Swiss biotech startup and added their group as a new platform for the oncology pipeline. 

The German biopharma company has bagged Geneva-based AMAL Therapeutics, paying out an unspecified upfront in a $358 million deal — cash, milestones and everything else, all in. Plus there’s 100 million euros on the line for commercial milestones.

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Ab­b­Vie beefs up the on­col­o­gy pipeline, bag­ging an up­start STING play­er with its own unique ap­proach

AbbVie isn’t letting its $63 billion buyout of Allergan stop its M&A/deals team from continuing their work.

Monday morning we learned that the pharma giant is snapping up tiny Mavupharma out of Seattle, a Frazier-backed startup that has its own unique take on STING — which is on the threshold of their first clinical trial.

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Hal Barron [File photo]

Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Billing itself as the first AI biotech with programs in the clinic, Salt Lake City-based Recursion now has a $121 million bankroll to start gathering human data to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re trying to build this discovery engine,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two programs in the clinic.” And that, he adds, qualifies as a first for any AI establishment “that actually have something in the clinic.”

FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.