Jacek Olczak, Philip Morris CEO (Yen Meng Jiin/Singapore Press via AP Images)

UK busi­ness sec­re­tary look­ing in­to Philip Mor­ris' pro­posed deal to ac­quire Vec­tura — re­port

Philip Mor­ris’ pro­posed $1.5 bil­lion deal to ac­quire the UK-based in­haled ther­a­peu­tics com­pa­ny Vec­tura has an­ti-smok­ing groups up in arms — and now, the British gov­ern­ment is re­port­ed­ly look­ing in­to the deal.

The UK’s busi­ness sec­re­tary Kwasi Kwarteng has re­port­ed­ly asked of­fi­cials to mon­i­tor Philip Mor­ris’ pro­posed takeover of Vec­tura, which spun out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bath back in 1997, ac­cord­ing to the Lon­don Times.

Kwarteng is tak­ing a fur­ther look at the pro­posed deal along with un­named of­fi­cials, af­ter the coun­try’s shad­ow health sec­re­tary Jon Ash­worth and shad­ow busi­ness sec­re­tary Ed Miliband wrote a let­ter urg­ing the gov­ern­ment to in­ter­vene, the Times re­port­ed. The UK’s Shad­ow Cab­i­net con­sists of a team of se­nior spokes­peo­ple ap­point­ed to ques­tion and chal­lenge their coun­ter­parts and pro­pose al­ter­na­tive poli­cies.

“Vec­tura must be pro­tect­ed. Its work in de­vel­op­ing drugs for res­pi­ra­to­ry con­di­tions makes it an im­por­tant firm in help­ing to tack­le the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, and on this ba­sis there are clear grounds to block this deal,” the shad­ow sec­re­taries wrote, per the Times.

Char­i­ties and an­ti-smok­ing groups have lam­bast­ed the deal, in­clud­ing Lon­don-based Can­cer Re­search UK, which took to Twit­ter on Tues­day to dis­cuss the is­sue.

“It’s iron­ic that a to­bac­co com­pa­ny wants to in­vest in the lung health in­dus­try when their prod­ucts are the biggest pre­ventable cause of can­cer, in­clud­ing lung can­cer,” CEO Michelle Mitchell wrote in a state­ment. “If PMI re­al­ly want­ed to help, they could stop sell­ing and ag­gres­sive­ly pro­mot­ing their prod­ucts al­to­geth­er.”

Deb­o­rah Arnott, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the health char­i­ty Ac­tion on Smok­ing and Health (ASH), told the Evening Stan­dard: “I can’t imag­ine the sci­en­tists work­ing for Vec­tura, a re­spectable com­pa­ny mak­ing prod­ucts that treat lung can­cer, are go­ing to be at all hap­py wak­ing up to find they’re go­ing to be work­ing for Big To­bac­co.”

Philip Mor­ris — the man­u­fac­tur­er of Marl­boro cig­a­rettes — took the wraps off a pro­posed deal on Fri­day to ac­quire Vec­tura and the ser­vices of some 200 sci­en­tists work­ing on build­ing their new pipeline. CEO Jacek Ol­czak says the move is in line with the com­pa­ny’s “be­yond nico­tine” strat­e­gy an­nounced ear­li­er this year. He hopes to gen­er­ate more than 50% of the com­pa­ny’s rev­enue from smoke-free prod­ucts by 2025, and at least $1 bil­lion from non-nico­tine prod­ucts.

Med­ica­go, which is par­tial­ly owned by Philip Mor­ris In­ter­na­tion­al, en­tered the race for a Covid-19 vac­cine last sum­mer, with an ap­proach that us­es to­bac­co leaves to pro­duce an S-spike pro­tein. But af­ter get­ting off to a late start, the com­pa­ny quick­ly fell be­hind oth­er drug­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech and Mod­er­na who snagged the first two US au­tho­riza­tions in De­cem­ber.

This May, Med­ica­go re­port­ed pos­i­tive Phase II re­sults from its can­di­date pro­duced in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Glax­o­SmithK­line, claim­ing that near­ly 10 times the amount of an­ti­bod­ies were found in pa­tients dosed with the vac­cine than a pan­el of pa­tients re­cov­er­ing from the virus.

Vec­tura re­cent­ly re­or­ga­nized in­to a CD­MO, at­tract­ing top in­dus­try clients like No­var­tis to make their in­haled drugs.

“The mar­ket for in­haled ther­a­peu­tics is large and grow­ing rapid­ly, with sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial for ex­pan­sion in­to new ap­pli­ca­tion ar­eas,” Ol­czak said. “PMI has the com­mit­ment to sci­ence and the fi­nan­cial re­sources to em­pow­er Vec­tura’s skilled team to ex­e­cute on an am­bi­tious long-term vi­sion.”

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Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

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Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

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Simcere and Almirall announced Thursday that the two companies had reached a deal for Simcere’s IL-2 mutant fusion protein drug candidate, called SIM0278. According to a statement, Almirall gets an exclusive right to develop and commercialize the drug candidate in all indications and markets outside of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

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Vor Biopharma has started manufacturing operations at an in-house facility at its HQ in Cambridge, MA after beginning construction last summer.

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