Ul­tragenyx lands first FDA OK, with an­oth­er on the hori­zon in shift to com­mer­cial ops

Ul­tragenyx CEO Emil Kakkis is now op­er­at­ing a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tion, just as he dreamed he would when he start­ed the com­pa­ny in 2010.

The FDA has ap­proved Mep­se­vii (ve­stron­idase al­fa-vjbk) for an ul­tra-rare ge­net­ic en­zyme dis­or­der called MPS VII, and the OK comes with a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er that could eas­i­ly be worth $125 mil­lion.

Emil Kakkis

The biotech $RARE has been sig­nal­ing this ad­vance for some time now, ea­ger­ly await­ing a green light along with a big ap­proval in line for buro­sum­ab, which has a much larg­er mar­ket in view. Mep­se­vii — a re­place­ment of the miss­ing be­ta-glu­curonidase en­zyme that caus­es skele­tal de­for­ma­tion as tox­ic ma­te­r­i­al builds up in cells — was test­ed in 23 pa­tients rang­ing from 5 months to 25 years, demon­strat­ing a sig­nif­i­cant gain in walk­ing dis­tance for the pa­tients in the drug arm.

Leerink’s Joseph Schwartz has high­light­ed the hand­ful of pa­tients who have MPS VII.

Giv­en the low preva­lence of MPS7 pts. WW (~200 es­ti­mat­ed), pt. iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, dis­ease aware­ness, and named pt. sales ac­tiv­i­ties could lay an im­por­tant ground­work for ve­stron­idase al­pha once it’s ap­proved.

And it won’t be cheap. In a call with an­a­lysts Wednes­day evening, Ul­tragenyx set the price at an av­er­age of $375,000 a year, well be­low the $550,000 price Schwartz had bet on. But it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the com­pa­ny price is based on weight — 4mg/kg Q2W ($2,115/vial) — with the av­er­age pegged at 55 pounds.

No­va­to, CA-based Ul­tragenyx has had its set­backs along the way, but it’s al­so been mak­ing steady progress to­ward the time when it can start field­ing a 30-per­son US sales team to mar­ket a port­fo­lio of rare dis­ease drugs. Kakkis al­so re­cent­ly de­cid­ed to buy out the sur­viv­ing gene ther­a­py port­fo­lio at the trou­bled Di­men­sion Ther­a­peu­tics, which ran in­to a thick­et of trou­ble with weak he­mo­phil­ia B da­ta for the lead pro­gram.

“This ap­proval un­der­scores the agency’s com­mit­ment to mak­ing treat­ments avail­able to pa­tients with rare dis­eases,” said Julie Beitz, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Drug Eval­u­a­tion III in the FDA’s Cen­ter for Drug Eval­u­a­tion and Re­search (CDER). “Pri­or to to­day’s ap­proval, pa­tients with this rare, in­her­it­ed con­di­tion had no ap­proved treat­ment op­tions.”

This ap­proval al­so un­der­scores the huge pop­u­lar­i­ty of rare dis­eases for star­tups, a field where re­searchers can make re­al progress with small pa­tient groups and pay­ers are will­ing to cov­er big an­nu­al costs so long as the pa­tient num­bers are con­tained.

Den­mark's Gen­mab hits the jack­pot with $500M+ US IPO as small­er biotechs rake in a com­bined $147M

Danish drugmaker Genmab A/S is off to the races with perhaps one of the biggest biotech public listings in decades, having reaped over $500 million on the Nasdaq, as it positions itself as a bonafide player in antibody-based cancer therapies.

The company, which has long served as J&J’s $JNJ key partner on the blockbuster multiple myeloma therapy Darzalex, has asserted it has been looking to launch its own proprietary product — one it owns at least half of — by 2025.

FDA over­rides ad­comm opin­ions a fifth of the time, study finds — but why?

For drugmakers, FDA advisory panels are often an apprehended barometer of regulators’ final decisions. While the experts’ endorsement or criticism often translate directly to final outcomes, the FDA sometimes stun observers by diverging from recommendations.

A new paper out of Milbank Quarterly put a number on that trend by analyzing 376 voting meetings and subsequent actions from 2008 through 2015, confirming the general impression that regulators tend to agree with the adcomms most of the time — with discordances in only 22% of the cases.

Part club, part guide, part land­lord: Arie Bellde­grun is blue­print­ing a string of be­spoke biotech com­plex­es in glob­al boom­towns — start­ing with Boston

The biotech industry is getting a landlord, unlike anything it’s ever known before.

Inspired by his recent experiences scrounging for space in Boston and the Bay Area, master biotech builder, investor, and global dealmaker Arie Belldegrun has organized a new venture to build a new, 250,000 square foot biopharma building in Boston’s Seaport district — home to Vertex and a number of up-and-coming biotech players.

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Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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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).

UP­DAT­ED: With loom­ing ‘apoc­a­lypse of drug re­sis­tance,’ Mer­ck’s com­bi­na­tion an­tibi­ot­ic scores FDA ap­proval on two fronts

Merck — one of the last large biopharmaceuticals companies in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Wednesday said the FDA had sanctioned the approval of its combination antibacterial for the treatment of complicated urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections.

To curb the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and maintain the efficacy of the therapy, Recarbrio (and other antibacterials) — the drug must be used to treat or prevent infections that are proven or strongly suspected to be caused by susceptible gram-negative bacteria, Merck $MRK said.

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John McHutchison in 2012. Getty Images

The $1.1M good­bye: Gilead CSO John McHutchi­son is out as Daniel O’Day shakes up the se­nior team

Just a little more than a year after John McHutchison grabbed a promotion to become CSO at Gilead in the wake of Norbert Bischofberger’s exit, he’s out amid a shakeup of the senior team that is also triggering the departure of two other top execs.

Gilead stated that McHutchison “has decided to step down” from the job as of August 2nd. And their SEC filing notes that he’ll be getting a $1.1 million check to settle up on his contract.

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Thomas Gajewski, David Steinberg. (CRI, Pyxis)

Bay­er, Long­wood back star re­searcher's deep dive in­to the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment for new I/O tar­gets

From PD-1 targeting to the RAS pathway to the STING complex, Thomas Gajewski has spent the past two decades of his career decoding the various ways the immune system can be unleashed to defend against cancer. So when the University of Chicago professor comes around to putting all his findings into a new platform for finding new targets, VCs and pharma groups alike pay attention.

“He’s been studying T cells for 20 years, plus he’s one of the world’s leaders if not the world leader in the space,” David Steinberg, partner at Longwood Fund, said. “Furthermore, let me add he did a lot of the foundational research and also some of the seminal clinical trials in the existing set of I/O agents. He understands the space really well, he understands the current strengths, and I think he understood really well what was missing, so he knew where to look.”