Un­fazed by Brex­it blues, UK biotech trade group cel­e­brates bois­ter­ous year of ven­ture dol­lars with record £1.1B to­tal

A record year of ven­ture in­vest­ing has float­ed UK’s biotech boat, with the mon­ey flow in 2018 gush­ing over the £1 bil­lion mark for the first time.

A to­tal of £1.1 bil­lion was raised thanks to a boom in late-stage fi­nanc­ings, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­port from the UK BioIn­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion and Phar­ma In­tel­li­gence. While seed fund­ing stayed flat at £27 mil­lion and A rounds nabbed a col­lec­tive £213 mil­lion, it was Se­ries B and post-B fi­nanc­ings that de­liv­ered the most im­pres­sive num­bers at £393 mil­lion and £480 mil­lion, re­spec­tive­ly.

To put this in­to per­spec­tive, the BIA es­ti­mates that biotechs around the world raised a to­tal of £16.5 bil­lion from pri­vate and ven­ture sources. The US ab­sorbed the li­on’s share at £11.1 bil­lion, main­ly due to out­sized roles played by three biotech hubs, while Eu­rope pock­et­ed £2.6 bil­lion. The in­flux of cash in­to the UK means it’s now the fifth most at­trac­tive re­gion for biotech in­vest­ment, wrote Mike Ward of Phar­ma In­tel­li­gence, fol­low­ing San Fran­cis­co (£3.6 bil­lion), Mass­a­chu­setts (£3.4 bil­lion), Chi­na (£2.0 bil­lion) and San Diego (£1.6 bil­lion).

Julie Sim­monds

“The sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in mid and late-stage fi­nanc­ings shows a con­tin­ued ma­tur­ing of the sec­tor and strong in­ter­est from in­vestors in UK sci­ence,” Julie Sim­monds, an eq­ui­ty re­search an­a­lyst with Pan­mure Gor­don, wrote in the re­port. “It al­so re­flects the fact that UK com­pa­nies are choos­ing to re­main pri­vate for longer.”

What’s lur­ing in­vestors to a coun­try that, while es­tab­lished in sci­ence with pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions and com­pa­nies in the Gold­en Tri­an­gle, is caught up in a chaot­ic (and ac­cord­ing to End­points News’ read­ers, harm­ful) de­par­ture from the Eu­ro­pean Union?

Steve Bates

It has to do with the UK’s “ex­per­tise in ge­nomics, cell and gene ther­a­pies, an­timi­cro­bial re­search and en­gi­neer­ing bi­ol­o­gy,” ac­cord­ing to BIA CEO Steve Bates. A pair of gene ther­a­py com­pa­nies — Or­chard Ther­a­peu­tics and Free­line Ther­a­peu­tics — claimed three of the top five ven­ture deals high­light­ed in the re­port, with the rest go­ing to Benev­o­len­tAI and genome se­quenc­ing com­pa­ny Ox­ford Nanopore.

Or­chard is al­so the poster child for pub­lic fi­nanc­ing here, hav­ing fol­lowed up its two pri­vate rounds with a quick £177.75 mil­lion IPO. Its suc­cess on the Nas­daq along­side Au­to­lus sug­gests “greater in­vestor ap­petite” in the US com­pared to Eu­rope, so­lid­i­fy­ing Nas­daq’s sta­tus as the ex­change of choice for UK biotechs to go pub­lic or raise fol­low-on fi­nanc­ing.

All told, £658 mil­lion was raised in fol­low-on fi­nanc­ing, with £381 mil­lion com­ing from the Nas­daq — more than AIM and LSE com­bined.

Mean­while M&A was rel­a­tive­ly mut­ed con­sid­er­ing that the cheap British pound low­ered the val­ue of UK as­sets. BIA count­ed 15 deals, in­clud­ing med­ical de­vice and vet­eri­nary med­i­cine com­pa­nies.

As the EMA moves out of its long­time Lon­don abode and the British drug reg­u­la­tor rush­es to put its own re­view sys­tem in place, the re­port spells an op­ti­mistic fu­ture for UK biotech.

“The cap­i­tal will be there,” com­ment­ed Tim Hames, di­rec­tor gen­er­al of the British Pri­vate Eq­ui­ty & Ven­ture Cap­i­tal As­so­ci­a­tion. “Do we have the pa­tience is the key ques­tion.”

Graph­ics: “Con­fi­dent cap­i­tal: back­ing UK biotech,” Jan­u­ary 2019 re­port. BIA, In­for­ma Phar­ma In­tel­li­gence

Andre Kalil, AP Images

A 9/11-era Om­a­ha fa­cil­i­ty, an old Ebo­la drug, and the ubiq­ui­tous Dr. Fau­ci: In­side the first US nov­el coro­n­avirus tri­al

The first 11 coronavirus patients who arrived in Omaha last week, airlifted across the globe after two weeks quarantined on a cruise ship, showed only minor symptoms or none at all. And then one of them — or one of the couple of Americans who arrived later — got worse. He developed pneumonia, a life-threatening complication for coronavirus patients.

In a biocontainment room at the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Friday, doctors infused him with an experimental Gilead drug once developed for Ebola, called remdesivir. Or they gave him a placebo. For the first time in the US, neither he nor the doctors knew.

The first US novel coronavirus trial was underway and with it, a mad dash for an answer. Sponsored by the NIH, the study marked a critical point in the epidemic. Since the start of the outbreak, the agency had helped lead a global effort to contain the virus. Now, as it spread worldwide and the CDC issued warnings the US could see a major internal outbreak, they were looking at home.

“We don’t have too much time,” Andre Kalil, the trial’s lead investigator, told Endpoints News. “Everything’s moving really fast.”

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Grow­ing ac­cep­tance of ac­cel­er­at­ed path­ways for nov­el treat­ments: but does reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval lead to com­mer­cial suc­cess?

By Mwango Kashoki, MD, MPH, Vice President-Technical, and Richard Macaulay, Senior Director, of Parexel Regulatory & Access

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant uptake in the use of regulatory options by companies looking to accelerate the journey of life-saving drugs to market. In 2018, 73% of the novel drugs approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) were designated under one or more expedited development program categories (Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, Priority Review, and Accelerated Approval).ᶦ

Brian Stuglik (file photo)

Turn­ing fo­cus to clin­i­cal work, Ve­rastem ax­es 31 jobs, scales back can­cer drug pro­mo­tion af­ter dis­ap­point­ing sales

Months after taking the helm at Verastem Oncology, Brian Stuglik has a plan to take the biotech in a “new strategic direction” — but not before some layoffs.

Left out of an upbeat press release spelling out its clinical plans, and buried below news of a $100 million private placement in an SEC filing, is a planned restructuring that will claim 31 jobs. Alongside some other cost-saving measures, Verastem expects to cut expenses down by $70 million to $80 million per year.

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Olivier Brandicourt (AP Images)

Ex-Sanofi chief Olivi­er Brandi­court, cur­rent Black­stone ad­vi­sor, jumps on Al­ny­lam board

Former Sanofi chief Olivier Brandicourt, who departed his post with an unexpected early retirement last year, has made his move — as most C-suite executives inevitably do — to become a director on the board of a biopharma company.

RNAi player Alnylam is Brandicourt’s destination. Meanwhile, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based drugmaker — which pioneered the first approval in the field — also disclosed the retirement of Alnylam co-founder Dr. Paul Schimmel from its board.

Dan O'Day (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: A name emerges out of the Gilead M&A ru­mor mill, and it’s a can­cer biotech

After months of questions and speculation about when and if Gilead will make a major acquisition, a name has emerged.

The California-based drugmaker has approached Forty Seven Inc, a cancer biotech, with a takeover offer, Bloomberg News reports. With Forty Seven’s market cap at $2.3 billion, an acquisition would likely be Gilead’s largest since they acquired Kite Pharma for $11.9 billion in 2017.

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Biogen head of R&D Al Sandrock, Sangamo CEO Sandy Macrae

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen makes an­oth­er bold Alzheimer’s bet, drop­ping $350M up­front to part­ner with genome-edit­ing fo­cused Sang­amo

While the fate of Biogen’s resurrected Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab remains uncertain, the Cambridge, MA-based drugmaker is joining forces with genome editing company Sangamo Therapeutics to develop therapies for neurological conditions.

Sangamo is set to receive a meaty $350 million upfront in cash and stock and is eligible to receive up to $2.37 billion in milestone payments, in addition to royalties. In return, Biogen gets the rights to two Sangamo preclinical compounds: ST-501 (for use in tauopathies including Alzheimer’s disease) and ST-502 (for synucleinopathies including Parkinson’s disease).

“The partnership represents a lower-cost way to expand its work in neurologic disease,” Credit Suisse’s Evan Seigerman said in a note, referring to Biogen.

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Take­da swoops in to buy lit­tle biotech part­ner and its celi­ac drug poised to 'change stan­dard of care'

Having spent three years carefully grooming PvP Biologics and its drug for celiac disease, Takeda is happy enough with the proof-of-concept data to buy it all.

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Jim Wilson's gene ther­a­py start­up Pas­sage Bio bucks mar­ket sen­ti­ments, rais­ing up­sized $216M IPO

A coronavirus fear-induced bloodbath on the Nasdaq has not stopped Passage Bio from making a public debut — and an exuberant one.

By pricing an upsized offering at $18, the top of the range, the gene therapy biotech bagged $216 million from its IPO, 72% more than it’s originally penciled in.

The proceeds likely reflected confidence in Jim Wilson, who gathered all the tools he’s built over decades of gene therapy research to assemble the startup and teamed up with Frazier and OrbiMed to hone its focus on rare, monogenic disorders of the central nervous system. Just before the IPO, Deerfield partner Bruce Goldsmith took over from OrbiMed’s Stephen Squinto as CEO.

Spark los­es an­oth­er top ex­ec in the wake of $4.3B takeover by Roche — re­port

Days after bidding farewell to co-founder Kathy High, Spark Therapeutics — now operating under Roche — has one more opening on its C-suite.

Kathy Reape

Kathy Reape, who joined the Philadelphia-based biotech in 2016 as head of clinical R&D and became chief medical officer in 2018, is reportedly set to leave.

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