Uni­corn hunter Vivek Ra­maswamy has cooked up a new deal with As­traZeneca. But what is it?

Some­thing’s cook­ing at Vivek Ra­maswamy’s Roivant Sci­ences. We just can’t say ex­act­ly what it is.

This morn­ing Ra­maswamy put out word that he’s bagged an ex­per­i­men­tal drug from As­traZeneca. He’s just not say­ing pub­licly what it is, where it’s po­si­tioned in the clin­ic or, for now, how it fits in­to the pipelines at the Roivant com­pa­nies.

Here’s what we do know.

As­traZeneca has hand­ed over glob­al rights to an un­spec­i­fied drug “out­side of As­traZeneca’s main ther­a­py ar­eas” for an un­spec­i­fied deal pack­age. In a state­ment, Ra­maswamy said this was the first such deal he’s done with As­traZeneca and he hopes for many more to fol­low.

In the ab­sence of clar­i­ty, I’ll fill in with some spec­u­la­tive analy­sis.

As­traZeneca has been sell­ing off a whole line of non-core drug as­sets in the last cou­ple of years. The pri­ma­ry fo­cus has been to gar­ner some ad­di­tion­al rev­enue as the com­pa­ny looks to pull off a ma­jor turn­around, which is still far from fin­ished. And the phar­ma gi­ant has been will­ing to get cre­ative about stay­ing fo­cused on can­cer and a few key ar­eas. A few years ago, CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot de­cid­ed to spin out an un­want­ed R&D group fo­cused on an­tibi­otics and fund­ed the A round when he couldn’t find a buy­er.

Ra­maswamy, mean­while, has made a busi­ness out of pick­ing up shelved as­sets in bio­phar­ma pipelines around the world, spin­ning them out in­to new com­pa­nies. His first deal was for an Alzheimer’s drug from Glax­o­SmithK­line, which he bagged for on­ly $5 mil­lion and used to launch the first of his vants, Ax­o­vant $AX­ON.

It turns out, though, that that drug was worth even less, fail­ing a Phase III and putting a cloud over Roivant’s strat­e­gy even though there are now 6 com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing un­der the um­brel­la group. The group al­so in­cludes the new Data­vant, which was set up to find new drugs in the pipeline to las­so.

Ra­maswamy has raised close to $2 bil­lion — in­clud­ing a re­cent $1.1 bil­lion from Soft­Bank — so he has plen­ty of cash to gam­ble with. And new deals now, along with new com­pa­nies — and the promi­nent bio­phar­ma ex­ecs he likes to re­cruit like David Hung and Lynn Seely — will help re­fo­cus at­ten­tion af­ter the big set­back in Alzheimer’s.

Ra­maswamy is not shy about pro­mot­ing his biotechs and the deals he does, but he sticks to his own sched­ule–or per­haps in this case with As­traZeneca’s wish­es.


Im­age: Vivek Ra­maswamy Get­ty

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D re­or­ga­ni­za­tion in­side Sanofi is con­tin­u­ing, more than a year af­ter the phar­ma gi­ant brought in John Reed to head the re­search arm of the Paris-based com­pa­ny.

Sanofi said in a state­ment that it is cut­ting its re­search ranks by 466 in France and Ger­many while drop­ping new, in-house car­di­ol­o­gy drug re­search. Ex­ist­ing car­dio pro­grams will go for­ward, says Sanofi, but the pipeline is be­ing cut off at the dis­cov­ery source. The phar­ma gi­ant, long known as a lag­gard in R&D, in­tends to com­mit more of its re­sources to the 4 re­main­ing R&D fo­cus­es: can­cer, im­munol­o­gy, rare dis­eases and vac­cines.

UP­DAT­ED: Chica­go biotech ar­gues blue­bird, Third Rock 'killed' its ri­val, pi­o­neer­ing tha­lassemia gene ther­a­py in law­suit

Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”

Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.

Gilead baits new al­liance with $45M up­front, div­ing in­to the busy pro­tein degra­da­tion field

Gilead is jump­ing on board the pro­tein degra­da­tion band­wag­on. And they’re turn­ing to a low-pro­file Third Rock start­up for the ex­per­tise. But if you were look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion­al deal to kick up fresh en­thu­si­asm for Gilead, you’ll have to re­main pa­tient.

This one will have a long way to go be­fore they get in­to the clin­ic.

The big biotech said Wednes­day morn­ing that it is pay­ing $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing a whop­ping $2.3 bil­lion in biotech bucks if San Fran­cis­co-based Nurix can point the way to new can­cer ther­a­pies, as well as drugs for oth­er, un­spec­i­fied dis­eases.

A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.