UniQure CEO Soland makes a quick ex­it as ex­ecs ham­mer out a new strat­e­gy

Dan Soland

Nine months af­ter land­ing a new job as CEO of the Dutch gene ther­a­py biotech uniQure, Dan Soland abrupt­ly quit on Thurs­day, say­ing the un­ex­pect­ed move was due “sole­ly” to fam­i­ly rea­sons. And the com­pa­ny says it doesn’t plan on re­plac­ing him im­me­di­ate­ly, pre­fer­ring to wait un­til af­ter it im­ple­ments a new cor­po­rate strat­e­gy now in the works.

CFO Matthew Ka­pus­ta will now take the helm as in­ter­im CEO, with for­mer pres­i­dent Philip Ast­ley-Sparke step­ping up as chair­man. In a state­ment, Ast­ley-Sparke praised Ka­pus­ta for his work “guid­ing an on­go­ing, com­pre­hen­sive strate­gic plan­ning process.”

I queried Ast­ley-Sparke — the CEO of BioVex when Am­gen bought it for $425 mil­lion up front, plus mile­stones — on what that cor­po­rate strat­e­gy will fo­cus on, but didn’t hear back im­me­di­ate­ly.

In­ter­im CEO Matt Ka­pus­ta

The change­up comes a few months af­ter uniQure fared poor­ly in the lat­est beau­ty con­test among the gene ther­a­pies be­ing de­vel­oped for he­mo­phil­ia B. A crowd­ed field, Spark Ther­a­peu­tics $ONCE drew praise for achiev­ing 27% to 35% Fac­tor IX (FIX) ac­tiv­i­ty among 4 pa­tients, while uniQure had to set­tle for a 2% to 6.3% range for a sin­gle in­fu­sion of AMT-060. Two months lat­er Shire opt­ed to drop its ri­val gene ther­a­py in the field, the one-time leader BAX 335, in fa­vor of a pre­clin­i­cal ef­fort af­ter an­a­lysts panned the vari­able re­sults the pro­gram had post­ed.

Uniqure at­tract­ed con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion for win­ning the first Eu­ro­pean ap­proval for a gene ther­a­py. Gly­bera was green light­ed for ul­tra rare cas­es of lipopro­tein li­pase de­fi­cien­cy in 2012. But as MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Re­view’s An­to­nio Re­gal­a­do point­ed out in May, it was on­ly used once, and get­ting an ap­proval for a ques­tion­able ther­a­py that costs $1 mil­lion proved to be an Olympic chal­lenge no one else want­ed to tack­le.

The biotech dropped plans to pur­sue a US ap­proval late last year.

Soland had this to say in a state­ment:

“My de­ci­sion to re­sign as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer is due sole­ly to per­son­al fam­i­ly rea­sons. I re­gret the abrupt na­ture of this de­ci­sion but be­lieve that it is in the best in­ter­ests of uniQure, its em­ploy­ees and share­hold­ers to en­sure that the busi­ness has the ful­ly com­mit­ted lead­er­ship it re­quires. I have con­tin­ued con­fi­dence in the Com­pa­ny’s gene ther­a­py plat­form, its re­search and clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­grams and its lead­er­ship in man­u­fac­tur­ing. I wish every­one as­so­ci­at­ed with the Com­pa­ny tremen­dous suc­cess.”

Albert Bourla appears before the Senate Committee on Finance for a hearing on prescription drug pricing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 26, 2019. Chris Kleponis for CNP via AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Pfiz­er CEO Al­bert Bourla is back in the M&A game, but why is he pay­ing $11.4B for Ar­ray?

Pfiz­er $PFE has cut short its time on the side­lines of bio­phar­ma M&A.

Mon­day morn­ing the phar­ma gi­ant un­veiled an $11.4 bil­lion deal to ac­quire Ar­ray Bio­Phar­ma, beef­ing up its on­col­o­gy work and adding a new re­search hub in Boul­der, Col­orado to its glob­al op­er­a­tions.

At $48 a share, Ar­ray $AR­RY in­vestors will be get­ting a 62% pre­mi­um off the Fri­day close of $29.59.

Pfiz­er, which has strug­gled to gain all the up­side promised in past buy­outs like Medi­va­tion, high­light­ed the ac­qui­si­tion of 2 ap­proved drugs in the deal — Braftovi (en­co­rafenib) and Mek­tovi (binime­tinib).

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Gene ther­a­py R&D deals turn red hot as Big Phar­ma steps up to play

This September will mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Jesse Gelsinger, a young man suffering from X-linked genetic disease of the liver. He was killed in a gene therapy study conducted by Penn’s James Wilson, and the entire field endured a lengthy deep freeze as the field grappled with the safety issues inherent in the work.

Some thought gene therapy R&D would never survive. But it did. And this year marked a landmark approval for Zolgensma, a new gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy Novartis priced at $2.1 million.

“Gene therapy is the hottest item on the block now. But there was a time when we first got into this trial, where there wasn’t a person in the world who believed that gene therapy would work. We have to remember that,” noted gene therapy investigator Jerry Mendell told SMA News Today.

We’re still right on the pioneering frontier when it comes to getting approvals for gene therapies and launching marketing campaigns with the European green light for bluebird's leading program last Friday underscoring the nascent nature of the field. But gene therapy R&D is booming, and has been for several years now.

The rapid growth of gene therapy clinical development is well known, but we decided to put some numbers on it, to quantify what’s going on. DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar took a lot over the past 10 years, as the number of deals, R&D partnerships and buyouts steadily gained steam, spiking last year and on track to maintain the surge in 2019.

The upfronts and totals for the dollars on deals so far in 2019 is already close to the 2018 mark, underscoring a new phase of negotiations as the major players step up to gain a piece of the late-stage and commercial action.

Once again, we’re looking at an “overnight” biotech success story, decades in the making.

At some point, that may start to brake the numbers we’re seeing. But for now, as rivals line up to compete for frontline prominence across a range of diseases, the arrows are all pointed north.

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A uni­corn stalks Wall Street in search of IPO cash; CASI Phar­ma in-li­cens­es CD19 ther­a­py from Chi­na’s Ju­ven­tas

→ A herd of up­start biotechs will look to Wall Street for some ma­jor wind­falls this week as a burst of new of­fer­ings con­tin­ues to feed cash in­to the R&D sys­tem. To­day we learned that Bridge­Bio will look to raise in the neigh­bor­hood of $225 mil­lion by of­fer­ing 15 mil­lion shares for $14 to $16 each. And they have a string of joint bookrun­ners: J.P. Mor­gan, Gold­man Sachs, Jef­feries, SVB Leerink, KKR, Piper Jaf­fray, Mizuho Se­cu­ri­ties, BMO Cap­i­tal Mar­kets and Ray­mond James. If suc­cess­ful, Bridge­Bio will emerge with a mar­ket cap of around $1.7 bil­lion. There are 5 biotechs look­ing to IPO this week, in­clud­ing Akero and Pre­vail.

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi Gen­zyme deserts gene ther­a­py de­vel­op­er Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics

While gene ther­a­py com­pa­nies re­joice as the sec­tor gains trac­tion with ap­provals and a flur­ry of M&A ac­tiv­i­ty, one play­er is feel­ing the heat.

Back in 2015, Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics joined forces with Sanofi Gen­zyme in a deal worth up to $845 mil­lion ($100 mil­lion up­front + a po­ten­tial $745 mil­lion in mile­stones) to co-de­vel­op gene ther­a­pies for se­vere cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem dis­or­ders. But two years lat­er, the French drug­mak­er re­treat­ed, elect­ing to not pick up the op­tion to work on Voy­ager’s Parkin­son’s dis­ease pro­gram. (Last year, the FDA dis­ap­point­ed Voy­ager, telling the com­pa­ny that it was not open to an ac­cel­er­at­ed fil­ing on the Parkin­son’s drug on the ba­sis of Phase II da­ta — in­stead of re­quir­ing an ad­di­tion­al piv­otal study.)

In­vestors fret as VBI's hep B vac­cine fails key sec­ondary PhI­II study goal

Sobered by mount­ing costs, Dy­navax $DVAX last month made the de­ci­sion to fo­cus all its re­sources on its 2017-ap­proved he­pati­tis B vac­cine Hep­lisav-B, which ri­vals and su­per­sedes the ef­fi­ca­cy and con­ve­nience pro­file of GSK’s $GSK es­tab­lished En­ger­ix-B. The Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pa­ny will be on the look­out for an­oth­er com­peti­tor — VBI Vac­cines, which on Mon­day un­veiled late-stage da­ta on its hep B vac­cine: Sci-B-Vac.

John Oyler, Founder & CEO of BeiGene, at the US-China Biopharma Innovation and Investment Summit in Shanghai on October 23, 2018; Credit: Endpoints News, PharmCube

UP­DAT­ED: As Bris­tol-My­ers/Cel­gene tie up loose ends, BeiGene pock­ets $150M from PD-1 breakup

As soon as Bristol-Myers Squibb announced its $74 billion buyout for Celgene, BeiGene emerged as a prominent example of a player whose pact with the big biotech could sour, as its PD-1 candidate seems to overlap with Opdivo. After six months of suspense, the partners say they are finally bringing the 2-year-old deal to an amicable end.

BeiGene $BGNE gets $150 million for the termination in addition to full global rights to tislelizumab. In 2017 Celgene had paid $263 million in upfront license fees to develop the PD-1 inhibitor for solid cancers in the US, Europe, Japan and the rest of the world outside Asia. It also threw in a $150 million equity investment in exchange for BeiGene handling its commercial operations — think Abraxane, Revlimid and Vidaza — in China.

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Exterior of the 1 million square foot Discovery Labs in Upper Merion, PA (PR Newswire)

Philadel­phia cham­pi­ons life sci­ences 'co-work­ing,' re­viv­ing for­mer GSK cam­pus in $500M makeover

In a boost to Philadel­phia’s thriv­ing life sci­ences scene, a for­mer Glax­o­SmithK­line cam­pus and a near­by site has been turned in­to what its de­vel­op­er calls “the largest cowork­ing ecosys­tem” for health­care com­pa­nies in the coun­try.

The Dis­cov­ery Labs, a com­pa­ny spawned by MLP Ven­tures, has se­lect­ed two lo­ca­tions in the King of Prus­sia area as the $500 mil­lion test case for its strat­e­gy of ac­quir­ing and con­vert­ing old phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal R&D fa­cil­i­ties world­wide. The sites add up to 1.64 mil­lion square feet.

Gene ther­a­pies seize the top of the list of the most ex­pen­sive drugs on the plan­et — and that trend has just be­gun

Anyone looking for a few simple reasons why the gene therapy field has caught fire with the pharma giants need only look at the new list of the 10 most expensive therapies from GoodRx.

Two recently approved gene therapies sit atop this list, with Novartis’ Zolgensma crowned the king of the priciest drugs at $2.1 million. Right below is Luxturna, the $850,000 pioneer from Spark, which Roche is pushing hard to acquire as it adds a gene therapy group to the global mix.

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Neil Woodford, Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Un­der siege, in­vest­ment man­ag­er Wood­ford faces an­oth­er in­vest­ment shock

Em­bat­tled UK fund man­ag­er Neil Wood­ford — who has con­tro­ver­sial­ly blocked in­vestors from pulling out from his flag­ship fund to stem the blood­let­ting, af­ter a slew of dis­ap­point­ed in­vestors fled fol­low­ing a se­ries of sour bets — is now pay­ing the price for his ac­tions via an in­vestor ex­o­dus on an­oth­er fund.

Har­g­reaves Lans­down, which has in the past sold and pro­mot­ed the Wood­ford funds via its re­tail in­vest­ment plat­form, has re­port­ed­ly with­drawn £45 mil­lion — its en­tire po­si­tion — from the in­vest­ment man­ag­er’s In­come Fo­cus Fund.