Ver­tex beefs up gene-edit­ing work with new dis­cov­ery pact; Ver­ri­ca shares jump on mol­lus­cum drug da­ta; J&J's inks two deals

→ Four months af­ter Ver­tex $VRTX and its al­lies at CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics got start­ed on their first tri­al us­ing gene edit­ing tech for be­ta tha­lassemia, the Boston-based biotech is broad­en­ing its base in the field with a new re­search part­ner­ship. 

Ver­tex an­nounced Thurs­day morn­ing that it has drawn up a new pact in which Ar­bor Biotech­nolo­gies will fo­cus on dis­cov­er­ing pro­teins as they ad­vance gene-edit­ing tech on cys­tic fi­bro­sis and “four oth­er dis­eases to be se­lect­ed lat­er.”

The deal comes with up­front cash, re­search sup­port, mile­stones and more — none of which we learn any­thing about in de­tail.

“Ar­bor’s pro­pri­etary high-through­put screen­ing plat­form will en­hance our on­go­ing ef­forts to de­vel­op in­no­v­a­tive gene-edit­ing ther­a­pies,” not­ed Ver­tex R&D chief David Alt­shuler.

→ Shares of Ver­ri­ca Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $VR­CA shot up 18% this morn­ing af­ter the West Chester, PA-based biotech re­port­ed pos­i­tive re­sults from its Phase III CAMP-1 and CAMP-2 piv­otal tri­als with VP-102 for mol­lus­cum con­ta­gio­sum. “Mol­lus­cum con­ta­gio­sum can of­ten have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the qual­i­ty of life of af­fect­ed chil­dren, ex­ac­er­bat­ed by the skin ir­ri­ta­tion and in­flam­ma­tion that can re­sult as com­pli­ca­tions of the dis­ease. The high le­sion clear­ance rate demon­strat­ed at Day 84 for VP-102 com­pared to place­bo in the Phase 3 tri­als is clin­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant and could po­ten­tial­ly po­si­tion VP-102 to be­come the stan­dard of care for treat­ing mol­lus­cum,” stat­ed Lawrence Eichen­field, the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

→ It is no se­cret that lung can­cer is dif­fi­cult to di­ag­nose be­fore it has metas­ta­sized, with a small per­cent­age of cas­es de­tect­ed at an ear­ly stage, when the dis­ease is more treat­able. Ge­nom­ic di­ag­nos­tics com­pa­ny Ve­r­a­cyte $VCYT is join­ing forces with John­son & John­son $JNJ to de­vel­op in­ter­ven­tions that can mea­sure ge­nom­ic changes as­so­ci­at­ed with lung can­cer via a sim­ple brush­ing of a per­son’s air­way. The col­lab­o­ra­tion is ex­pect­ed to ac­cel­er­ate two key lung can­cer pro­grams for Ve­r­a­cyte, in­clud­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the first non-in­va­sive nasal swab test for ear­ly lung can­cer de­tec­tion. Ve­r­a­cyte gets $5 mil­lion up­front and a po­ten­tial $15 mil­lion in fu­ture mile­stone pay­ments.

→ John­son & John­son $JNJ has been busy deal mak­ing. On Thurs­day, its Janssen unit said it had tied up with pre­ci­sion an­tibac­te­r­i­al drug mak­er Lo­cus Bio­sciences to de­vel­op CRISPR-en­gi­neered bac­te­rio­phage ther­a­peu­tics tar­get­ing two key bac­te­r­i­al pathogens for the po­ten­tial treat­ment of in­fec­tions of the res­pi­ra­to­ry tract and oth­er or­gan sys­tems. Lo­cus’ DNA-shred­ding tech­nol­o­gy is de­signed to pre­cise­ly and se­lec­tive­ly zap un­want­ed bac­te­ria, leav­ing the good bac­te­ria undis­turbed. Lo­cus gets $20 mil­lion in ini­tial pay­ments, and is el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive a to­tal of $798 mil­lion in po­ten­tial mile­stone pay­ments and roy­al­ties.

→ In ad­di­tion to its pact with NGM to­day, Mer­ck has al­so lined up a new dis­cov­ery deal with Cocrys­tal Phar­ma on pro­pri­etary in­fluen­za A/B an­tivi­ral agents. Cocrys­tal gets an un­spec­i­fied up­front and up to $156 mil­lion in mile­stones.

With con­tri­bu­tion by Na­tal­ie Grover.

Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

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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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.