Ver­tex is re­or­ga­niz­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing R&D, shut­ter­ing a site in Cana­da

Ver­tex has pulled out the ax in a move to chop down the size of its R&D op­er­a­tion.

The big biotech not­ed in its 10-K that the com­pa­ny de­cid­ed last month to shut­ter a re­search site in Cana­da while “con­sol­i­dat­ing” R&D in three lo­ca­tions scat­tered across the coun­try. And com­pa­ny sources tell me that there have been a num­ber of re­cent cuts as well in the home­town R&D group in Boston stretch­ing back over the past year.

From the 10-K: “In Feb­ru­ary 2017, we de­cid­ed to con­sol­i­date our re­search ac­tiv­i­ties in­to our Boston, Mil­ton Park and San Diego lo­ca­tions and are in the process of clos­ing our re­search site in Cana­da.”

A spokesper­son for the com­pa­ny con­firmed the con­sol­i­da­tion to me, say­ing that it had al­ready been an­nounced, and added that “we will con­tin­ue to in­vest sig­nif­i­cant­ly in sci­en­tif­ic in­no­va­tion.”

“There were no lay­offs in Boston re­search,” the spokesper­son added lat­er. “Our plan is to con­tin­ue to in­crease the num­ber of peo­ple in our re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Ver­tex staffers, though, tell me that there were some lay­offs in the Boston R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion, though there were “not many.” The cuts were main­ly aimed at the “Old Guard, from what I saw,” one added. The last round ac­count­ed for “on­ly ten or twelve,” I’m told, “but there have been oth­ers over the last year or so.”

They asked not to be iden­ti­fied, as they weren’t au­tho­rized to speak on the cuts.

A for­mer Ver­tex staffer told me, al­so anony­mous­ly, that the com­pa­ny fre­quent­ly used such “stealth lay­offs” to root out 10 to 15 re­search staffers in par­tic­u­lar groups at a time. None of them were an­nounced, as new hires were brought in and the over­all head­count didn’t drop.

That’s the ex­act same strat­e­gy that Bio­gen staffers laid out to me a few years ago.

Fan Pier Ver­tex Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals Lab­o­ra­to­ry Re­search/Head­quar­ters, 50 North­ern Av­enue (Turn­er Con­struc­tion Com­pa­ny)

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R&D dis­rup­tion is the or­der of the day in well-es­tab­lished bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies. Mer­ck, As­traZeneca and Am­gen are all go­ing through the lat­est re­struc­tur­ings, fol­low­ing huge cuts with­in the last few years. In most cas­es, these com­pa­nies are shut­ter­ing out­ly­ing op­er­a­tions and con­cen­trat­ing forces in their top hubs.

Ver­tex, which is care­ful­ly fo­cused on cys­tic fi­bro­sis, is a bell­wether com­pa­ny in the big Boston hub. Just a few months ago Ver­tex sold off a slate of can­cer ther­a­pies to Mer­ck KGaA for $230 mil­lion up­front. Mer­ck KGaA took over pro­grams on an atax­ia telang­iec­ta­sia and Rad3 re­lat­ed (ATR) pro­tein ki­nase in­hibitor pro­gram — cov­er­ing VX-970 and VX-803 – as well as a DNA-de­pen­dent pro­tein ki­nase (DNA-PK) in­hibitor pro­gram for VX-984.

Last sum­mer Ver­tex al­so scrapped a late-stage study us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of VX-661 and its all im­por­tant cys­tic fi­bro­sis drug Ka­ly­de­co (iva­caftor) in peo­ple with one copy of the F508del mu­ta­tion and one copy of a mu­ta­tion that re­sults in min­i­mal CFTR pro­tein func­tion (F508del het/min). The study stum­bled in its first phase, with­out an im­prove­ment in lung func­tion.

VX-661 is Ver­tex’s sec­ond-gen cor­rec­tor, a suc­ces­sor to the first-gen cor­rec­tor lumacaftor, in­clud­ed in the drug com­bi­na­tion for Orkam­bi. Two third-gen cor­rec­tors, VX-152 and VX-440, have been in ear­ly-stage stud­ies as Ver­tex plumbs new ap­proach­es that can treat CF bet­ter than Orkam­bi, which has suf­fered a high dropout rate. The treat­ment tar­gets the un­der­ly­ing ge­net­ic cause of the dis­ease.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

FDA re­jects Ac­er's rare dis­ease drug, asks for new tri­al — shares crater

Ac­er Ther­a­peu­tics’ bid to re­pur­pose celipro­lol — a be­ta-block­er on the mar­ket for hy­per­ten­sion — as a treat­ment for a rare, in­her­it­ed con­nec­tive tis­sue dis­or­der has hit a se­vere set­back. The New­ton, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny on Tues­day said the FDA re­ject­ed the drug and has asked for an­oth­er clin­i­cal tri­al.

The com­pa­ny’s shares $AC­ER cratered near­ly 77% to $4.47 in Tues­day morn­ing trad­ing.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Bris­tol-My­ers star Op­di­vo fails sur­vival test in a matchup with Nex­avar aimed at shak­ing up the big HCC mar­ket

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has suf­fered an­oth­er painful set­back in its years-long quest to ex­pand the reach of Op­di­vo. The phar­ma gi­ant this morn­ing not­ed that their Check­mate-459 study com­par­ing Op­di­vo with Bay­er’s Nex­avar in front­line cas­es of he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma — the most com­mon form of liv­er can­cer — failed to hit the pri­ma­ry end­point on over­all sur­vival.

This was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in Bris­tol-My­ers’ tal­ly of PD-1 cat­a­lysts this year. Nex­avar (so­rafenib) has been the stan­dard of care in front­line HCC for the past decade, though Op­di­vo has been mak­ing head­way in sec­ond-line HCC cas­es, where it’s go­ing toe-to-toe with Bay­er’s Sti­var­ga (re­go­rafenib) af­ter re­cent ap­provals shook up the mar­ket.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus grabs the ax and packs it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of set­backs

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.

Ab­b­Vie gets a green light to re­sume re­cruit­ing pa­tients for one myelo­ma study — but Ven­clex­ta re­mains un­der a cloud

Three months af­ter reg­u­la­tors at the FDA forced Ab­b­Vie to halt en­rolling pa­tients in its tri­als of a com­bi­na­tion us­ing Ven­clex­ta (vene­to­clax) to treat drug-re­sis­tant cas­es of mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, the agency has green-light­ed the re­sump­tion of one of those stud­ies, while keep­ing the rest on the side­lines.

The CANO­VA (M13-494) study can now get back in busi­ness re­cruit­ing pa­tients to test the drug for a pop­u­la­tion that shares a par­tic­u­lar ge­net­ic bio­mark­er. To get that per­mis­sion, Ab­b­Vie — which is part­nered with Roche on this pro­gram — was forced to re­vise the pro­to­col, mak­ing un­spec­i­fied changes in­volv­ing risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, pro­to­col-spec­i­fied guide­lines and an up­dat­ed fu­til­i­ty cri­te­ria.