Ver­tex sharp­ens fo­cus on gene-edit­ing in li­cens­ing deal with Mer­ck KGaA

Two years ago Mer­ck KGaA splurged $230 mil­lion to li­cense all the rights to four on­col­o­gy pro­grams, in­clud­ing a DNA-de­pen­dent pro­tein ki­nase (DNA-PK) in­hibitor, from cys­tic fi­bro­sis drug­mak­er Ver­tex. On Thurs­day, the Ger­man drug­mak­er al­lowed Ver­tex ac­cess to the com­pound via a li­cens­ing deal for use in the field of gene edit­ing.

No fi­nan­cial de­tails were pro­vid­ed for the new trans­ac­tion, which al­so en­ables Ver­tex to ac­cess to an undis­closed pre­clin­i­cal com­pound. The DNA-PK in­hibitor — M9831 (for­mer­ly known as VX-984) — and the pre­clin­i­cal drug were li­censed to Mer­ck from Ver­tex in Jan­u­ary 2017 and are now part of the Darm­stadt-based com­pa­ny’s ar­se­nal of DNA Dam­age Re­sponse (DDR) in­hibitors.

Dam­age to the DNA in cells oc­curs every day and con­se­quent­ly the DDR mon­i­tors im­pact, ini­ti­ates re­pair and halts cell growth dur­ing the re­build­ing process. But in pa­tients with can­cer there is a high fre­quen­cy of DDR de­fects which cul­mi­nate in the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of DNA dam­age, giv­ing rise to mu­ta­tions that pro­mote un­bri­dled can­cer cell growth and/or en­able nor­mal cells to evade apop­to­sis. Al­though can­cer cells may ben­e­fit from DDR de­fects, oth­er func­tion­ing DNA re­pair sys­tems are re­quired for sur­vival. DDR in­hibitors thus of­fer an op­por­tu­ni­ty to fight can­cer by se­lec­tive­ly killing can­cer cells via the sup­pres­sion of stand­by DDR mech­a­nisms and spar­ing nor­mal healthy cells that are not de­pen­dent on these path­ways.

Mer­ck’s port­fo­lio of DDR in­hibitors in­cludes two ATR in­hibitors, an ATM in­hibitor and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al small-mol­e­cule of DNA-PK, which is a key en­zyme that could po­ten­tial­ly en­hance the ef­fi­ca­cy of DNA-dam­ag­ing agents such as ra­dio­ther­a­py and chemother­a­py. Pre­clin­i­cal da­ta has shown DNA-PK in­hi­bi­tion can al­so aug­ment CRISPR/Cas9-me­di­at­ed gene edit­ing, the com­pa­ny said.

With this deal, Ver­tex is sharp­en­ing its fo­cus in­to gene edit­ing. The Boston biotech, which oust­ed its COO and in­ter­im CFO Ian Smith for im­prop­er per­son­al con­duct on Wednes­day, is al­ready col­lab­o­rat­ing with CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics to eval­u­ate the lat­ter’s CRISPR gene edit­ing tech­nol­o­gy to po­ten­tial­ly fix the mu­ta­tions in the CFTR gene un­der­stood to re­sult in the de­fec­tive pro­tein that caus­es cys­tic fi­bro­sis, as well as oth­er ge­net­ic dis­or­ders. Their ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ment, CTX001, was grant­ed fast track sta­tus by the FDA ear­li­er this month for sick­le cell dis­ease.

Un­der the new Mer­ck/Ver­tex deal, Mer­ck will re­ceive an up­front pay­ment and is el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive mile­stone pay­ments and  roy­al­ties from po­ten­tial drug sales, and Ver­tex has the op­tion to add in­di­ca­tions to the li­cense grant. Over­all, Mer­ck re­tains the rights to both as­sets in all oth­er dis­ease ar­eas, in­clud­ing on­col­o­gy, and can de­vel­op both these com­pounds in-house, or li­cense them to oth­er com­pa­nies for use in the gene edit­ing field.

Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

Daniel O'Day [via AP Images]

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead un­leash­es a $5B late-stage cash al­liance with Gala­pa­gos — lay­ing out O'­Day's R&D strat­e­gy

Daniel O’Day is executing his first major development deal since taking over as CEO of Gilead $GILD. And he’s going in deep to ally himself with a longstanding partner.

O’Day announced today that he is spending $5 billion in cash to add new late-stage drugs to Gilead’s pipeline, picking up rights to Galapagos’ $GLPG Phase III IPF drug GLPG1690 alongside adoption of the biotech’s Phase IIb drug GLPG1972 for osteoarthritis. And Gilead is also putting billions more on the table for milestones, gaining options for everything else in Galapagos’ pipeline, with a shot at all rights outside of Europe.

Altogether, Gilead is gaining rights to 6 clinical-stage assets, 20 preclinical programs and everything else being hatched in translation.

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Hal Bar­ron's team at GSK scores a win with pos­i­tive Ze­ju­la PhI­II front­line study — now comes the hard part

Score one for Hal Barron and the new R&D team steering GlaxoSmithKline’s pipeline.

The pharma giant reported this morning that its recently acquired PARP, Zejula (niraparib), hit the primary endpoint on progression-free survival in a frontline maintenance setting for women suffering ovarian cancer — following chemo and regardless of their BRCA status.

GSK bet $5 billion on the Tesaro buyout primarily to get this drug, drawing the shaking heads of biopharma. Why pay a big premium for a drug like this when AstraZeneca was going from strength to strength with Lynparza, ran the argument, having won a hugely important accelerated approval to jump out ahead — way ahead — of the rest of the PARP players? Lynparza — now co-owned by a powerhouse cancer team at Merck — won the first approval in frontline maintenance in ovarian cancer.

Alk­er­mes adds bipo­lar I dis­or­der to its FDA wish­list; Con­go con­firms first Ebo­la case in large city

→ An ever-ambitious Alkermes $ALKS team plans to add bipolar I disorder to its list of conditions for ALKS-3831, which it plans to pitch to the FDA in Q4. Alkermes says they were persuaded to add bipolar I disorder after a pre-NDA meeting with the agency, which came about 7 months after the biotech reported positive data for schizophrenia. The drug is a combo using olanzapine/samidorphan, which they hope will be shown to be as effective as olanzapine without the substantial increase in the risk of weight gain.

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah raise a $300M fund de­vot­ed to biotech star­tups

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah have another $300 million-plus to play with on the biotech venture side of their investment business. 

The two announced Monday morning that they’ve put together their first pure-play venture fund at RA Capital Management, which has been known to bet on just about every angle in healthcare investing — from rounds to follow-on investments at public companies. This new fund of theirs arrives well into a go-go era of new startup financing, with a particular focus on building new biotechs.

Boehringer buys Swiss biotech in its lat­est M&A deal, go­ing the next-gen can­cer vac­cine route

Boehringer Ingelheim has snapped up a Swiss biotech startup and added their group as a new platform for the oncology pipeline. 

The German biopharma company has bagged Geneva-based AMAL Therapeutics, paying out an unspecified upfront in a $358 million deal — cash, milestones and everything else, all in. Plus there’s 100 million euros on the line for commercial milestones.

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Ab­b­Vie beefs up the on­col­o­gy pipeline, bag­ging an up­start STING play­er with its own unique ap­proach

AbbVie isn’t letting its $63 billion buyout of Allergan stop its M&A/deals team from continuing their work.

Monday morning we learned that the pharma giant is snapping up tiny Mavupharma out of Seattle, a Frazier-backed startup that has its own unique take on STING — which is on the threshold of their first clinical trial.

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Billing it­self as the first AI biotech to launch hu­man tri­als, Re­cur­sion adds $121M C round

Billing itself as the first AI biotech with programs in the clinic, Salt Lake City-based Recursion now has a $121 million bankroll to start gathering human data to see if it’s on the right track. 

“We’re trying to build this discovery engine,” Recursion CEO Chris Gibson tells me ahead of the C round news. “We now have the first two programs in the clinic.” And that, he adds, qualifies as a first for any AI establishment “that actually have something in the clinic.”

FDA bats back As­traZeneca's SGLT di­a­betes drug for Type 1 di­a­betes — block­ing a class on safe­ty fears

The FDA has just fired its latest salvo at the SGLT class of diabetes drugs, blowing up some commercial opportunity at AstraZeneca as part of the collateral damage.

The pharma giant reported early Monday that the FDA has rejected its blockbuster drug Farxiga for Type 1 diabetes that can’t be controlled by insulin. And while the pharma giant maintained its usual grim silence in the face of a setback, this one should be easy to interpret.