Vir chief Scangos picks Herbert ‘Skip’ Virgin to run R&D; Ardelyx forges $160M deal with Kyowa Hakko Kirin

Herbert “Skip” Virgin

A month ago George Scangos blazed through a biotech buyout, two billion-dollar drug development deals and more than $500 million in financing to build a pipeline of new therapies for infectious diseases at his startup biotech Vir. Now he’s selected Herbert “Skip” Virgin as R&D chief and CSO. Virgin is joining Vir from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, where he has served as the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology & Immunology since 2006.

Ardelyx $ARDX is picking up a $30 million upfront in a pact with Kyowa Hakko Kirin covering the Japanese rights to its late-stage drug tenapanor for cardiorenal diseases. The licensing deal also includes $130 million in milestones and high-teens for the royalties.

PNC Bank is acquiring The Trout Group, the investor relations and strategic advisory firm that boasts a global list of clients including Tocagen, Genfit and Zai Lab. Under the definitive agreement, announced Monday, Trout will be combined with PNC subsidiary Solebury Communications — a similar but not industry-specific firm — to become Solebury Trout Communications. Trout founder/CEO Jonathan Fassberg will be retained as one of three co-CEOs, serving alongside Solebury’s Jeff Grossman and Lisa Wolford. The new company will be double the size of 30-strong Trout, and will likely expand access to biotech banking business for PNC.

→ Limited supply of customized viruses crucial to the delivery of gene therapy is holding up biotechs developing such novel treatment, The New York Times reports. With an expensive and arduous procedure, the few firms capable of manufacturing these disabled viruses for clinical trials are “swamped with orders and requests.” A GEN column published earlier this month describes the issue as a “capacity crunch,” with BioPlan Associates estimating that the CMO shortfall in worldwide cell/gene therapy is 5 times current capacity. A ready source of virus is becoming paramount; so much so that BioMarin has decided to build its own manufacturing plant. As CMO MilliporeSigma’s Udit Batra tells the NYT, “It’s a real issue.”

Scotland’s Sympromics is collaborating with UCL on a gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Their first target looking to control gene expression will be Young-Onset Parkinson’s disease.

Gilead’s Solvaldi is finally selling in China, and the biotech giant $GILD is charging just shy of $9,000 for a 12-week regimen — a fraction of the US price of $84,000. The launch, first reported by Chinese outlets, comes two months after the hepatitis C drug nailed an approval from the CFDA. China accounts for 10 out of 130 million hep C patients worldwide, Caixin observes. Solvaldi is the first direct anti-viral agent in China, but it won’t be the last. Bristol-Myers Squibb $BMY and Johnson & Johnson $JNJ are already racing to market their own products after nabbing CFDA approvals on Gilead’s heels.

→ The FDA has given CytomX $CTMX the OK on its IND for the company’s CTLA-4 probody therapeutic, being developed in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb. CTLA-4 is the target of BMS’ checkpoint inhibitor Yervoy, and is the first target to get to the clinic under the companies’ partnership formed in 2014. The IND acceptance gets CytomX a $10 million milestone payment, bringing the total payments from the deal to over $275 million — with $4.8 billion still available in potential milestones.

→ Cincinnati biotech CinRx just closed $10 million in a Series B to advance several drug candidates in diverse indications, ranging from large markets to orphan indications. The company plans to file an IND in the first half of 2018 for its most advanced program, CIN-102, for the treatment of gastroparesis. This latest round, led by undisclosed new and existing investors, follows a $26 million Series A closed in 2015. The company’s pipeline includes treatments for gastrointestinal disorders including IBS, along with cardiovascular disease and dermatology.

Brittany Meiling and John Carroll contributed to this report.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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