Vivek Ra­maswamy ramps up biotech start­up #14 — this time work­ing on a gene ther­a­py for sick­le cell dis­ease and β-tha­lassemia

Vivek Ra­maswamy’s Roivant Sci­ences has nabbed its lat­est clin­i­cal-stage pro­gram for biotech start­up #14 — Aru­vant — and this time they’re go­ing up against a cou­ple of the lead­ers in the gene ther­a­py world.

Their new drug is now dubbed RVT-1801, and it has a fa­mil­iar pro­file, in­sert­ing a mod­i­fied fe­tal he­mo­glo­bin gene in­to au­tol­o­gous stem cells through a lentivi­ral ve­hi­cle in or­der to treat sick­le cell dis­ease and β-tha­lassemia.

Ac­cord­ing to the wheel­ing and deal­ing ex­ecs at Roivant, their pro­gram is “the on­ly known clin­i­cal-stage gene ther­a­py to de­liv­er the gene en­cod­ing fe­tal he­mo­glo­bin, which has been mod­i­fied to op­ti­mize oxy­gen car­ry­ing ca­pac­i­ty and an­ti-sick­ling prop­er­ties.”

The drug is com­ing from the lab of Punam Ma­lik, di­rec­tor of the Cincin­nati Com­pre­hen­sive Sick­le Cell Cen­ter at Cincin­nati Chil­dren’s, which re­ceived an undis­closed up­front pay­ment and a mile­stone sched­ule. Ma­lik is sched­uled to re­veal more about their work at the up­com­ing ASH con­fer­ence next Mon­day. 

And Ma­lik, who trained as a physi­cian in In­dia, was sold on Roivant’s strat­e­gy for de­vel­op­ing new treat­ments for pa­tients around the world.

Roivant is al­so es­tab­lish­ing a non-prof­it group to im­prove ac­cess to drugs for pa­tients in the de­vel­op­ing world.

“A crit­i­cal rea­son why we chose to work with Roivant on this pro­gram was their au­then­tic com­mit­ment to pa­tients glob­al­ly,” said the sci­en­tist.

But they won’t be op­er­at­ing alone. At least 3 oth­er biotechs are al­so spear­head­ing gene ther­a­pies for these two ail­ments.

Just weeks ago CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics $CR­SP and its part­ners at Ver­tex got a green light to start Phase I/II clin­i­cal work on CTX001, al­so de­signed to spur the pro­duc­tion of fe­tal he­mo­glo­bin in pa­tients’ stem cells. Blue­bird bio $BLUE has al­so been work­ing on a gene ther­a­py for these con­di­tions, while Sanofi’s Biover­a­tiv $BI­IV and Sang­amo $SG­MO had their IND ap­proved for a ri­val gene ther­a­py a few months ago. Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics, mean­while, is look­ing for an OK on their new sick­le cell dis­ease drug vox­elo­tor while No­var­tis and oth­ers have their own new meds in the pipeline.

Ra­maswamy has raised more than $3 bil­lion to back his grow­ing sta­ble of com­pa­nies, which now em­ploy more than 750 sci­en­tists and ex­ecs and sup­port staff around the world. 

Im­age: Vivek Ra­maswamy at BI­IS18 in Shang­hai End­points News

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.

AbbVie $ABBV has agreed to pay $188.24 a share — cash and stock — for the troubled Allergan, reflecting a 45% premium as investors bid up shares in anticipation of a much buzzed about company split. That price — with each share of Allergan worth 0.8660 AbbVie shares and $120.30 in cash — reflects a sharp fall from the $330 peak for Allergan and Saunders 4 years ago — but much better than anything shareholders had in mind for the near future.

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UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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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.

With 4 more biotech IPOs due to wrap up Q2, how is the class of 2019 far­ing?

With 22 biotech IPOs on the books and four more set to price in the last week of June, in­vest­ment ad­vis­er Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal has tak­en the pulse of the re­cent rush.

By the IPO ex­perts’ count, 25 out of 32 health­care of­fer­ings this year have been from biotechs — dif­fer­ing slight­ly from Brad Lon­car’s tal­ly — and the over­all pic­ture is one of un­der­per­for­mance. While they av­er­aged a first-day re­turn of 9.0%, col­lec­tive­ly they have trad­ed down to a 5.9% re­turn. Turn­ing Point $TP­TX and Cor­texyme $CRTX emerged on top at the half-year mark, ris­ing 135% and 109% re­spec­tive­ly.

Eye­ing a $500M peak sales pot, Almi­rall dou­bles down on le­brik­izum­ab as Der­mi­ra lines up PhI­II

With eyes on what it be­lieves is a $500 mil­lion peak rev­enue op­por­tu­ni­ty in Eu­rope, Barcelona-based Almi­rall has stepped up with $50 mil­lion in cash to take up the op­tion on Der­mi­ra’s IL-13 an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug le­brik­izum­ab just ahead of the start of Phase III. And there’s an­oth­er $30 mil­lion due as the late-stage pro­gram gets geared up.

That shouldn’t be long from now, as Der­mi­ra ex­pects to be­gin the late-stage tri­al work for atopic der­mati­tis be­fore the end of this year as it fol­lows a trail that ex­ecs in­sist leads to block­buster re­turns. Along the way, they’ll need to take on the 600-pound go­ril­la in atopic der­mati­tis: the IL-13/IL-4 drug Dupix­ent, from Re­gen­eron and Sanofi. Ri­vals al­so in­clude Leo Phar­ma, in its piv­otal with tralok­izum­ab, and Anap­tys­Bio in the hunt with a mid-stage pro­gram for etokimab, pre­vi­ous­ly re­ferred to as ANB020.

Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler, File Photo

Ox­ford, Evotec ramp up LAB10x with AI ex­perts at Sen­syne — fo­cused on biotech spin­outs

Ox­ford is al­ly­ing it­self with Evotec and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence out­fit Sen­syne Health to ramp up some new biotech spin­outs while look­ing to “ac­cel­er­ate da­ta-dri­ven drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.”

The big idea here is that Ox­ford sci­en­tists — some of the best drug hunters in the world — can uti­lize Sen­syne’s AI plat­form for their work, re­ly­ing on the chemists and hands-on de­vel­op­ers at Evotec to push ahead to a crit­i­cal proof of con­cept mo­ment. And they’ll do it through a project leader called LAB10x, which gets £5 mil­lion over the next three years to fund the work.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

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.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes weeks af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.

Alex­ion wins pri­or­i­ty re­view for Ul­tomiris' aHUS in­di­ca­tion; FDA ex­pands ap­proval of Ver­tex's Symdeko

→ Alex­ion $ALXN has scored a speedy re­view for Ul­tomiris for pa­tients with atyp­i­cal he­molyt­ic ure­mic syn­drome (aHUS) af­ter post­ing pos­i­tive da­ta from a piv­otal study in Jan­u­ary. The drug is the rare dis­ease com­pa­ny’s shot at pro­tect­ing its block­buster blood dis­or­der fran­chise that is cur­rent­ly cen­tered around its flag­ship drug, Soliris, which is a com­ple­ment in­hibitor typ­i­cal­ly ad­min­is­tered every two weeks. Ul­tomiris has a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism of ac­tion but re­quires less-fre­quent dos­ing — every eight weeks. The de­ci­sion date has been set to Oc­to­ber 19. Late last year, Ul­tomiris se­cured ap­proval for noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria (PNH) pa­tients.