With $500M-plus, a buy­out and two new bil­lion-dol­lar pacts, up­start Vir is ready to roll on in­fec­tious dis­eases

George Scan­gos has been busy since leav­ing Bio­gen’s helm and jump­ing to the start­up Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy in San Fran­cis­co. Now it’s time for the com­ing out par­ty, which in­volves de­vel­op­ment al­liances with two of the biotechs back at his for­mer base in Cam­bridge, MA. And ac­cord­ing to Scan­gos, Vir is still just get­ting start­ed in build­ing a whole new com­pa­ny.

To­day Scan­gos un­veiled a biotech buy­out, two bil­lion-dol­lar drug de­vel­op­ment deals to build the pipeline, more than $500 mil­lion in fi­nanc­ing from some high-rolling tech gam­blers and four aca­d­e­m­ic part­ner­ships at Vir, which has set out to cre­ate a new pipeline for in­fec­tious dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment.

Let’s kick this off with the part­ner­ships.

Robert Nelsen, Arch Ven­tures

Al­nyam gets it start­ed with a pact cov­er­ing RNAi drugs for in­fec­tious dis­eases, with Vir bag­ging de­vel­op­ment rights for a next-gen he­pati­tis B drug along with rights to four oth­er pro­grams that go in­to the pack­age. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Al­ny­lam si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly said it’s ax­ing its orig­i­nal ear­ly-stage hep B pro­gram for ALN-HBV and re­plac­ing it with an amped up suc­ces­sor dubbed ALN-HBV02.

In the Al­ny­lam pact, Vir will pick up the pro­gram for the first hu­man proof-of-con­cept study, with the part­ners co-fund­ing the work. Vir takes con­trol in Phase II and Al­ny­lam has an op­tion to jump in­to a prof­it-shar­ing pact ahead of Phase III.

Al­ny­lam gets an un­spec­i­fied up­front in cash and stock in Vir, with $1 bil­lion-plus in mile­stones.

Then there’s Vis­ter­ra. This biotech has built a plat­form us­ing an epi­tope-tar­get­ing tech that can be used for pre­ci­sion an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment.

Vir has bagged an op­tion on mi­nor­i­ty rights to VIS410 for in­fluen­za A hos­pi­tal cas­es with a shot at a re­gion­al co-pro­mo­tion li­cense, plus pro­grams for RSV, fun­gal in­fec­tions and two oth­er pro­grams to be de­cid­ed on. Vis­ter­ra al­so gets more than a bil­lion dol­lars in po­ten­tial mile­stones.

Build­ing its own plat­form, Vir has ac­quired Switzer­land’s Hum­abs Bio­Med SA for an un­spec­i­fied amount, adding its op­er­a­tions and staff, who will re­main in Eu­rope.

The four new aca­d­e­m­ic deals cov­er an AI col­lab­o­ra­tion for drug dis­cov­ery with Stan­ford; a part­ner­ship with Har­vard that will give Vir an in-li­cens­ing edge for fu­ture pro­grams; an ex­pand­ed pact with OHSU and an al­liance with the Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­ter for cell ther­a­pies.

Pay­ing for all this is a syn­di­cate that was led by Arch Ven­tures’ Robert Nelsen, who seed­ed the com­pa­ny, along with the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, Al­ti­tude Life Sci­ence Ven­tures and Al­ta Part­ners. They’re joined by Soft­Bank Vi­sion Fund, Temasek, Bail­lie Gif­ford, the Alas­ka Per­ma­nent Fund, and se­lect sov­er­eign wealth funds, pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­ly of­fices and in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors.

Scan­gos calls Vir a sci­ence-dri­ven com­pa­ny, but it’s very much fo­cused on clin­i­cal stage de­vel­op­ment. In a state­ment, he not­ed:

“We ex­pect to move sev­er­al com­pounds in­to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment in the next 18 months and we have an op­tion to ac­quire a por­tion of a Phase II com­pound tar­get­ing flu. We al­so con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate sev­er­al near-term op­por­tu­ni­ties to ac­quire ad­di­tion­al mid- and late-stage clin­i­cal com­pounds, as well as ex­pand our tech­nol­o­gy base even fur­ther. We have hired an ex­pe­ri­enced man­age­ment team and built in­ter­nal tech­nol­o­gy de­vel­op­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­quired for the pro­duc­tion of bi­o­log­i­cal prod­ucts. I am pleased that in our first year we have been able to align lead­ing ideas, tech­nol­o­gy, and ex­per­tise fo­cused on trans­form­ing the care of peo­ple with se­ri­ous in­fec­tious dis­eases and pro­vid­ing a re­turn to our in­vestors.”

George Scan­gos pic­tured dur­ing a TV in­ter­view on Jan­u­ary 12, 2016. David Paul Mor­ris/Bloomberg via Get­ty Im­ages

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”

UP­DAT­ED: Chica­go biotech ar­gues blue­bird, Third Rock 'killed' its ri­val, pi­o­neer­ing tha­lassemia gene ther­a­py in law­suit

Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.

Gilead baits new al­liance with $45M up­front, div­ing in­to the busy pro­tein degra­da­tion field

Gilead is jump­ing on board the pro­tein degra­da­tion band­wag­on. And they’re turn­ing to a low-pro­file Third Rock start­up for the ex­per­tise. But if you were look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion­al deal to kick up fresh en­thu­si­asm for Gilead, you’ll have to re­main pa­tient.

This one will have a long way to go be­fore they get in­to the clin­ic.

The big biotech said Wednes­day morn­ing that it is pay­ing $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing a whop­ping $2.3 bil­lion in biotech bucks if San Fran­cis­co-based Nurix can point the way to new can­cer ther­a­pies, as well as drugs for oth­er, un­spec­i­fied dis­eases.