With PD-1 OK loom­ing, Re­gen­eron antes $100M on blue­bird al­liance for next-gen TCR cell ther­a­py pact

Some­time in the next few months, we’re like­ly to see the FDA come through with an ap­proval for the world’s 6th PD-1/L1 check­point in­hibitor from Re­gen­eron $REGN and its long­time de­vel­op­ment part­ners at Sanofi. But now the fast-grow­ing Re­gen­eron is al­so al­ly­ing it­self with blue­bird bio $BLUE, putting up $100 mil­lion in eq­ui­ty cash on a 50/50 de­vel­op­ment deal aimed at cre­at­ing a new pipeline of cell ther­a­pies with an eye to ex­pand­ing the hori­zon in on­col­o­gy with a new set of T cell re­cep­tor tar­gets.

The top sci­en­tists at blue­bird and Re­gen­eron took time Sun­day to pre­view a deal that moves the small­er com­pa­ny well past the BC­MA pro­gram it has put in the spot­light, while the an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment ex­perts at Re­gen­eron work their tech plat­form for 6 undis­closed tar­gets used to kick off the 5-year al­liance.

The mar­ket loved the idea, send­ing blue­bird’s shares up 7% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing.

In a typ­i­cal al­liance in­volv­ing a big­ger com­pa­ny, says Re­gen­eron R&D chief George Yan­copou­los, mak­ing a stren­u­ous ef­fort to dis­tin­guish this deal from the pack, you see a dom­i­nant play­er look­ing to add a par­tic­u­lar kind of ex­per­i­men­tal drug to the pipeline.

This isn’t that kind of deal.

“When I say we’re in­ter­est­ed in blue­bird bio,” says the Re­gen­eron co-founder, “it wasn’t for any par­tic­u­lar can­di­date.”

Philip Gre­go­ry

In­stead, says blue­bird CSO Phil Gre­go­ry, this is about a CAR-T and gene ther­a­py ex­pert, blue­bird, al­ly­ing it­self with a com­pa­ny that makes “the best binders that ex­ist.”

“Both com­pa­nies are en­tire­ly all in,” from the CEO on down, adds Yan­copou­los with all the in­ten­si­ty the in­dus­try has come to ex­pect from one of the most pro­duc­tive — and best paid — R&D di­rec­tors in the in­dus­try. “This is a ma­jor fo­cus for us.”

Re­gen­eron orig­i­nat­ed the idea, he adds, and made it hap­pen with a $100 mil­lion up­front for an eq­ui­ty stake in blue­bird, with a hefty pre­mi­um built in to blue­bird’s al­ready con­sid­er­able stock price.  But it’s not splurg­ing. Re­gen­eron’s price bakes in a $37 mil­lion pre­mi­um, which will be used to pay for its first round of re­search costs in the part­ner­ship.

For Re­gen­eron and blue­bird, it’s a chance to con­sid­er­ably widen the hori­zon of cell ther­a­py tar­gets — adding a va­ri­ety of in­tra­cel­lu­lar TCR tar­gets. And blue­bird fat­tens a cash re­serve that was re­cent­ly built up with a whop­ping $632 mil­lion raise, as it looks to tran­si­tion to a com­mer­cial stage with an up­com­ing fil­ing on β-tha­lassemia and more da­ta for bb2121.

The part­ners built the terms for a marathon pact, run­ning ini­tial­ly for 5 years but with terms that would al­low them to con­tin­ue to move on in cre­at­ing a pipeline to­geth­er. I asked the usu­al ques­tions. What are the first tar­gets? When will they make it to the clin­ic and in­to hu­man pa­tients?

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, those cards will re­main close to the vest for now. But both com­pa­nies are well known for a fo­cus on prod­ucts and per­for­mance. So it’s not an in­def­i­nite si­lence.

As both com­pa­nies close in on the on­col­o­gy mar­ket, where a myr­i­ad of con­tenders are look­ing to make their mark, they’re sat­is­fied to­day that they are stronger to­geth­er, than apart.

Im­age: George Yan­copou­los. 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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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.

A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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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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Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.

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.”

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.