With sparse R&D prospects, In­cyte bets $900M on Mor­phoSys' CAR-T ri­val taf­a­sita­m­ab

Hav­ing suf­fered a string of pipeline set­backs in re­cent years, In­cyte is rein­vig­o­rat­ing its R&D prospects with a pact to de­vel­op and mar­ket Mor­phoSys’ an­ti-CD19 an­ti­body taf­a­sita­m­ab, a drug be­ing primed as an al­lur­ing al­ter­na­tive to the ex­ist­ing CAR-T ther­a­pies Kym­ri­ah and Yescar­ta in pa­tients with a com­mon, treat­ment-re­sis­tant form of non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma.

Un­der the deal, Mor­phoSys and In­cyte will co-com­mer­cial­ize taf­a­sita­m­ab in the Unit­ed States, while In­cyte has ex­clu­sive com­mer­cial­iza­tion rights out­side the re­gion. For these rights, In­cyte is giv­ing Mor­phoSys an up­front pay­ment of $750 mil­lion as well as mak­ing an eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment worth $150 mil­lion in the com­pa­ny. The Ger­man drug­mak­er is al­so el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive mile­stone pay­ments of up to $1.1 bil­lion, in ad­di­tion to roy­al­ties.

Mor­phoSys ex­pects the FDA to make its de­ci­sion on taf­a­sita­m­ab, or MOR208, for use in pa­tients with re­lapsed or re­frac­to­ry dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma (DL­B­CL) by mid-2020.

The ap­pli­ca­tion to mar­ket the drug was based on da­ta that showed taf­a­sita­m­ab, in com­bi­na­tion with lenalido­mide, in­duced me­di­an pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival of 12.1 months, with a me­di­an du­ra­tion of re­sponse at 21.7 months. The over­all re­sponse rate among 80 pa­tients was 60%, with a for­mi­da­ble 43% com­plete re­sponse rate.

It will com­pete with No­var­tis’ Kym­ri­ah — which se­cured ap­proval for DL­B­CL in 2018 based on an over­all re­sponse rate of 50%, and a com­plete re­sponse rate of 32% in 68 evalu­able pa­tients — al­though its adop­tion has been plagued by man­u­fac­tur­ing prob­lems, mak­ing way for Gilead’s Yescar­ta to deep­er pen­e­trate the CAR-T mar­ket. Taf­a­sita­m­ab — which has been be­stowed with the FDA’s break­through ther­a­py sta­tus — is a gar­den va­ri­ety an­ti­body un­like the two CAR-T ther­a­pies, which re­quire an elab­o­rate per­son­al­ized man­u­fac­tur­ing process (cells are iso­lat­ed from the pa­tient, ma­nip­u­lat­ed in the lab by adding chimeric anti­gen re­cep­tors to di­rect T cells to snuff out can­cer cells and then re-in­fused in­to the pa­tient).

The two part­ners are al­so plan­ning to co-de­vel­op taf­a­sita­m­ab in oth­er DL­B­CL in­di­ca­tions, as well as fol­lic­u­lar lym­phoma (FL), mar­gin­al zone lym­phoma (MZL) and chron­ic lym­pho­cyt­ic leukemia (CLL).

In 2019, Mor­phoSys saw some top man­age­ment changes and some re­or­ga­ni­za­tion as the com­pa­ny pre­pared for taf­a­sita­m­ab’s loom­ing ap­proval. When the com­pa­ny’s 17-year vet­er­an Markus En­zel­berg­er de­part­ed from his post as chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, the com­pa­ny’s re­search arm was merged in­to the de­vel­op­ment di­vi­sion un­der chief Malte Pe­ters. CEO Si­mon Mo­roney al­so un­veiled plans he would step aside — he was re­placed by Jean-Paul Kress, the for­mer CEO of Boston’s Syn­tim­mune, which was swal­lowed by Alex­ion.

The Mor­phoSys deal is key for In­cyte — ear­li­er this month the drug­mak­er’s ex­per­i­men­tal itac­i­tinib failed a piv­otal study, dubbed GRAV­I­TAS-301, in first-line acute graft vs host dis­ease.

“While itac­i­tinib did not rep­re­sent a ma­jor fun­da­men­tal dri­ver of val­ue in our mod­el, ~ $5/share, we be­lieve the fail­ure of GRAV­I­TAS-301, which fol­lows three pri­or high pro­file pipeline dis­ap­point­ments in four years (Jakafi in sol­id tu­mors, epaca­do­stat, and Olu­mi­ant), may lead some in­vestors to ques­tion the com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty to con­sis­tent­ly gen­er­ate val­ue from R&D in­vest­ment,” SVB Leerink An­drew Berens wrote in a note in ear­ly Jan­u­ary.

In­cyte for years has leaned on its flag­ship JAK in­hibitor Jakafi, which se­cured about $1.2 bil­lion in sales in the first three quar­ters of 2019.

“We be­lieve this is a sol­id deal, as the tafa pro­file ap­pears to be the best-in-class CD19/CD20 for the treat­ment of R/R dif­fuse large B-cell lym­phoma (DL­B­CL), giv­en the to­tal­i­ty da­ta of ef­fi­ca­cy, safe­ty, and treat­ment con­ve­nience. While the deal could so­lid­i­fy IN­CY’s pipeline and fur­ther di­ver­si­fy rev­enue, we be­lieve the deal may dis­ap­point some in­vestors who are look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tive deal to strate­gi­cal­ly ex­tend the Jakafi in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty run­way be­yond 2027,” Berens wrote in a note on Mon­day.

“Giv­en the SVB Leerink’s es­ti­mate of taf­a­sita­m­ab’s world­wide peak sales of ~$1bn, we al­so think deal might not be suf­fi­cient to po­ten­tial­ly re­place Jakafi rev­enue for the long term. Al­so, due to the fi­nan­cial terms, it is un­clear to us when the com­pa­ny would be ca­pa­ble of do­ing a more trans­for­ma­tive deal.”

So­cial im­age: In­cyte, AP Im­ages

Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 83,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 83,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 83,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 83,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.