Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It must be two-for-one week on private biotechs

It was always a question of when, not if. Amgen needed to do something to provide for its post-EPO future; now the action has started. Today's acquisition of private Alantos, for $300 million in cash, takes this week's shopping bill for Amgen up to $720 million. Just a couple of days ago it snapped up Ilypsa for $420 million.

Ilypsa fits nicely with Amgen’s existing nephrology franchise: the company’s focused on renal disorders and has a Phase II candidate to treat high blood phosphate in dialysis patients. But Alantos takes Amgen into new, uncharted territory: diabetes.

Now granted, diabetes is a huge and expanding market—that’s why, as Amgen’s executives made clear to IN VIVO last month, it’s a development priority (along with cardiovascular disease). It’s the only primary care area where sales forces are increasing, not shrinking; the number of US reps has doubled to 10,000 in the last five years.

But it’s also gotten highly competitive, with Big Pharma including Merck & Co., Novartis and Roche all piling in. Amgen may have taken faith from the spectacular performance of Merck’s DPP-IV inhibitor Januvia, in the same class as Alantos lead Phase IIa program. But will there be room for many more in the same class?

Not according to Novo Nordisk, who pulled out of the oral anti-diabetics space earlier this year. They might just have sour grapes, since their own DPP-IVs failed several years ago, and the variety of DPP-IVs out there all bind the target differently, with differing degrees of safety and efficacy. But there’s another shadow over the class: GLP-1 analogs (glucagon-like peptide-1 analogs).

For a variety of reasons that you can read about in the forthcoming issue of IN VIVO, many experts believe that GLP-1s, not DPP-IVs, are the place to be in diabetes. Sure, DPP-IVs are oral, GLP-1s are injected. But, getting back to Amgen, it’s not as if they don’t know about proteins.

All that said: good for Amgen. At least they’re doing something, and who knows, maybe Alantos’ DPP-IV will trump Merck's in efficacy or safety (although if so, Amgen will want to take back ex-US rights, which were licensed last October to Servier). Meanwhile Alantos’ investors have done okay—the company has raised a little under $60 million since its foundation (as Therascope AG) in Germany in 1999. --Melanie Senior & Chris Morrison

No comments: