Friday, May 30, 2008

Deals of the Week: Kicking Off ASCO

This weekend marks the kick-off of that other highly anticipated biotech event: the big ASCO meeting in Chicago. Appropriately, this week's deal activity in biopharmaland involved several oncology-driven pacts, which we highlight below.

Elsewhere during a short week, the US lost to England 0-2 in a football soccer 'friendly' (the corner kick captured above was among several easily cleared by the English defense) which after a spirited first thirty minutes or so seemed like a foregone conclusion. A lot like if ASCO had released all the abstracts waaaay before the meeting. Wait, they did?

Nevermind, it's time for ...

Takeda/Alnylam: Those groggy from a long Memorial Day weekend woke up to Alnylam's latest non-exclusive technology deal, a $100 million up-front alliance with Takeda Pharmaceuticals in oncology and metabolic disease. Alnylam will also get $50 million in near-term technology transfer payments. Takeda once again illustrates its willingness to spend on new technologies--we took a closer look at the deal and Takeda's recent spate of business development activity, here--and Alnylam once again manages to pull down massive upfront payments for technology it can turn around and license again tomorrow. Takeda also gets first right of negotiation on Alnylam RNAi programs in Asia (excluding ALN-RSV01) should Alnylam look for a partner there. Alnylam gets a reciprocal first right of negotiation on any project Takeda decides to shop in the US and more importantly, gets opt-in rights for 50/50 co-dev/co-commercialization deals in the US on up to four Takeda programs of its choosing (exercisable all the way through the start of Phase III), plus the usual gajillion biobucks in development and commercial milestone payments.

BMS/Kosan: Not all observers were overwhelmed by the 230% premium BMS shelled out to acquire Kosan yesterday. After all, the biotech boasted a handful of clinical-stage compounds, including the Phase III Hsp90 inhibitor tanespimycin. As we argued here, however, Bristol probably didn't attach much value to Kosan's lead project--and we should note that Kosan itself had put partnering efforts for tanespimycin on the back burner while it looked for a deal for its Phase II epothilone program, not exactly a vote of confidence. The acquisition values Kosan at $190 million, net of its cash pile, not a bad result for a company trading at a valuation on par with the value of its liquid assets. BMS is more likely interested in Kosan's epothilone programs, which also have potential in neurodegenerative disease and were the subject of an insurance policy in the event the acquisition doesn't close. If the deal falls through BMS will license Kosan's epothilone programs and IP for $25 million upfront plus milestones and royalties. BMS has pioneered this class of drug, with its Ixempra franchise, approved last October for monotherapy and combination therapy in cancer settings.

OncoGenex/Sonus: After a seven month struggle to find strategic alternatives, Bothell, WA-based Sonus Pharmaceuticals announced it had found a solution: it would merge with the Canadian drug developer OncoGenex Technologies. The combined company will be called OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals and will be run by OncoGenex CEO Scott McCormack, with bases of operations in Vancouver and Bothell. The combined entity will have have three products in clinical trials, including Sonus’ only remaining clinical candidate SN-2310. Sonus’s share price had been in a tailspin since September 2007, when it became apparent that its lead candidate, the Phase III breast cancer drug Tocosol Paclitaxel, was associated with a greater number of side-effects than the existing breast cancer regimen it was supposed to improve upon. Partner Bayer Schering promptly cut ties with Sonus, and the biotech was forced to lay-off half of its workforce in the aftermath. But the company did have two valuable bargaining chips: its Nasdaq listing and a $29 million cash reserve. Those certainly captured OncoGenex’s interest. The Canadian company had hoped to go public last year, but axed those plans due to poor market conditions. And with just $4 million in cash to support its lead product, OGX-011, currently in Phase II clinical trials for refractory prostate cancer, OncoGenex certainly needed a cash infusion.

Boston Scientific/Cryocor: Well, we’ve been down this path before haven’t we? We go on to suggest that Boston Scientific won’t be acquiring any new companies and then—just to spite us—Boston Scientific goes ahead and makes a deal. So we’re not going to point to the closing of BSX’s acquisition of CyroCor Inc. as anything more significant than it is: a $17.6 million bet on the potentially large atrial fibrillation ablation market. To be sure, Boston Scientific’s recent weight loss efforts have garnered nearly as much attention as Oprah’s. Over the past year, it’s sold off divisions, products or sizable equity stakes related to aortic aneurysm, brain monitoring, cardiac, vascular, drug pump, and hearing loss businesses. But the acquisition of CryoCor pits it against others—including St. Jude Medical—in the atrial fibrillation market. Read more on the area here. A group of CryoCor shareholders were resisting the deal and threatening a law suit, but the deal closed officially this week. Boston Scientific had entered into a collaboration with CyroCor last year to work jointly on cryoablation products. Boston Scientific already had a cryo-therapy balloon catheter while Crycor had the means to deliver the freezing agent, nitrous oxide. Together, the product would ablate or kill tissue near the pulmonary vein, which is seen as a likely initiation site of the electrical misfires that bring on atrial fibrillation. In April, St. Jude paid $92 million to acquire publicly traded EP Medsystems Inc., maker of workstations used in atrial fibrillation procedures.

blurry picture by invivoblogger chris morrison used under a creative commons license

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