Friday, September 12, 2008

Deals of the Week: A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action, Please

This week was one of those weeks where so much more seemed to happen than actually did. Yes there was the rumor that Pfizer was buying Bayer (we tend to agree with Derek Lowe's thoughts on that one, the deal is on the "Edge of Reality"), the Carl and Jim Show ("Return to Sender," covered extensively by our Pink friends) and King's hostile attempt to take over Alpharma ("Don't be Cruel," see yesterday's release here and our coverage of King's original offer here), and various other rants and rumors.

Execs across the industry have been "All Shook Up" in the most compelling actual news this week, with Christine Poon retiring from Johnson & Johnson in March 2009, Ellen Strahlman leaving Pfizer to become GSK's chief medical officer and GSK CEO-runner up Chris Viehbacher taking the top slot away from Gerard Le Fur at Sanofi.

Finally we thank the dealmakers below. They didn't step on our "Blue Suede Shoes" and so they have the honor of ...

GSK/Cellzome: GSK has entered into an option agreement with Anglo-German biotech Cellzome around seven kinase inhibitor programs in the area of inflammation, the companies said on Wednesday. Though the deal generated several hyperbolic wire story headlines the guaranteed payments (about $25 million in equity purchases and cash, split undisclosed) were rather more pedestrian. More importantly, the deal has some interesting features and further underscores the externalization of R&D at GSK under new chief Andrew Witty. Cellzome is essentially becoming GSK's center of excellence in kinase drug discovery, at least in the inflammation space, Cellzome CEO Tim Edwards told IN VIVO Blog yesterday. GSK has an option to license--at clinical proof of concept or earlier--drug candidates from Cellzome's kinases programs against four identified targets (which very likely comprise the biotech's previously announced programs against mTOR, Zap-70, PI3K delta and JAK3) and an additional three further targets. Edwards noted the deal does not include Cellzome's lead PI3K gamma program for which the company hopes to file an IND in 12-18 months. Until such time as GSK opts into a project, Cellzome is footing the R&D bill. However the biotech can earn milestone payments along the way that will cover those costs, and keeps rights to programs GSK declines. "We have day-to-day control," explains Edwards. "They're sponsoring us, as it were, and as we make achievements we bring in additional dollars." Cellzome has previously inked a handful of deals around its proteomics mapping platform and has outlicensed Alzheimer's programs to J&J, but this deal is its first around its Kinobeads technology. That platform allows the firm to screen for kinase inhibitors in a "physiological setting," which Edwards claims means they can identify very selective inhibitors of individual kinases. "In oncology you can hit four or five targets," without compromising the safety/efficacy profile of a kinase inhibitor. "But that isn't OK in inflammatory disease, and the solution is to have very selective inhibitors. It's amazing how you can change a molecule in a very small way and change its selectivity profile in a profound way," he says. Optioning nearly all its programs to one partner in its chosen (and crowded) field of kinase discovery does suggest that GSK is the private firm's only potential suitor, however, significantly limiting Cellzome investors' exit options (the company has raised at least €73 million since 2000 from a variety of VCs). "Today that may be the case," says Edwards. But perhaps not for long, he says. Cellzome aims to reconfigure its screening platform for other target classes and is also diversifying out of inflammatory disease into CNS and potentially other therapeutic spaces. And then there's the PI3K gamma program. For now, Edwards is keeping the details of that program under wraps.

Tripos/Pharsight: Drug discovery informatics player Tripos said this week it was acquiring clinical-software specialist Pharsight for about $57 million ($5.50/share). That price is a 29% premium to Pharsight's 30-day average. The combined company will now provide R&D software and services from discovery through to the market, says the release. Sorry to "Forrest Gump" you, but that's all we have to say about that.

Alfama/hemoCORM: Alfama and hemoCORM, two companies pursuing the use of carbon monoxide releasing molecules (CORMs) in a variety of chronic and acute diseases, merged this week. The terms were undisclosed. We profiled each of these companies back in 2004 (see here and here). Back then we wrote: "CO is produced naturally in the body as a result of the breakdown of heme oxygenase, an enzyme involved in the recycling of iron. But CO is more than simply a useless by-product. Recent research has shown that under physiological conditions, it is also important signaling molecule with vasodilatory, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic properties." Both Alfama and hemoCORM are working on metal carbonyls, one of the first types of compound identified as a potential CO-carrier. hemoCORM's initial efforts are focused on ischemic perfusion injury, while Alfama is working primarily on treatments for inflammatory and auto-immune disease. Alfama chief Nuno Arantes-Oliveira will lead the combined group.

CV Therapeutics/Menarini: This week's late-breaker see's CV Therapeutics licensing European, CIS, and certain South and Central American rights (27 countries in all) to its recently approved ranolazide (Renaxa) to Italian pharma Menarini for $70 million in upfront payments plus a potential $315 million in milestone payments and investments linked to European label extensions and sales figures. The angina treatment has been marketed in the US by CVT since January 2006; currently the company aims to secure approval in a first-line angina setting.

Amgen/potential denosumab partner: Remember when we were all "Amgen might be looking for a denosumab partner, how much would you pay for it"? And you readers were all "sorry, IVB, I'd really like to take a stab at this, but I'm washing my hair, can I get back to you"? Well, it seems absent any solid advice from you guys, Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer is now saying that a US partnership around denosumab is unlikely (though things might be different overseas). "It is very hard for me to imagine what another company would bring to us," in North America, Dow Jones reports Sharer saying at the Morgan Stanley health care conference on Tuesday. Maybe Sharer needs to watch a little Sesame Street to get those imaginative juices flowing. Let us help out: a worldwide or US partner on denosumab would not only bring Amgen a significant upfront payment, primary care expertise, and drug reps, but also a big ol' hedge against the risk that the product will be delayed or even fail. Bonus Denosumab: The Pink Sheet DAILY points out today that doctors worried about denosumab getting adequate reimbursement are asking Amgen for assurances for financial protection in the event Medicare won't cover the full cost of the drug.

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