Thursday, December 03, 2009

Financings of the Fortnight’s Pot Luck Supper vs Food for Thought from Tauzin and Kindler

This week we’ve got a little bit of everything out there for you FOTFanatics. Corporate Venture? Of course. Meaty FOPO? You got it. Odd restructuring? Why not. Sexy SEDA? Your wish is our command. And unlike last fortnight’s Eurolicious entourage, this week we feature some All-American talent. And a Canadian.

These guys--and their investors--obviously didn’t get the memo from PhRMA honcho Billy Tauzin and Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindle, who spent their podium time at yesterday’s Partnering For Cures meeting publicly worrying about the state of the States’ hospitality to the biopharma industry.

Tauzin woke us up as he railed at the state of the Food and Drug Administration, noting the regulator was no longer the premier drug agency in the world (that’d be EMEA, if you’re wondering); FDA didn’t take all the blame of course, to Tauzin some of its ineptitude was the fault of Congressional indifference. Meanwhile, someone please buy Margaret Hamburg and co. a DVD player, or maybe a TiVo?

"12:00 is blinking on a VCR at FDA, they are that far behind technologically," observed Tauzin. (No word on whether FDAers were sporting neon leg warmers while listening to Whitesnake while wearing out their Betamax copy of Top Gun on said VCR, but that’s what we were thinking.)

[NOTE: Keep your eyes peeled for coverage out of Windhover's ongoing FDA/CMS Summit in Washington, where FDA's John Jenkins just coincidentally unpacked and disputed the argument that FDA is more 'conservative' than EMEA.]

Other panelists at the breakfast session walked back the criticism. Bob Beall, president and CEO of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, commended FDA for its progress in clinical trials in the rare diseases space, noting that any path forward with the agency should begin with direct dialogue and not with confrontation, and not with Congress passing laws to tell it what to do.

And the earlier that dialogue begins, the better. With regards to personalized medicine, for example, he noted that a company can’t wait ‘til Phase III, or even IND stage, to start a discussion about biomarkers. He did lament the status of inter-agency harmonization between EMEA and FDA, but in the end with a wave in Tauzin’s direction said “I’m optimistic about the FDA.”

Founder and CEO of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation Kathy Giusti agreed with Beall. FDA, she said, had been “phenomenal.” And using an age-old technique she later suggested if only foundations could get academic and industry attorneys on the same page with contract language “we can all start using,” things would be so much better. As with most remarks that blame the lawyers, those words received a round of applause.

But in any case we shouldn’t be surprised when everyone relocates to Singapore, seemed to be part of the message from Tauzin. That’s something Pfizer’s Jeff Kindler alluded to as well.

During Partnering for Cures' lunch-time session, Kindler, fresh off the “pharma needs to own up to its mistakes to regain public trust” circuit of interviews and talks, sat down with FasterCures founder Michael Milken to discuss Pfizer’s attempts to shorten the timeframe of the drug discovery-development continuum.

Along the way he discussed some of Pfizer’s impressive feats—the creation of HIV specialist ViiV Health Care with competitor GSK, for example, or this week’s deal with Israeli biotech Protalix for its Gaucher’s disease treatment (we’ll leave it til tomorrow’s Deals of the Week to get in-depth on that one).

But he repeatedly invoked the strides made in emerging markets and industry hubs like China and Singapore to speed up clinical trial recruitment, for example. We in the US “have to be mindful of the fact that there are a lot of advances being made in other countries that are very interested in having those clinical trials done there, and that’s where a lot of innovation is going to occur. I think that’s where the big opportunity for speeding up bringing medicines to patients is.”

He later noted that governments in some emerging markets “are very ambitious and aggressive” in beginning to meet the unmet medical needs of their populations and “in encouraging innovation and research and providing incentives for companies like ourselves to locate manufacturing, research and clinical trials in those countries.” In case the message wasn’t clear he added: “And are doing so I might add in many cases with a coherent government/business collaboration that quite candidly we’re not seeing as much of in the United States as we’d like.”

He went on to talk about how China has headhunted Chinese-born young, ambitious, and eager scientists based in the US and elsewhere to return and set up shop in places like Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Park and elsewhere. This migration is “something we need to take account of as US policies are adopted that can have an impact on our ability to support what I consider to be a very important American industry,” he said.

Read more about Kindler’s remarks in today’s Pink Sheet DAILY (and for more on Pfizer's activity in China, see this IN VIVO feature). Then fly the flag for the companies below, this fortnight’s fancy financing phenomena. It’s …

Forma Therapeutics: It’s not that often you see a start-up raise more than $50 million in venture capital and pen two notable alliances with pharma companies within one year, but Forma Therapeutics has managed to do just that. The biotech—which according to this recent profile in START-UP may be onto a winner with its combination of structure-guided cancer drug discovery and proprietary cell-based screening capabilities—pulled in $25.5 million through a Series B financing led by Lilly Ventures (more corporate venture!), announced on December 1. Also participating were Novartis Option Fund and Bio*One Capital, investors in Forma’s January 2009 $25 million Series A. Forma has deals with Novartis (in oncology, signed shortly after it’s A round) and Cubist Pharmaceuticals (antibacterials). The latter deal included a note that converted into stock in the current Series B.—Amanda Micklus

Receptos: The $25 million Series A financing for newly formed Receptos is not as simple as it first appears. The San Diego firm targets GPCRs and described its initial financing as a two-tranche deal, $17 million now, maybe $8 million later. The full story is that Receptos purchased Apoptos, which had raised $28 million in its own relatively recent Series A in January 2008 (so it's more of a reinvention). Roughly $5 million left from that financing was included as part of the first tranche of Receptos’ round – along with $12 million from the company’s venture backers, explained Jim Schmidt, VP of finance and administration. Receptos can qualify to receive the second tranche of $8 million upon the filing of an IND for its lead candidate – a sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor candidate for multiple sclerosis. That filing is expected by the fourth quarter of 2010, says Chrysa Mineo, VP of corporate development. Participants in the new round were Venrock, ARCH Venture Partners, Flagship Ventures and Lilly Ventures. (There’s that corporate venture again!) Each of those funds received a seat on the Receptos board, with Venrock’s representative, former Biogen Idec Executive Chairman William Rastetter, serving as CEO and chairman.—Joseph Haas

Vertex Pharmaceuticals: According to Elsevier’s Strategic Transactions database, follow-on public offerings have increased substantially from a low of $3 million in the fourth quarter of 2008 all the way up to $1.6 billion in the third quarter of this year. While final fourth quarter numbers are not yet available, it looks to be on pace to beat Q3 thanks to a few big FOPOs completed this fortnight by Salix Pharmaceuticals ($128 million), Human Genome Sciences ($415 million), and namely yesterday’s $442.8 million stock sale by Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The small-molecule drug developer, which focuses on several therapeutic areas including infectious diseases, offered 11.5 million shares at $38.50, a price on par with what the company has been trading at for the past few weeks. The stock jumped 8% to $36.15 on November 2--and has been gradually increasing since then into the high $30s/low $40s--following news that 83% of HCV patients in each arm of Vertex’s C208 study had achieved a sustained-viral response with twice-daily telaprevir. Vertex is planning an NDA for the HCV protease inhibitor in the second half of 2010. Less than two months ago, the company monetized future European milestones it would have gotten from telaprevir partner Janssen in a deal with four investment funds, which bought $120 million in Vertex convertible debt and paid another $35 million cash in exchange for $250 million in regulatory and launch milestones. Earlier this year, Vertex completed another huge follow-on offering, which netted $314 million. Since 2008, the company has raised $1.4 billion through four FOPOs.--AM

Labopharm: The public markets are slowly warming to biotech—note Vertex and HGSI’s monster $400 million public offerings, UCB’s €500mm bond offering and Movetis’s announcement that it closed its IPO, bringing in €85m (with the overallotment yet to be determined). But for many of the smaller players capital is still a scarcity, making alternate financing arrangements like Labopharm’s $25 million standby equity distribution agreement (add SEDA to your bin of acronyms to name drop this holiday season) with Yorkville Advisors, an attractive prospect. Under the terms of the agreement, YA will provide up to $25 million during the next three years, available at Labopharm’s discretion via the purchase of new shares, issued at a predetermined discount (that maxes at 5%) to the prevailing stock price. In addition, limits prevent YA from owning more than 19.9% of Labopharm’s issued and outstanding common shares at any one time. The control offered by the SEDA—in addition to the biotech determining when to pull the trigger, it also determines the amount to draw down, with a built-in minimum price—is clearly attractive to smaller biotechs or specialty pharmas who might have cash-generating milestones on the horizon while simultaneously lacking the in-house resources to reach those events. The Quebec, Canada-based Labopharm fits the bill. The company had just over $14 million in cash and cash equivalents at the end of its third quarter, as well as roughly $21 million in long term debt payable starting in 2012. In addition, the company is preparing for the 2011 launch of its second product, DDS-04A, which is a once daily-formulation of the serotonin antagonist reuptake inhibitor traszadone that is currently awaiting a regulatory decision from FDA. In the SEDA-world (it’s not an obscure planet in a galaxy far, far, away) Yorkville has been an active player. This year alone, the company has inked SEDAs with Advanced Life Sciences, RXI Pharmaceuticals, Pharming, and Achillion. –Ellen Foster Licking

image from flickr user Jamie Anderson used under a creative commons license.

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