Friday, April 09, 2010

Deals of the Week Pines for the Magic Number

Numbers are good. A couple of our favorites are 3 and 0, which happens to be the win-loss record of the San Francisco Giants after their opening series. We also like 59, the number of points Butler University scored against the Duke Blue Devils in Monday's NCAA championship game. Unfortunately Duke scored 61, prompting Butler fans the world over to ask head coach Brad Stevens -- who briefly had a marketing job at Eli Lilly before he joined Butler -- if he still had Prozac or Cymbalta samples to hand out. (If Stevens is fresh out, fans can just go to the Lilly Web site.)

We're thinking somberly of other numbers this morning: 34, the years John Paul Stevens will have served on the Supreme Court after his upcoming retirement, and 4, the number of miners still missing but possibly alive in West Virginia.

Our mind wanders to numbers in the wider world because here in the little sphere of biopharma deal-making, numbers were a wee bit hard to come by this week. Only one of our four chosen deals disclosed figures we could sink our teeth into, and even then it was all biobucks. Bah humbug!

Good thing, then, the deals this week were rich with more important things in life--unmet medical need for old scourges (malaria vaccine and tuberculosis) and cutting-edge science (stem-cell manipulation). We're all antsy to get our weekend started, so it's a-one, and a-two and...

Pfizer/MicuRx/Cumencor: With its April 6 deal with two biotechs to develop novel treatments for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), Pfizer not only addresses a critical unmet need in Asia but gains even more of a foothold in a key emerging market. Outside the developed world TB is an enormous problem, resulting in 5,000 deaths a day. China is a hotspot, with more than 25% of all cases of MDR-TB. The deal with US-China hybrid MicuRx and China-based Cumencor calls for Pfizer to provide an upfront payment, preclinical research funding, and downstream milestones linked to a drug’s development and commercialization. Specifics weren't disclosed, but even if the upfront money isn’t huge, it should push molecules well into the clinic since all the development work will be performed in Shanghai. For MicuRx, the agreement validates the biotech’s proprietary antibiotic discovery platform and is the firm's first deal since its $10 million Series A led by Morningside Group in 2007. For Pfizer, the deal highlights its interest in Asia-prevalent diseases, including head and neck cancer. In February, Pfizer signed a precompetitive deal with Lilly and Merck to form the not-for-profit the Asian Cancer Research Group. This week Pfizer highlighted its R&D efforts in Asia and its desire to increase the number of Asia-based clinical trials by 10%.--Ellen Foster Licking

Sanofi-Aventis/CureDM: Sanofi is in-licensing an early-stage compound with potential to restore a diabetic's ability to produce insulin and other pancreatic hormones, the company announced April 8. It is paying up to $335 million, plus sales royalties, to CureDM, a heretofore low-profile six-year-old startup, for global development and commercial rights to the novel human peptide, Pancreate. The firms did not break down the distribution of payments. The deal marks another move by Sanofi to bolster its diabetes business and eventually lessen its reliance on sales of its leading long-acting insulin Lantus and the short-acting insulin Apidra. It comes only a week after the Big Pharma bulked up the drug delivery portion of its leading diabetes franchise by entering into a deal with another small biotech, AgaMatrix, for blood glucose monitors.--Carlene Olsen

Fate Therapeutics/Verio Therapeutics: The San Diego stem-cell firm Fate bought a Canadian startup -- two scientists and their CEO, really -- for an undisclosed amount to bolster its efforts to develop drugs that push adult stem cells into therapeutic behavior. Fate has the small-molecule FT1050 in Phase 1 as a treatment to stimulate a cancer patient's hematopoietic stem cells to replenish after a cord blood transplant. Verio's scientists, based at a research hospital in Ottawa, are investigating protein-based drugs that encourage regeneration of cardiac, pancreatic and skeletal muscle tissues. The therapies could help repair damage due to heart attack, diabetes and muscular dystrophy. Verio CEO Frank Gleeson told "The Pink Sheet" DAILY that of Verio's preclinical compounds, the cardiac program has the clearest path to reaching the clinic. Verio has pulled in $1 million in seed funding; joining Fate lets it hire a few more scientists by year's end, Gleeson said. Fate in November closed a $30 million B round and execs say the cash should last for another year and a half, even with the Verio purchase. In addition to drug development, Fate aims to create a supply of induced pluripotent stem cells that it can license as discovery tools to drug firms.--A.L.

GlaxoSmithKline/Crucell: The two firms said Apr. 6 they would join forces on a next-generation malaria vaccine by combining two existing vaccines, but they'll need outside help to pay for it. Terms weren't disclosed, but the firms will each contribute a vaccine candidate and seek third-party funding for clinical trials. If a Phase I/IIa trial is successful, they will ask for financial help from public or non-profit partners to push into later-stage trials. The deal follows a 2003 agreement GSK and Crucell signed with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research to test their then-preclinical vaccines both as standalone and combined candidates. Data suggested a combined approach would be more effective. Malaria is the fifth deadliest infectious disease in the world, and second deadliest in Africa. The agreement is the latest in a series of R&D tie-ups by the Dutch vaccine maker, which has benefited from going against industry trends and expanding its R&D footprint. --A.L.

Photo courtesy of flickr user fringley.

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