Miss the crowds? BIO’s just around the corner. This year there’s an added je ne sais quoi to the trade event as deal makers and execs converge on the regulatory swampland that is our nation’s capital. Amidst discussions of the state of the industry -- the strengthening IPO market (?), the venture financing climate, and the impact of both on deal making -- all eyes will be on FDA as it holds forth on Provenge and Avastin.
But while there’s no question BIO is a must-attend event, here at IN VIVO Blog, we’re admittedly biased in believing there’s another networking opportunity that is de rigueur for the industry’s top deal makers. That’s right: IN VIVO’s annual Pharmaceutical Strategic Alliances meeting, taking place September 22 and 23 in New York City at the Millennium Broadway Hotel.
Yes, we’re tooting our own horn, but once you’ve checked out our stellar line-up you’ll understand why. Key notes by Biogen Idec’s George Scangos and Bristol’s Lamberto Andreotti kick off the meeting. Then there’s an all-star discussion of biz dev on day 2 with help from Pfizer’s Kristen Peck, BMS’s Jeremy Levin, J&J’s Tom Heyman, Roche’s Joe McCracken, and Glaxo’s Ian Tomlinson.
You want deal making? We have it in spades. And not just at PSA. As we head into a summer time Friday, we bring you your weekly wrap up of the deal making headlines…
Boehringer Ingelheim/Zealand: Surprise! The Danish biotech Zealand pharma inked a deal this week for its Phase I-ready dual-acting GLP-1 and glucagon agonist for type 2 diabetes and obesity, ZP2929. But the partner, Boehringer Ingelheim, probably wasn’t the one folks expected given Zealand’s previous tie-up with Sanofi (the pharma formerly known as Sanofi-Aventis). This week’s deal, which includes a research collaboration, is worth €20 million in committed funding to the Danish biotech during 2011, and up to €41 million in the first two years. Zealand will conduct the first Phase I study with ZP2929, but Boehringer will pay for the research, development and commercialization of the compound, as well as any other additional GLP-1/glucagon agonists that eventually. Total biobucks for ZP2929, hailed by its inventors as a “next-generation GLP-1 agonist that improves on Byetta and Victoza, could reach €376 million. According to “The Pink Sheet” DAILY, Zealand, which raised nearly $60 million via the public markets in October 2010, had plenty of suitors for the compound. But with Zealand's most advanced compound, the GLP-1 agonist Lyxumia (lixisenatide) an increasingly important asset within partner Sanofi's diabetes pipeline, "we felt... it was better to diversify its partnership base," CEO David Solomon explained. Boehringer is a relative newcomer to diabetes, only unveiling its interest in the therapeutic area in 2008. Still it has moved rather quickly, and boasts a newly expanded late-stage pipeline thanks to the broad-ranging, risk-sharing deal it signing with Lilly in January of this year. As part of that tie-up, the two drug makers agreed to co-develop and co-commercialize up to five diabetes drugs, including Boehringer's DPP-4 compound Tradjenta (linagliptin), which FDA approved in May 2011, and a Phase III sodium-dependent glucose transporter-2 inhibitor. – EL
Vertex/Alios: Less than a month after FDA approval of its protease inhibitor for hepatitis C Incivek, Vertex Pharmaceuticals is looking to bolster its ability to offer potential combo therapies. Thus, it’s tie-up this week with Bay Area-based Alios Biopharma. The worldwide license to a pair of preclinical polymerase inhibitors, ALS-2200 and ALS-2158, is worth $60 million upfront to the privately-held Alios. In addition to the licensing agreement, the deal includes a research collaboration between the two companies: Vertex will provide undisclosed funding to Alios for discovery of additional polymerase inhibitors and retains an option on compounds unearthed via the collaboration. The bio-bucks owed Alios aren’t insignificant either: the biotech could earn up to $715 million in research and development milestones related to these two nucleotide analogs. Vertex has plans to move both molecules into Phase I trials during the fourth quarter of 2011. Longer-term, the big biotech intends to test the two molecules in varying combinations with telaprevir and VX-222, its Phase II non-nucleoside polymerase inhibitor, in an effort to find and develop an all-oral combo of drugs to treat HCV. Vertex said it expects to pay out $35 million in milestones this year, when both programs are scheduled to enter the clinic, but would not specify whether that also might cover other milestones to be met this year.—Joseph Haas
Sanofi/Audion: Sanofi has signed a two-year research agreement with Amsterdam-based Audion Therapeutics to discover and develop small molecule treatments for age-related hearing loss. Financial terms of the agreement weren’t disclosed, but Sanofi will have the option to license any compounds resulting from research done under the collaboration. Audion, a regenerative medicine play, aims to stave off deafness via developing compounds that protect and resurrect the inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for the amplification and transduction of sound waves to the auditory nervefor relay to the brain. As might be expected, Audion will work with Sanofi’s Aging unit, one of five new therapeutic strategic units established in the past year under the pharma’s revamped R&D model. Sanofi’s Early-to-Candidate Unit will also be involved. Paul August, U.S. head of the Early-to-Candidate unit, said his team aims to provide the Aging unit with a clinic-ready candidate by the end of the two-year collaboration. As this Start-Up feature noted, big pharma generally has stayed out of hearing loss, which has been dominated by med-tech firms providing hearing aids and, more recently, cochlear implants. Many venture capital firms and other investors see hearing loss as a potentially lucrative space, similar to ophthalmology, because of unmet medical need and demographic trends. The Sanofi/Audion tie-up is the first drug development partnership for hearing loss since Novartis licensed rights to a group of preclinical hearing loss and balance disorder programs from GenVec in exchange for a $5 million upfront payment and a $2 million equity investment last year.—JH
Pfizer/pSivida: Is Pfizer in or out of ophthalmology these days? This week’s amended deal between the big pharma behemoth and drug delivery play pSivida makes it clear Pfizer is willing to do what it must to protect its once daily glaucoma eye-drop Xalatan, which generated $1.75 billion in revenue in 2010 but lost key patent protection in March. Still, as Pfizer continues to redefine its innovative core (without, one hopes, experiencing a breach), it’s not so interested in ophtho that it wants to consider a broader deal with pSivida any longer. The Watertown, MA-biotech pSivida originally aligned with Pfizer in 2007 under a far-reaching deal that gave the big drug maker exclusive world-wide rights to its implant technology, as well as a 10% ownership stake. Under the revised agreement announced June 14, Pfizer will pay the biotech $2.3 million upfront for an option, which can be exercised at the end of Phase II, on an implant device that bathes the front of the eye with a sustained-release version of Xalatan. If Pfizer options the product, it will pay pSivida an additional $20 million and up to $146.5 million more in clinical and regulatory milestones. Despite Xalatan’s ability to effectively lower intra-ocular pressures without terribly onerous side-effects, compliance is a problem. (One main reason: Administering drops on a daily basis is a pain in the…er, eye.) As a result, there’s a lot of effort in the start-up community to develop implantable devices that improve adherence by obviating the need for daily administration. The 2007 deal revision provides significant potential upside for pSivida since it can now solicit partnerships with other drug makers. Among the most active deal makers in ophtho: Merck (which took out Inspire earlier this year), Novartis (via its Alcon group), Roche/Genentech, and of course specialty players like Allergan and Baush & Lomb. This wasn’t the only ophtho deal to be revised this week. On June 16 came news that Alcon was pulling out of its he collaboration with NovaBay, returning all rights to the first-in-class anti-infective Aganocide and back-up compounds. -- EL
Merck/Hanwha: Merck vaulted to the pole position in the race to bring a low-cost version of Pfizer and Amgen's rheumatoid arthritis blockbuster Enbrel to market this week, gaining rights to a late-stage biosimilar version of the biologic developed by South Korea's Hanwha Chemical. According to the June 13 partnership, Merck will develop and commercialize a biosimilar form of Enbrel, HD203, in all markets except Korea and Turkey, where Hanwha has retained marketing rights. In exchange, Hanwha receives an undisclosed upfront payment, and is eligible for milestones as well as tiered royalties on sales. Although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed in the official release, Hanwha Chemical spokesman Kwon HyukBum confirmed to PharmAsia News that the total potential cost of the collaboration to Merck is $720 million. Although Merck declined to confirm that figure, Merck BioVentures President Michael Kamarck said in an interview with “The Pink Sheet” DAILY that the deal is heavily back-end loaded. Nonetheless, the financial arrangement is "symbolic” of the huge opportunity for Enbrel biosimilars, he said. Merck has assembled a pipeline of biosimilar drugs since announcing the formation of Merck BioVentures in December 2008. Still, the company has revealed plans only for a couple of products, including a granulocyte colony-stimulating factor referencing Amgen's Neupogen and a pegylated version of Neulasta. Earlier plans to develop a biosimilar version of Amgen's Aranesp were scrapped in 2010, given emerging safety issues with the class. Merck continues to stand by its goal of having five biosimilars in Phase III by the end of 2012 and says it is mainly interested in harder-to-replicate monoclonal antibodies. – Peter Chang & Jessica Merrill