Friday, November 11, 2011

DOTW: This Is Spinal Tap Edition

In the immortal words of one Bobbi Flekman, "money talks and bull**** walks."

And on 11.11.11, a day some are lauding corduroy and many are honoring our veterans and active service men and women, we look across the pond for the big money deal.

That's right. In a week when "most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten," Lundbeck and Otsuka took it to eleven with a multi-faceted alliance centered around two late-stage products from the Japanese pharma and up to three earlier stage programs from the Danes. (No word yet on whether Lundbeck's CEO Ulf Wiinberg or Otsuka's President Tatsuo Higuchi will play the role of Nigel Tufnel, alas.) The pipeline- and profit-sharing, co-development, co-commercialization deal requires Lundbeck to pay Otsuka 1.1 billion Danish Kroners, or 200 million George Washingtons, up front and potentially another $1.6 billion in development, regulatory, and sales milestones.

In spirit, Lundbeck/Otsuka recalls the major alliance Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim struck in diabetes earlier this year --the consequences of that deal, as you will read about below, are still causing ripples. Interestingly today's eleven alliance sees two companies -- both heavily dependent for the bulk of their revenue on a single product that will soon go generic -- try to diversify not only their pipelines but also geographic reach. That Lundbeck is the one on the economic hook stems from the fact that its patent cliff is not only steeper but also arrives in a few months time.

The $200 million upfront Lundbeck is undoubtedly hefty, but analysts and investors in Denmark didn't smell anything rotten, sending the company's stock price, which trades on the Copenhagen exchange, up nearly 10% on the news. "We see this deal as clearly positive for Lundbeck and it bodes well for long-term revenue, top-line diversification and company perception" Nordea analysts wrote in a note to clients.

The reason for the optimism? Recall that Lundbeck is overly dependent on Cipralex (which is partnered with Forest in the US where it is sold as Lexapro) for sales revenue. In 2010, close to 40% of the company's DKK 14.8 billion in revenue came from the antidepressant, whose key patents begin to expire in 2012. And for this upfront payment, Lundbeck gets co-dev/co-commercialization rights in certain regions (North and Latin America, Europe, Australia, and "some other countries") to two late stage Otsuka products that can help smooth its revenue line starting in 2013.

The first is the Japan pharma's depot formulation of aripiprazole, which is the same active ingredient in Otsuka's anti-sychotic juggernaut, Abilify, a drug that is partnered with BMS and goes off patent in 2015. The second is OPC-37415, a partial D2 dopamine receptor agonist in Phase III trials for schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. According to the press release announcing the deal, Otsuka plans to submit an NDA for aripiprazole depot to US regulators "soon" -- and to EMA authorities in 2013.

Lundbeck has done other big deals in the past in a bid to deemphasize its reliance on Cipralex, including its 2009 acquisitions of Ovation and Life Health to gain access to the chorea treatment Xenazine. Those deals certainly helped bolster Lundbeck's US CNS presence (especially after the failed 2008 $100 million alliance with Myriad Genetics around Alzheimer's therapy Flurizan), but are nothing compared to the potential it might reap with this Otsuka alliance, should aripiprazole depot and '37415 both make it to market and enjoy strong payer traction.

And reimbursement remains an open and intriguing question, especially for aripiprazole depot. Note that $1.4 billion of the milestone payments are tied to development and regulatory advances not actual reimbursement, meaning Lundbeck is still on the hook, even if payers ding the next-generation anti-psychotic. And that could well happen. The anti-psychotic market is not only competitive, but ripe with cheaper alternatives, including since October 2011 a generic version of Lilly's Zyprexa. Over a year ago Medco and genetic test developer SureGene, meantime, launched a research project to validate biomarkers that could improve the cost effectiveness of atypical antipsychotic treatments.

For its part, Lundbeck and Otsuka seemed to play up in the press release the known safety and efficacy of the depot formulation, noting there may be an outcomes-based reason to prescribe the more patient-friendly version of Abilify. After all it has been designed to "reduce the chance of reoccurence of symptoms for the patients who sometimes forget to take their medication". Patient adherence to anti-psychotic regimens is admittedly a big problem; whether Otsuka has data convincing payers of this benefit is another question. It's also one that the Japanese pharma, and now Lundbeck, will need to answer effectively to make the economics of the new alliance work for both parties.

As David St. Hubbins would no doubt tell you it's such a fine line between stupid and clever. In the meantime, turn the amperage all the way to the right 'cuz you'll feel much worse if you aren't under such heavy sedation. With none more black than IVB, it's time for...

Merck Serono/Ablynx: In a move that might reduce the sting of last week’s announcement that Pfizer was handing back a pair of anti-TNF-alpha programs, Ablynx said this week that partner Merck-Serono would expand its alliance with the Nanobody specialist. The new deal will see the partners co-discovering and co-developing Ablynx’s brand of single-domain antibodies against two targets in osteoarthritis. Ablynx gets €20 million up-front (paid as two tranches over the next three months) and will conduct and fund all pre-clinical work on the programs. Merck-Serono can then opt in at IND stage at a price of €15 million per program, after which Ablynx gets the choice to move forward as a 50/50 partner or choose a more traditional milestone/royalty-based licensing structure. This is the two companies' third deal since 2008; they’re currently also working on programs in oncology, immunology and inflammation. The deal has done little to reverse the slide in Ablynx’s market value since the Pfizer news, however. That drop worsened this week when Ablynx said its lead proprietary asset, the IV-formulated anti-vWF ALX-0081, did not meet its primary endpoint in Phase II studies. – Chris Morrison

Salix/Oceana: Gastroenterology-focused Salix Pharmaceuticals will expand its product portfolio and increase its revenues almost immediately with the planned $300 million acquisition of privately held Oceana Therapeutics. Announced during Salix’s third-quarter earnings call Nov. 8, the acquisition brings the specialty pharma two marketed products – Solesta for fecal incontinence and Deflux for vesicoureteral reflux. The company’s optimism about Oceana seems largely based on the upside potential of Solesta, an injectable gel approved by FDA as a Class III medical device in June, to win a large share of the fecal incontinence market. Oceana launched Solesta in September at a price of $3,690 per treatment. It can be administered on an out-patient basis without anesthesia. By contrast, surgical methods for treating fecal incontinence are thought to cost about $30,000 per patient. Salix did not say how much Solesta has earned to date but CEO Carolyn Logan predicted the product could produce peak-year sales greater than $500 million. Also an injectable gel, Deflux was approved by FDA in 2001. It is indicated for children affected by Grade II to Grade IV vesicoureteral reflux, a bladder malformation that can result in severe kidney infections and irreversible renal damage. It also is approved and marketed in 40 countries outside the US and posted net sales of about $26 million through the first nine months of 2011. –Joseph Haas

Amylin/Lilly: Once a fruitful partnership, the nine-year tie-up between diabetes specialist Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly around the GLP-1 agonist exenatide is being unwound. Although the agreement produced an $800 million drug in Byetta, a twice-daily injectable compound that stimulates insulin production in the pancreas, and a potential blockbuster follow-on in the once-weekly Bydureon, the writing’s been on the wall for some time, as their relationship became frostier over time. Lilly co-developed a different drug, DPP-4 antagonist Tradjenta (linagliptin) alongside Boehringer-Ingelheim; that led to a lawsuit, as Amylin believed Lilly breached their confidentiality agreement by using a shared sales force for both Byetta and Tradjenta. To remedy the situation, Lilly will return worldwide exenatide rights to Amylin in exchange for $250 million up-front plus 15% of sales, the latter of which could be worth up to $1.2 billion. All related litigation will be dropped. The separation occurs as Amylin awaits approval of Bydureon in the US; the drug has a PDUFA date of January 28, 2012. In the meantime, as this "Pink Sheet" Daily story discusses, Amylin plans to build its domestic sales force while seeking an international partner to sell Bydureon, which is already approved in Europe. Some observers, however, think Amylin could be acquired by another pharma instead. – Paul Bonanos


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