Friday, June 14, 2013

Deals of the Week Looks At How Amgen’s Global Expansion Affects Partnering

why yes, these are Japanese flip-flops, why do you ask?
Amgen Inc. has made a big deal about expanding into Japan and eventually building a standalone subsidiary there. Now, the biotech’s Japanese expansion strategy is paying off for at least one of its partners: Cytokinetics Inc.

The two companies announced June 12 that they have expanded an existing collaboration for the heart failure drug omecamtiv mecarbil and other related compounds to include Japan. Cytokinetics will receive $25 million from Amgen in the form of a $15 million upfront fee and a $10 million stock purchase, sold at a 36% premium. The company is also eligible to receive up to $50 million in pre-commercialization milestone payments for the development of omecamtiv in Japan, as well as royalties on sales of the drug in the country. Amgen will also reimburse Cytokinetics for the cost of a Phase I study that will support the inclusion of Japanese patients in a potential Phase III program for the drug.

For investors, the deal represented a vote of confidence in omecamtiv, and Cytokinetics stock opened June 12 up 15% over the prior day’s closing price. The $25 million in cash is also important to Cytokinetics, which ended the first quarter of 2013 with $61.6 million.

Omecamtiv, a novel cardiac myosin activator, is one of Cytokinetics’ two lead programs. A Phase IIb trial evaluating an intravenous form of the drug in acute heart failure patients has completed enrollment, and a Phase II trial evaluating an oral formulation in outpatients with heart failure started in the first quarter. Amgen is conducting the trials.

Under the original 2006 collaboration, which excluded Japan, Amgen paid Cytokinetics $42 million upfront and paid $33 million to buy stock in exchange for an option to license omecamtiv. Amgen exercised that option in 2009 after positive Phase IIa data read out, and paid Cytokinetics another $50 million upfront and agreed to pay $600 million in milestones.

It looks as though the Cytokinetics deal expansion may be a one-off case, however. A review of Elsevier’s Strategic Transactions database revealed Amgen doesn’t have many other licenses that specifically exclude Japan. One example is KAI Pharmaceuticals Inc., which Amgen acquired in 2012 for $315 million. That acquisition excluded Japan, where Ono Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. had previously bought the license.

But Japan remains the world’s second largest pharma market, and Amgen’s efforts to rebuild in the region could help future partners, both in terms of deal value and in that signing a single global partner can sometimes speed up the drug development process. Amgen announced plans earlier this year to aggressively expand in Japan and build a Japanese subsidiary by 2020. That reversal comes only five years after the company left the market in 2008, when it out-licensed 13 compounds to Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. for $200 million upfront and $702 million in R&D funding and milestones. As part of that deal, Takeda acquired Amgen’s Japanese subsidiary Amgen KK for an undisclosed price.

In May, Amgen unveiled more details about how it will execute on its re-entry plan, namely through a partnership with Astellas Pharma Inc. with which it will form a joint venture to bring Amgen products to market in Japan. The Tokyo-based JV will be 51% owned by Amgen and 49% owned by Astellas and operate as Amgen Astellas BioPharma KK. The deal is structured to allow Amgen to turn the operations into a wholly-owned Japanese affiliate as early as 2020.

Amgen declined to provide any valuable insights on what might be next in terms of partnering in the region. But one thing is certain, we can expect more. CFO Jonathan Peacock specifically commented on Japan and China during the Goldman Sachs Global Healthcare conference June 11. “We’ll continue to branch out and make targeted investments in the markets that are important to our future growth,” he said. -- Jessica Merrill

We could never decline to provide you more valuable insights -- how could we when it's time for ...

AstraZeneca/Pearl Therapeutics: British pharma AstraZeneca PLC has made a big play in respiratory disease with the $1.15 billion acquisition of Pearl Therapeutics Inc. AstraZeneca will pay $560 million upfront, as well as $450 million in development and regulatory milestones related to early-stage pipeline assets to acquire all shares of privately-held Pearl. Pearl shareholders are also eligible to receive $140 million in milestones related to sales of its lead pipeline candidate. The deal puts AstraZeneca in the midst of the fiercely competitive and changing treatment space for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The company gains PT003, a fixed-dose combination of glycopyrrolate, a long-acting muscarinic antagonist (LAMA), and formoterol, a long-acting beta-2-agonist (LABA), in Phase III development. It also gets an earlier-stage triple combination that includes a LAMA, LABA and inhaled corticosteroid (ICS). The drug is only in preclinical development, but AstraZeneca plans to move it into Phase II testing immediately. Triple combinations are expected to eventually play a major role in the market. Respiratory disease is one of three key therapeutic areas AstraZeneca is focusing on as part of its turnaround strategy, and the company has increased the pace of development of several projects. The acquisition of Pearl comes just a week after AstraZeneca announced it was pulling out of one of its other late-stage programs with partner Rigel Pharmaceuticals Inc. after the Phase III rheumatoid arthritis drug fostamatinib produced disappointing results. --Lisa LaMotta

Xenon/Isis: In a reversal of its usual out-licensing strategy, Xenon Pharmaceuticals Inc. has exercised an option to in-license a potential treatment for anemia developed under a 2010 alliance with RNA technology specialist Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. The firms announced June 10 that Xenon will pay $2 million to Isis to license XEN701, a molecule in preclinical development that is designed to inhibit the production of hepcidin, a protein produced in the liver. By inhibiting hepcidin, XEN701 could offer a non-erythropoietin receptor-based mechanism for the treatment of anemia. It is the first drug to enter development from Isis’ collaboration with Xenon. Under the original deal, Xenon paid Isis an undisclosed fee in the form of a convertible promissory note in exchange for using the latter’s antisense technology to discover and develop drugs against hepcidin and hemojuvelin for anemia. Xenon also gained an option to license worldwide development and commercialization rights to candidates produced from the partnership. Isis also is eligible for milestones and royalties. Vancouver-based Xenon has been more active out-licensing its human clinical genetics platform out to larger pharma partners, including Merck & Co. Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Roche. --JM

Questcor/Novartis: Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced June 11 that it has acquired rights to develop Synacthen (tetracosactide) and Synacthen Depot from Novartis AG in the U.S. and plans to acquire rights in certain other countries subject to closing conditions. The deal is another example of big pharma’s increased willingness to sell-off non-priority assets, and Questcor appears intent on breathing new life into a mature brand, similar to how it has revitalized its existing Athcar Gel (repository corticotropin injection). The Synacthen products are already approved in 40 countries for certain autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and are also approved as a diagnostic test for adrenal insufficiency, but they have never been approved in the U.S. Questcor plans to develop the products for the U.S. market and use the drugs as an opportunity to build an international presence. Synacthen is a synthetic 24 amino acid melanocortin receptor agonist, an area of research Questcor specializes in with Athcar. Questcor has successfully built Athcar into a high-growth brand with sales of more than $500 million in 2012 by broadening its use from a niche indication in infantile spasm to larger patient populations like multiple sclerosis and nephrotic syndrome. But the company has also drawn criticism from insurers and some in the health care community for aggressively raising the price from $2,000 per vial to $28,000 per vial as part of its repositioning of the drug to fit in the rare disease business model. --JM

AstraZeneca/Cancer Research UK: Building on existing collaborations with Cancer Research UK, AstraZeneca is providing scientists funded by the world’s biggest cancer charity with compounds for use in developing potential new oncology drugs. One new project, announced June 14, will involve scientists at the University of Manchester testing compounds targeting a key protein involved in DNA damage response. AstraZeneca has first rights to any molecules discovered through the agreement and can choose to continue further development. In return, Cancer Research Technology Ltd, the UK charity’s commercial arm, will receive royalty payments when the project reaches certain milestones. CRT also has the option to develop the molecules further if AstraZeneca decides to pass. Britain’s second-biggest drug maker has also invited Cancer Research UK scientists from the Paterson Institute to test AstraZeneca’s compound collection against a potential oncology target at its UK research center in Alderley Park. It is the first time AstraZeneca has invited an external party to screen such an extensive set of compounds within its screening facility. AstraZeneca will have first rights of negotiation on any resulting projects. CRT has a growing, 90-strong in-house drug discovery effort which has expanded with the help of funding from Cancer Research UK – and has access to clinical development capabilities in conjunction with Cancer Research UK's drug development office. This includes CRUK’s Clinical Development Partnerships initiative, designed to move de-prioritized pharma assets into the clinic. This wide-ranging R&D capability and close linkage with academia has attracted in AstraZeneca to CRT, with the two first partnering in 2010 [W#201020370]. --Sten Stovall

BioLineRx/Jiangsu Chia-Tai Tianging Pharmaceutical: Israeli biotech BioLineRx Ltd. lined up a rare early-stage out-licensing partner for one of its two candidates for hepatitis C this week. Liver disease-focused Jiangsu Chia-Tai Tianqing Pharmaceutical (CTTQ) licensed development, manufacturing and commercial rights in China and Hong Kong to BL-8030, a preclinical second-generation protease inhibitor for HCV. BioLineRx receives an undisclosed upfront payment plus potential development, regulatory and commercialization milestones that could total $30 million for the compound. The Israeli company also could earn high-single-digit royalties on sales if ‘8030 reaches market. BioLineRx also will have access to CTTQ’s clinical data for the compound and can use the data for regulatory purposes outside the territories licensed by the Chinese firm. BL-8030 is one of two HCV candidates being developed by BioLineRx, along with Phase I/II BL-8020, an inhibitor of HCV-induced autophagy. Both compounds were in-licensed from France’s GenoScience Pharma in early 2012[W#201220060]. In a release, CTTQ President Jian Sun Emba noted that HCV prevalence is high in China, with about 3.2% of the population, or roughly 43 million individuals, infected with the virus. –-Joseph Haas

BMS/Simcere: In their third deal in three years, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Simcere Pharmaceutical Group will collaborate in China to co-develop and commercialize a subcutaneous formulation of Bristol’s rheumatoid arthritis treatment Orencia (abatacept), the companies announced June 14. Simcere, based in Nanjing, will perform and fund all development and regulatory activities required to obtain marketing approval in China based on a pre-agreed development plan. The companies will share responsibility for commercializing Orencia SC in China, and will share profits and losses related to Orencia SC there. Financial terms were not disclosed. If approved, Orencia would become Bristol’s first biologic to enter the Chinese market. The novel T-cell co-stimulation modulator is approved already in the U.S., Europe and Japan, and booked global sales of $1.2 billion in 2012. It would theoretically launch into a very competitive RA market in China, which includes novel biologics, biosimilars, and is dominated by NSAIDs. Although Simcere would not comment on development timelines for China, the company confirmed to PharmAsia News that it would need to conduct certain clinical studies in China to obtain regulatory approval for Orencia. BMS and Simcere first tied up in 2010 to co-develop BMS-817378, a small molecule c-Met inhibitor in preclinical development. Under that deal, Simcere is funding and taking the lead for clinical trials in China through proof-of-concept in return for exclusive China marketing rights for the oncologic, while BMS retains marketing rights in the rest of world. In a second deal, announced in 2011, BMS and Simcere are co-developing a preclinical CETP (cholesteryl ester transfer protein) inhibitor, BMS-795311, in China. --Josh Berlin

photo from flickrer nb360 used under creative commons license

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