Eli Lilly & Co. and Qiagen NV announced a deal Nov. 18 to develop and commercialize a companion diagnostic for a novel undisclosed Lilly lung cancer compound. BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. announced a collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc. Nov. 20 to use Myriad’s Homologous Recombination Deficiency test to identify tumors that might be sensitive to its investigational PARP inhibitor BMN 673.
In the last five years, pharma’s acceptance of companion diagnostics has gone from a lukewarm handshake to full embrace, with pharma acknowledging that the tests are useful tools that can help speed drug development, increase the chance of getting a new drug to market and support commercial reimbursement. As a result, deal-making in the space is moving earlier-stage and increasingly into therapeutic areas outside of oncology, areas such as autoimmune disease, neurological conditions and anti-infectives.
But there is still little in the way of hard evidence to show pharma’s softer side is showing up at the deal-making table. Given the increasing importance of a companion diagnostics to the success of a drug, it would seem intuitive that pharma might need to share more risk or give up more of the long-term financial reward or so its friends on the diagnostic side might argue. But, so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case, in part because it can be difficult for diagnostics companies to demonstrate they’re providing something unique to a pharma partner.
It’s hard to know for certain because the economics of companion diagnostic deals are rarely disclosed, but most if not all diagnostic companies are being paid by their pharma partners to develop the test in a fee-for-service style arrangement or through fixed milestone payments. Diagnostic companies also would like to receive royalties on sales of the drug or sales-based milestones as a way to share some of the long-term value of the product.
Qiagen appears to have established a valuable partnership with Lilly, through what it deems a “master agreement,” under which Qiagen will develop companion diagnostics for multiple drugs across all of the pharma’s therapeutic areas. The two previously were partnered on the KRAS test for Erbitux (cetuximab), which was approved in 2012, and partnered in 2011 to develop a test for a clinical-stage Janus kinase 2 inhibitor for blood cancer. They broadened their partnership to include the master agreement in February, and the Nov. 18 collaboration was the first to come out of that framework.
But during an investor meeting the same day, CEO Peer Schatz acknowledged the company depends on securing strong pricing and reimbursement for companion diagnostics to get a return on its investment.
“We make money off the development process, but not really a lot,” he said. “We are more focused on the kit coming forward.” The hope is that FDA-approved companion diagnostics will be able to secure better reimbursement than those that don’t go through the rigorous process, important because tests are easily reproduced and often have limited intellectual property protection.
In an interview, Myriad’s Mark Capone, president of Myriad Genetics Laboratories, said most companion diagnostics deals include development milestones and require the diagnostic company to obtain reimbursement once the product is commercialized to receive a return.
“We know there are discussions of pharmaceutical companies compensating diagnostic companies in the commercial phase, and that could come either in the form of royalties or direct reimbursement in the case that the pharmaceutical company wants to distribute the diagnostic, but I think most of those discussions are theoretical in nature,” he said.
He declined to discuss the financials of any deals Myriad has to develop companion diagnostics. It has several non-exclusive deals, primarily for its BRACAnalysis test to identify patients with BRCA-mutated breast and ovarian cancer, with partners including BioMarin, AstraZeneca PLC and AbbVie Inc.
“We have seen some baby steps,” diagnostics consultant Kristen Pothier said during a panel at IN VIVO’s very own PSA: The Pharmaceutical Strategy Conference in September. That includes some instances in which pharma companies have agreed to foot the bill for a voucher program to cover the cost of the test once it is on the market to alleviate some of the risk if the test does not get reimbursed at a high price.
But as for royalties, she said that remains a “dream” of diagnostic firms. What, we wonder, will it take to make that wish come true?
Clovis/EOS: Boulder, Colo.-based Clovis Oncology Inc. enjoyed a June bump in its share price, after it received positive data on two compounds. Now, the company is putting its Street strength to work by making an acquisition. The company agreed to buy Italian cancer drug developer EOS SPA for $200 million upfront, netting Clovis territorial rights to lucitanib, a Phase IIa inhibitor of fibroblast growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor tyrosine kinases that has shown promise in breast cancer and other cancers. Most of the purchase price was paid in stock, as EOS shareholders received $190 million worth of Clovis shares and $10 million in cash. If lucitanib is approved in the U.S., Clovis will pay an additional $65 million in cash; EOS shareholders will also receive an additional €115 million ($155 million) in cash based on further milestones, under an existing agreement with Servier SA. Clovis shares have kept most of their recent gains, and the company has been planning to make moves for some time. EOS licensed lucitanib’s rights in Europe and most of the world to Servier in a 2012 deal; the acquisition gives Clovis full rights in the U.S. and Japan, and Clovis plans to collaborate with Servier on development and commercialization in other territories. Servier is obligated to pay for the first €80 million in lucitanib’s clinical development costs, and the two will share further costs. Clovis also stands to receive €350 million plus royalties from Servier if the drug achieves downstream milestones. -- Paul Bonanos
Versant/Celgene/Bayer: Two deals announced this past week demonstrate Versant’s willingness to develop drug assets, instead of full-blown companies, with single buyers holding options to acquire each one. On Nov. 19, Versant unveiled plans for a biotech incubator in downtown Toronto to draw from the neighboring medical research community. If all goes well, the incubator, which Versant has named Blueline Bioscience, will spin out at least two single-asset companies by the end of 2014. And if all goes really well, those companies will be bought by Celgene Corp., which already has agreed to fund the incubator in exchange for option rights. Versant and Celgene are familiar partners. In 2011, the two firms launched genomic analysis firm Quanticel Pharmaceuticals Inc., with Celgene holding a series of time-based options to acquire the company outright. Celgene will invest an undisclosed amount, but will not receive equity in Blueline or, initially, in the companies it incubates. The second deal Versant announced this week is the spin-out of a new single-asset company from Versant’s wholly owned drug-discovery group, Inception Sciences Inc. The spin-out is simply named Inception 4 Inc., and it houses an ophthalmology program; Bayer AG has an exclusive option to acquire it down the road at undisclosed milestones. Inception Sciences is a hybrid of a drug-discovery firm and holding company. The company discovers drugs with a team of scientists and spins each program into a separate corporate entity, typically with $5 million to $10 million in initial funding. The numbered spin-outs are positioned for eventual sale, while the discovery engine remains housed within Inception Sciences. -- Alex Lash
Vertex/Janssen: It’s not a new deal but the end of a long-existing one. Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced Nov. 20 it had sold its royalty rights for sales of protease inhibitor telaprevir outside of North America to Janssen Inc., the company that holds marketing rights to the hepatitis C drug, branded as Incivo, in Europe, South America, the Middle East, Africa and Australia. Janssen acquired those rights in a 2006 co-development agreement under which it paid Vertex $165 million upfront along with annual royalties in the mid-20% range. Under the revised arrangement, Janssen will pay Vertex $152 million during the fourth quarter of 2013, then cease paying any further royalties on Incivo sales beginning in 2014. Vertex’s decision is in line with planning outlined on its Oct. 29 third quarter earnings call as the Cambridge, Mass., firm, which markets telaprevir as Incivek in North America, decreases its emphasis on the HCV space to focus more on its cystic fibrosis franchise and other pipeline projects. In a Nov. 20 note, analyst Geoff Meacham of J.P. Morgan said the move made sense for Vertex and should help bolster the company’s finances. He forecast royalty revenue of $115 million this year for ex-North American sales of telaprevir, falling to $25 million in 2014 and $11 million in 2015. -- Joseph Haas
Pfizer/GSK: Pfizer Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline PLC are making good on industry promises to test cancer drugs in combination, even across big pharma’s research halls, with a research collaboration announced Nov. 21. The companies have agreed to test GSK’s MEK1 and MEK2 inhibitor trametinib, approved in the U.S. as Mekinist for melanoma, in combination with Pfizer’s investigational palbociclib, an inhibitor of cyclin dependent kinases 4 and 6 in a Phase I/II study in patients with BRAFV600 wild type advanced metastatic melanoma. The open-label trial is designed to determine a recommended combination regimen and also will study the effect of the combination on tumor biomarkers and anti-cancer activity and safety. GSK will run the study and the terms of the deal were not disclosed. Palbociclib is a cornerstone of Pfizer’s cancer pipeline and is being developed for the treatment of breast cancer after demonstrating significant improvement in progression-free survival in patients with ER+, HER2- breast cancer.
Patheon/DSM Pharmaceutical Products: Consolidation is afoot in the CRO market, with news that Canada’s Patheon Inc. is merging with Royal DSM NV’s pharmaceutical division, DSM Pharmaceutical Products (DPP), to create a whole new company that will aim to product full-service outsourcing for the pharma industry. “Our customers have indicated a strong desire to streamline their outsourcing network, at the same time, increasing their outsourcing,” said Jim Mullen, current CEO of Patheon. “They want to work with fewer companies with broader capabilities and capacity.” The new company, which will be based in Durham, N.C., will have a global footprint of 23 sites across North America, Europe, Latin America and Australia. Mullen, who held the top slot at Biogen Idec Inc. for seven years prior to joining Patheon, will be CEO. Patheon shareholders will receive $9.32 per share in an all-cash transaction that is expected to close within three to four months. The deal is subject to approval of various regulatory authorities in several countries, including the U.S., Canada, Turkey and Mexico. The per-share price values the deal at $2.6 billion and is a 64% premium to Patheon’s closing price on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Nov. 18, the day before the deal was announced. Private equity firm JLL Partners will own a 51% stake in the new company and DSM will own the remainder. JLL currently is the largest shareholder of Patheon with a 66% stake in the company. The deal requires the majority approval of Patheon’s minority shareholders to proceed. -- Lisa LaMotta
Unilife/Hikma: Unilife Corp. which specializes in the production and sale of injectable drug-delivery systems, announced a 15-year commercial supply contract with Jordan-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals PLC Nov. 20. Under the agreement, Unilife will supply Hikma with customized prefillable delivery systems from its Unifill platform. Hikma, focused on the production and sale of a range of branded and non-branded generic products principally in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in the U.S. and Europe, will use the syringes with a range of generic injectable drugs, beginning with an initial list of 20 generic injectables. The deal reflects the growing market preference for prefilled syringes over vials. Unilife CEO Alan Shortall sees the deal with Hikma as an entrée for his products into the fast-growing market for generic injectables. Unilife will begin product sales to Hikma in early 2014, and going forward, will supply Hikma with a minimum volume of 175 million units/year following a rapid, high volume ramp up period. In addition to an undisclosed share of product sales, Hikma will pay Unilife $40 million in staggered upfront payments beginning with $5 million immediately and $15 million during 2014; the final $20 million will be paid in milestone-based installments in 2015. In return, Hikma gets exclusive global rights to Unifill’s prefilled syringes. Unilife can use the payments: It has been in the red for the past 11 years. In fiscal 2013, the York, Pa.-based company made $2.74 million in sales and reported a net loss of $63.2 million. -- Mike Goodman
Amicus/Callidus: In what it is calling a “highly synergistic strategic combination,” rare-disease focused Amicus Therapeutics Inc. has acquired privately held Callidus Biopharma Inc. for $15 million in Amicus common stock plus earn-outs pegged to Phase II development of Callidus’ enzyme-replacement therapy for Pompe disease and to late-stage development, regulatory and approval milestones related to three products. Shareholders in Callidus, which raised a $4.6 million Series A round from undisclosed investors in May, can earn up to $10 million for the Pompe disease Phase II work and up to $105 million related to that program and two others being added to the Amicus pipeline. The deal was announced on the same day that Amicus said GlaxoSmithKline PLC would give back rights to its lead drug candidate (see below); the biotech also simultaneously announced a $15 million private placement, a planned $25 million debt financing and a staff cut down to 91 employees that is expected to save the biotech $4 million next year. -- JAH
Amicus/GSK: Amicus and partner GSK are parting ways, kind of, but the biotech didn’t describe its new relationship with GSK as a “highly synergistic strategic no-deal.” We’ve done that for them. Instead, also on Nov. 21, New Jersey-based Amicus described the handover as a “revision” of its partnership with GSK around the pharmacological chaperone program migalastat (monotherapy and co-administered with enzyme replacement therapy), which was focused on Fabry disease. During a same-day conference call with analysts, Amicus CEO John Crowley noted a $3 million equity investment by GSK in Amicus (it had made two prior equity purchases, giving it a 19.9% ownership stake) and called the company a “passive partner” in migalastat. So GSK isn’t entirely gone – for now, it remains an Amicus shareholder. But it’s a shareholder that clearly sees its own future in the rare diseases space a lot differently than it did only a couple years ago, a view that should have other GSK partners on alert. Nevertheless, the big pharma retains some upside potential around migalastat: GSK is entitled to a mix of royalties and commercial milestone payments on monotherapy and combination products in certain territories. Crowley described the family of transactions as a culmination of events that will re-make the biotech into a “better resourced” firm focused more sharply on biologic therapies for rare disorders. -- JAH
image via flickr user Jordan Colley Visuals used under creative commons license