As founder and president of a coalition working to enhance academic drug-discovery and collaborations between academia and industry, Barbara Slusher has a good idea of the advantages and pitfalls of such arrangements. She points to ongoing work between Japan’s Eisai and Johns Hopkins University, where she serves as director of neurotranslational drug discovery at the medical school’s Brain Science Institute, as a potentially more mutually rewarding template for academic/industry tie-ups.
In October 2011, Eisai signed a five-year drug-discovery alliance with JHU, initially slated to focus on central nervous system targets. Slusher, who heads up the Academic Drug Discovery Consortium (ADDC) in addition to her responsibilities at JHU, said the partners are about 18 months into a partnership currently focused on two targets, one undisclosed. The other is aimed at identifying drug-like molecules that inhibit xCT, a glutamate cysteine exchanger that Eisai believes could offer potential in combating inflammatory disease.
|Barbara Slusher, JHU Brain Science Institute |
and Academic Drug Discovery Consortium
Under this alliance, written to last the greater of five years or to the completion or termination of all related projects, the Brain Science Institute reviews target research throughout JHU’s roster of researchers and presents potentially novel and interesting targets for Eisai’s review. Eisai then selects the targets of greatest interest for the high-throughput screening collaboration.
The compound libraries generally available to academic researchers are not as large, diverse or drug-like as those found within a biopharmaceutical company’s library, developed through years of wide-ranging R&D work, Slusher said. Slusher came to JHU in 2010 after working in drug discovery at five biopharma companies, including Eisai, and set a goal of establishing collaborations offering greater potential for academic discovery work.
“One of the things that my team did when we first came to Hopkins was try to establish a relationship with a pharma company such that if any targets we identified were of interest to the company, we would develop a high-throughput screening assay, share that with the company, and they would screen using our assay and compound library,” she said.
“At the point that they find hits, they then transfer those back to my team here and we do all the drug discovery and chemistry to identify a compound to get to the clinic,” Slusher added. “At that point, Eisai has first rights to license that compound.”
“The exciting thing about this collaboration is that it is truly a win/win,” she continued. “From my perspective, academia is excellent at identifying new targets of therapeutic interest, but our screening ability is limited due to the size and quality of the compound libraries available. Our collaboration with Eisai gives us access to a real pharma library. From the Eisai side, the collaboration provides access to new targets and novel therapeutic approaches.”
Lynn Kramer, Eisai’s chief clinical officer and president of its Neuroscience and General Medicine Product Creation Unit (PCU), concurs, saying the JHU tie-up and a similar partnership with University College London, offer Eisai “a novel target identification program that incorporates early drug development.”
“For us, it expands the novelty of our programs and it’s designed to utilize the best skills from each of the two partners to facilitate drug development and pass the compounds back and forth between our strengths and their strengths,” he said. The Brain Science Institute is a little unique from an academic perspective in that it has a number of people who have a lot of drug-development experience in pharmacokinetics, medicinal chemistry, toxicology and animal models,” skills that increasingly are available in top academic medical centers as they try to move up the research value chain.
|Lynn Kramer, Eisai|
Slusher’s team sorts through the most-promising research from a consolidated team of about 550 researchers to find target prospects for Eisai. His company therefore has access to the most concentrated group of neuroscience researchers outside of Boston, but with a single point of contact and first rights to option programs, Kramer said. JHU advances the programs selected by Eisai as far as the IND-ready stage, with pre-arranged terms for licensing fees, milestones and royalties on those assets it takes in-house.
“Eisai has the ability at multiple stages to come in and acquire the project,” Slusher said. “Depending upon when they in-license, the value derived by the university varies. If Eisai in-licenses the drugs early in the process, Johns Hopkins derives less value than if they in-license late in the process. It’s correlative to the amount of effort we’ve put in.”
About 18 months into the collaboration, JHU has developed assays for the two targets, Eisai has conducted high-throughput screening and is now sending first hits back the university for the next stages of work. “We probably have a year or two of chemistry and drug discovery to do before leads will be identified as options for the company,” Slusher noted. “This whole process probably likely will take three to five years.”
Kramer would not specify Eisai’s internal goals for producing a first clinical candidate from the partnership, other than to say “our goal is in the not-too-distant future – by that I don’t mean in a year. This takes a while.”
In general, Kramer thinks further collaboration with academia will be beneficial for his company. ADDC, founded in 2012, intends to serve as a clearinghouse for both academia and industry on research taking place within U.S. and international drug research programs. It doesn’t do tech-transfer work itself, but aims to make it easier for academics and biopharmaceutical companies to work together.
“You see from our two associations that they’re very flexible,” Kramer said. “We have gotten away from a lot of the intellectual property issues that used to plague the industry, because we’re really interested in molecule IP, not target IP, which used to lead to years of back and forth and impaired academic development. By getting over that hurdle, I view the academic groups as our ‘bread-and-butter’ for novel targets. It’s very hard in the industry to develop a novel, previously unidentified target – it’s too expensive and takes too long.”
It wasn’t just the academic world that biopharma companies were dealing with this past week, though. Read on for …
Teva/NuPathe: Teva expects to launch the migraine patch Zecuity (sumatriptan iontrophoretic transdermal system) in the first half of 2014 after acquiring the developer, NuPathe. The two announced the acquisition plans Jan. 21, with Teva’s $3.65 per share offer, approximately $144 million upfront, trumping rival bidder Endo’s proposal of $3.15 per share. Teva, which needs near-term revenue generators, gains a new product to add to its specialty central nervous system portfolio. FDA already approved the drug in January 2013, but NuPathe held out on commercializing it in order to find a partner. The drug is the only patch approved for migraine. The Israeli pharma’s offer represents a significant 58% premium over the $2.30 NuPathe shares closed at on Dec. 13, the last business day before Endo announced its intentions to buy the company. But it doesn’t offer much financial reward for longer-term investors. NuPathe’s stock opened at $3.80 about a year ago, on Jan. 18, the day after Zecuity was approved by FDA. NuPathe investors could receive additional payments, however, of up to $3.15 per share based on the future sales performance of Zecuity. Investors will receive $2.15 per share if net sales of the product are at least $100 million in any four consecutive calendar quarters on or prior to the ninth anniversary launch date. Another $1.00 per share in cash is payable if sales are at least $300 million in any four calendar quarters over the same time period. - Jessica Merrill
Par Pharmaceuticals/JHP Pharmaceuticals: Par Pharmaceutical is looking to expand the types of generic drugs it can offer beyond the solid, oral-dose pills it has been producing for years. The Woodcliff Lakes, N.J.-based company announced Jan. 21 that is has entered into an agreement to acquire privately held JHP Pharmaceuticals for $490 million in cash, a 2.5x return on investment for JHP’s main investor, private equity firm Warburg Pincus. Par has arranged for $505 million in debt financing to cover the deal and related costs. JHP and all of its assets, including a sterile manufacturing facility in Rochester, MI, will become a wholly owned subsidiary once the deal closes later this quarter. JHP was launched in 2007 when it acquired biologics contract manufacturing assets acquired from King Pharmaceuticals (now part of Pfizer) for $92 million. JHP performs contract manufacturing services worldwide for pharma and biotech customers, producing sterile injectables that require liquid, lyophilized and suspension formulations. The King deal also included branded hospital and acute-care drugs that JHP distributes. The main appeal of JHP to Par is the 14 specialty injectables that it already has on the market, as well as 30 additional candidates it has in its pipeline. Par is looking to expand into high-barrier-to-entry injectable generics as some of the major players in that space falter due to manufacturing problems. - Lisa LaMotta
Biocon/Advaxis: India’s Biocon and New Jersey biotech Advaxis announced an exclusive licensing pact Jan. 22 for co-development and commercialization of ADXS-HPV, a novel cancer immunotherapy for treatment of human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cervical cancer in women. The deal covers India and key Asian emerging markets and gives Biocon access to Advaxis’ innovative and proprietary technology for the development of other novel therapeutics. Advaxis recently completed Phase II clinical trials in patients with recurrent cervical cancer in India, and the immunotherapy also is being evaluated in three clinical trials for HPV-associated cancer like recurrent advanced cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, and anal cancer. A spokesperson for Advaxis said the company will receive double-digit royalties on all sales of its immunotherapy product. The biotech will have exclusive rights to supply ADXS-HPV to Biocon, and Biocon will be required to purchase its requirements of ADXS-HPV exclusively from Advaxis at the specified contract price, which may be adjusted periodically. In addition, Advaxis will be entitled to a “six-figure” milestone payment if net sales of ADXS-HPV for the contract year following the initiation of clinical trials in India exceed certain specified thresholds. - Vikas Dandekar
McKesson/Celesio: In a “No Deal” that has turned into a deal, 10 days after saying its proposed acquisition of German drug wholesaler Celesio had fallen through, U.S. drug wholesaler McKesson has reached agreements that will allow it to complete the purchase after all. McKesson launched its bid to greatly expand its global reach through Celesio in October 2013. However, on Jan. 13 it announced that the deal could not be completed due to its failure to acquire 75% of outstanding Celesio shares through a tender offer. Then, in a Jan. 23 release, McKesson said it had reached an agreement with Franz Haniel & Cie. GmbH to acquire its entire holding of Celesio shares at €23.50 per share and another agreement with an affiliate of Elliott Management to acquire Celesio convertible bonds, which will be enough to give McKesson more than 75% ownership of Celesio on a fully diluted basis. The transactions are expected to close within 10 business days. McKesson plans to launch a voluntary tender offer to purchase shares from the remaining minority shareholders shortly after the close of the other transactions. The company said it will consolidate the financial results of Celesio during its fiscal fourth quarter ending March 31, and McKesson’s earnings will reflect its proportionate share of Celesio’s earnings. It expects to realize annual synergies of between $275 million to $325 million four years after the close of the deal. - Scott Steinke
Photo credits: Johns Hopkins University, Eisai Co. Ltd.