Does this make anyone else nervous? Apparently not, at least not yet. (In December, Mark Schoenebaum of ISI Group circulated a succinct, hypothetical argument for the bear case in biotech. But this is not his view on the sector.)
Going into the 32nd Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, optimism in the sector is continuing unabated. The NBI is up over 5% already this year, by market close on Jan. 10.
That doesn’t even include the phenomenal, two-day 516% climb for Intercept Pharmaceuticals after its Data Safety Monitoring Board recommended stopping early for efficacy at an interim analysis of a Phase II trial of its obeticholic acid to treat the liver disease nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Intercept isn’t an NBI component. In one week, the biotech has leapt from mid-cap into large-cap territory; it now has a market cap of $8.6 billion, up from $1.4 billion ahead of the news.
On the news front at JPM, Wall Street expects Celgene and Acorda will pre-announce 2014 guidance at JPM. Celgene has hinted it may also update its long-term guidance for 2015 and 2017. Exceeding even the very early JPM curve, Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb have already pre-announced their 2014 guidance.
The above should give you a few talking points, as will the deals discussed below. That’s essential when you run into industry colleagues you are just meeting or seeing for the first time in years.
A list of all the JPM parties is also indispensable. Last year was the first time we saw a spreadsheet of all these events. Despite the fact that the Excel document ran a couple of pages, shockingly there were still a few omissions discovered by us and a hedge fund manager who shall remain anonymous.
One of this year’s versions of the JPM party list, linked to above, has been upgraded to a PDF and carefully annotated to note invitation-only parties. Although we wonder, isn’t this list specifically designed for party crashers? Or, maybe it’s just so we’ll know all the fabulous parties we weren’t invited to? The most prosperous entities at any given time always seem to commandeer the penthouse at the pricey Clift Hotel, but of course no spot is cheap at the height of the conference.
Another JPM must is a lot of hand-washing – someone at the last JPM gave DOTW a horrible case of the stomach flu that felled us by Wednesday afternoon. Not to alarm anyone, but the number of flu cases in the U.S. is peaking right now, with a heavy concentration in the Western states. And a San Jose hospital reportedly set up an over-flow tent because of all the flu patients. So, avoid shaking hands with all those Silicon Valley VCs, unless you really need their money.
And for the ladies: no high heels, please. Unless you’re a former model trained to stand the fourteen hours of pain or you are powerful enough to have a suite where everyone is coming to you. Although JPM has promised it’s working to cut back on some (non-paying) attendees this year, so perhaps there will be ample seating at every major session and the hallway traffic will flow freely. Or not.
Most importantly, remember to 'slip' at least once and call the conference H&Q. So, everyone will know you’ve been coming to the conference for a long, long time.
As promised, we continue below to give you ample party-chatter fodder with the latest on biopharma wheeling and dealing in this week’s missive of . . .
Forest/Aptalis: Forest Laboratories continues to build on the business development strategy of new CEO Brent Saunders with its $2.9 billion buy of privately-held Aptalis on Jan. 8. The specialty pharma has been trying to flesh out its key therapeutic areas – CNS, CV, GI, respiratory, and anti-infectives – since Saunders took over the top slot in October. This strategy began with Forest’s $240 million purchase of the antipsychotic Saphris (asenapine) from Merck & Co. in December; building on the company’s central nervous system franchise, which includes the antidepressants Viibryd (vilazodone) and Fetzima (levomilnacipran). Aptalis will give Forest multiple products in the GI space – Carafate (sucralfate) for duodenal ulcer disease and Canasa (mesalamine) for ulcerative proctitis, as well as others. The privately held company also has a strong presence in the cystic fibrosis space in Europe, where it owns three of the five approved drugs for pancreatic enzyme insufficiency: Zenpep, Ultrase and Viokase (pancrelipase, in three formulations). Forest sees this as a way of bolstering its Colobreathe (colistimethate sodium) business. The drug was approved in February 2012 in Europe for the treatment of cystic fibrosis patients aged 6 years and older with chronic lung infection caused by P. aeruginosa. The spec pharma hopes eventually to bring those products to the U.S. market. Forest is acquiring all outstanding shares of the TPG Capital-backed Aptalis with a mixture of cash and debt. The company has secured a $1.9 billion bridge loan to close the deal within the first half of the year, pending regulatory review. The acquisition is expected to add $700 million to 2015 revenues and be immediately accretive to earnings. -- Lisa LaMotta
Royalty Pharma/Fumapharm investors: Royalty Pharma – the investment firm that buys up royalty streams on marketed drugs – is doubling down on its investment in Biogen Idec’s multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), the stand out drug launch of 2013. The firm announced Jan. 6 it would acquire more interest in the earn-outs payable to the former shareholders of Fumapharm for $510 million. Biogen Idec gained dimethyl fumarate with the acquisition of Fumapharm in 2006. Royalty Pharma already owns an interest in Tecfidera from a deal inked with Fumapharm investors in 2012, when it paid $761 million for some rights, back before the drug was approved by FDA. Now it’s obvious why Royalty has come back for more. Tecfidera, which launched in April, appears on pace to generate more than $1 billion in its first 12 months on the market. The royalty company won’t say how much of the sales it stands to receive. Fumapharm investors still own rights to a “substantial portion” of the earn-outs, Royalty said. Under a complicated payout scheme laid out in Biogen Idec’s SEC filings it appears the entire earn-out is worth about 10% of Tecfidera sales annually if the drug reaches $3 billion in sales, which it now seems likely to do. -- Jessica Merrill
Biogen Idec/Sangamo: In a move that could help validate its proprietary genome-editing technology and further strengthen its balance sheet, Sangamo BioSciences signed a worldwide collaboration and licensing agreement with Biogen Idec on Jan. 9 to co-develop potentially curative stem cell therapies for sickle cell disease (SCD) and beta-thalassemia. During a same-day conference call, Sangamo President and CEO Edward Lanphier noted that those two hemoglobinopathies are serious diseases with sub-optimal current treatment options. There are a number of symptomatic approaches to treating the two conditions that do not address the underlying cause of the disease. And while a bone marrow transplant of hematopoietic stem cells can be curative, such procedures are rare due to a lack of ideal matching donors and the risk of graft versus host disease. Biogen is paying $20 million upfront for worldwide license to both Sangamo’s zinc finger nuclease technology platform and its preclinical intellectual property for treating the two diseases. Richmond, Calif.-based Sangamo also can earn up to $300 million in development, regulatory, commercialization and sales milestones under the agreement with Biogen, along with double-digit royalties on any product sales. In addition, the biotech has an option to co-promote for either indication in the U.S., a decision which the company will not need to make for some time, Lanphier said. Sangamo will continue to perform all R&D activities through the first clinical proof-of-concept trial in beta-thalassemia, while the companies will work together on the IND-enabling work for the program in SCD. Biogen will be responsible for all subsequent clinical development and commercialization of both programs, and will reimburse Sangamo for its internal and external R&D costs related to both programs. -- Joseph Haas
Johnson & Johnson: To bolster its network of innovation centers, the global health care company said this week it has helped establish a new incubator in Israel and has signed early stage collaborations or made investments with eight biotech and academic groups. Johnson & Johnson is teaming with the Israeli government, Takeda, and venture firm OrbiMed Advisors to open the facility in early 2014, adding to incubators J&J has opened with partners in Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, and Boston. J&J’s Janssen group also runs an incubator in San Diego. The collaborations or licenses are with Cambridge, Mass. biotech Scholar Rock, to pursue new biologics that target TGF-beta 1 for immune-mediated disease; Intrexon, to develop new consumer hair and skin products; University of Texas's MD Anderson Cancer Center, to develop a translational program for cancer immunotherapy; diagnostic firm Nodality, to hone J&J’s immunology R&D, particularly in rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease; and Dutch firm Bioceros, for exclusive rights to develop a monoclonal antibody against an immune checkpoint modulator. Through its venture arm Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., the J&J Innovation group also announced investments in Assembly Therapeutics, which is developing allosteric modulators to treat Hepatitis B and other viral infections; TopiVert, which is working on topical medicine for inflammatory diseases; and SutroVax, a new entity spun out from antibody platform company Sutro Biopharma to pursue vaccines. -- Alex Lash