Friday, January 09, 2009

DotW: The Hype Machine

It's J.P. Morgan time. And as the immortal James Brown sang (or did he shout): "Get on up, Get on up. Stay on the scene, like a hype machine."

Okay, so the lyrics were a tad different. But you get the point. The impending JPM meeting is THE industry confab, and if ever our industry needed a little boost of hype--kind of like Botox--it's now.

A report in Friday's VentureWire confirms what START-UP readers already knew: venture capital needs a plan B. Meanwhile, companies such as Wyeth and Merck are ramping up their diversification spin, in part because of the continued troubles associated with bringing traditional pharmaceuticals to market.

Perhaps it was the holiday break...or perhaps companies felt the need to generate their own buzz ahead of JPM, but IVB couldn't help but notice a torrent of deal-making news this week. (Maybe folks want to get an early start on IVB's 2009 Deal of the Year Award.) Not to toot our own horn, but we weren't just ahead of the news, we made news with the signing of Pharmalot blogger, Ed Silverman. Consider this your official welcome, Ed.
Moving on... at least four companies emerged from stealth mode this week: Anaphore, FORMA Therapeutics, Kolltan Therapeutics, and Satori, and its likely these companies and their backers will find their dance cards full in San Francisco.

We suspect the JPM presentations of Wyeth, Genentech and Roche will also be packed. Genentech and Roche because people are still itching to know if the biggest potential deal of 2008 will actually come to fruition in 2009. Wyeth because of news leaked earlier this week indicating its interest in vaccine maker Crucell.

But until the full assault on your liver begins--we know you really go to JPM for the presentations (wink wink)--we bring you this interlude. Our own analysis of the week's hype, pulled together by an able team of writers from "The Pink Sheet" DAILY, PharmAsia News, and the greater IN VIVO Blog team.

UCB/Wilex: In a deal structure that might best be described as double-jointed, Belgian pharma UCB and German oncology-focused biotech Wilex have entered a risk-sharing partnership in which Wilex will develop UCB’s preclinical oncology pipeline with UCB holding repurchase rights for each program. Under the terms, UCB has granted the rights to five preclinical oncology programs to a new legal entity wholly owned by UCB and funded with €10 million. Wilex, in turn, will acquire the entity in a process that involves issuing about 1.8 million new shares. As a result of the deal, UCB will own 13 percent of Wilex. UCB can buy back the programs after first clinical feasibility studies finish, and take over development and commercialization, in which case Wilex would get milestone payments and royalties. If UCB opts not to re-purchase, Wilex keeps rights and pays milestones plus royalties to UCB.
The shrewd risk-and-cost-sharing arrangement helps UCB handle its delay of the rheumatoid arthritis drug Cimzia, stalled earlier this month by a complete response letter from FDA. UCB said the collaboration will enable it to focus on its own R&D priorities, especially central nervous system and immunology therapies. Reminiscent of prior deals between Genentech and Xoma and Lilly’s risk- and reward-sharing deal with India’s Nicholas Piramal, the UCB/Wilex tie-up may provide a template for future deal-making in the industry--Joseph Haas.

Johnson & Johnson/Vanderbilt: Dealing with last year’s loss of exclusivity for its schizophrenia drug Risperdal, Johnson & Johnson is turning to an academic partner in an effort to develop novel therapies for that disease. What’s unique, though, is that Vanderbilt University’s Program in Drug Discovery will advance the collaboration’s compounds to the IND stage before J&J affiliate Janssen will step in to continue development. As reported by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, Vanderbilt gets $10 million upfront from J&J in exchange for exclusive worldwide license to compounds university researchers have developed to target a neurotransmitter receptor. J&J will fund research for three years, during which time it will have the option to license new discoveries produced by the effort. Per the agreement, Vanderbilt could realize up to $100 million in milestones through the collaboration. J&J, which has launched its own generic version of Risperdal along with a long-acting formulation of the drug, may be especially desperate to find new schizophrenia candidates, since its own candidate, paliperidone palmitate, has been stalled at FDA due to a “complete response” letter--Joseph Haas.

Alnylam/Cubist: We can only assume that having won our 2008 Deal of the Year award for their tie-up with Takeda, execs at Alnylam are addicted to the rush. The RNAi licensor extraordinaire starts the year with more news: a co-development and profit-sharing collaboration for its respiratory syncytial virus program, including Phase II candidate ALN-RSV01. In a Jan. 9 note, Rodman & Renshaw lauded the deal, noting its similarity to the Alnylam/Takeda deal. Cubist, which has launched its once-daily anti-bacterial Cubicin with seven commercialization partners worldwide, will pay Alnylam $20 million upfront for worldwide commercialization rights to the RSV program, excluding Asia, where Kyowa Hakko Kirin holds rights. Alnylam also could receive development and sales milestones up to $82.5 million along with double-digit royalties. Alnylam is currentlyinvestigating ‘RSV01 in adult lung-transplant patients, but the larger opportunity is children and high-risk adults. AstraZeneca’s Synagis, an RSV prophylactic, is nearing blockbuster status--Joseph Haas.

Merck/Galapagos: Belgium’s Galapagos, already partnered with Lilly in osteoporosis and Boehringer-Ingelheim in autoimmune disease has struck a target discovery platform deal with Merck to seek novel therapies for obesity and diabetes. Merck, which has been aggressive in lifecycle management efforts for top diabetes products Januvia and Janumet, will pay Galapagos €1.5 million upfront ($2.01 million) along with discovery, development and regulatory milestones that could pass €170 million ($228.3 million) for multiple products. For any product that reaches market, Galapagos will also be eligible for unspecified sales milestones and royalties. Using its proprietary SilenceSelect platform, Galapagos will perform preclinical research on targets selected by a joint screening committee. Merck then will have the option to take candidates produced by this process into development, although Galapagos may perform some Phase I clinical studies and will retain development and commercialization rights to any compounds Merck does not pick up. The back-end loaded nature of the deal shows the power Big Pharma partners have to set deal terms in the current environment. However, we aren't surprised to see Galapagos in the news since it's one of Europe's star biotech companies--Joseph Haas.

Endo/Indevus: Endo’s $370 million acquisition of Indevus will enable the former to move into new therapeutic areas while helping the latter get its hypogonadism injectable, Nebido, to the finish line at FDA. Nebido, a long-acting testosterone product, has been held up at FDA due to safety concerns about injection-related cough. Endo's purchase involves more than half of the $632.9 million it had on hand as of Sept. 30, and also calls for $267 million in milestones. The goal of the combined company is to create a specialty powerhouse, with sales force teams dominating in three areas: urology, enodcrinology, and pain. Currently Endo markets overactive bladder therapies Sanctura and Sanctura XM, advanced prostate cancer drug Vantas, central precocious puberty drug Supprelin LA, and hypogonadism product Delatestryl. Indevus plans to resubmit its NDA for Nebido by the end of this quarter and says FDA ultimately will be comfortable with the drug’s risk-reward profile--Randall Osborne.

Roche/Plexxikon: In its second major deal with Roche, Plexxikon gets $60 million upfront and the opportunity for $275 million in milestones plus double-digit royalties in exchange for worldwide exclusive rights to PLX5568, an Raf kinase inhibitor in Phase I for polycystic kidney disease. Plexxikon expects to begin Phase II study of ‘5568 this year and notes about $100 million in milestones is tied to development markers. The biotech also gets U.S. co-promotion rights for the compound in indications other than PKD. The high-value deal shows that Big Pharma remain willing to pay handsomely for early-stage assets--a phenomenon we first discussed in this 2006 feature. As "The Pink Sheet" DAILY noted, privately-held Plexxikon, which was founded in 2001, has done an amazing job of raising non-dilutive financing. Still, we can't help but wonder if the firm's venture backers, which include Pappas Ventures, Alta Partners, and Advanced Technology Ventures, are hankering for an exit. If so, it will be interesting to see if the most recent tie-up with Roche limits the biotech's options. In a better financial climate, Plexxikon would have been a perfect IPO candidate. But with the IPO window firmly shut, exit by acquisition is the only game in town. Roche has a history of trying before it buys--GlycArt, anyone--but if it doesn't bite, other Big Pharma might be hesitant to pay big bucks for a company whose major programs are already off the table--Emily Hayes.

Onyx/S*BIO: This week Onyx Pharmaceuticals inked a potential $550 million deal with Singapore’s S*BIO to co-develop two Janus kinase inhibitors. S*BIO gets $25 million upfront and can receive up to $525 million in equity purchase, options and license fees over the life of the deal, which covers Phase I candidate SB1518 and preclinical SB1578. Onyx gets rights to develop and commercialize the JAK inhibitors for any indication in the U.S., EU and Canada, while S*BIO, which would receive double-digit royalties on Onyx’s product sales from the partnership, is still free to develop and partner the compounds elsewhere. SB1518 is in Phase I for myelofibrosis, with data expected mid-year, and Phase II expected to begin later in 2009. SB1578 is expected to reach the clinic in 2010--Tamra Sami.

Boston Scientific/Labcoat: UPDATED. Information was missing from the previous edition due to an editing error. Bonus device deal of the week! (Who says we only cover biopharma?) If you are impressed with the sharp color images or photo resolution you get from your printer, imagine using the same technology to paint coronary stents with a thin coating--think less than one micron--of a biodegradable polymer and drug formulation. That's the technology Boston Scientific acquired when it bought Galway-based Labcoat this week. With this deal, BSC is looking to maintain its current market leadership position in drug-eluting stents by employing Labcoat's novel coating technology for its next-generation devices. Boston currently has more than 50% of the US DES market through its unique two-drug strategy that employs both paclitaxel and everolimus on its current Taxus and Promus stents. Concerns raised in recent years regarding the risk of late stent thrombosis from DES have caused companies to look back to the good old days of bare-metal stents. Efforts are now underway to minimize the amounts of drug and polymer necessary to prevent restenosis in such stents. The Labcoat deal represents Boston's first efforts with a bioerodable polymer, which the company plans to employ on its next generation Element stent platform. Labcoat's approach applies the polymer and drug--and only small quantities of both--to the outside of the stent, thereby minimizing the amount of both substances on the stent's inner surface where endothelial cell growth is required for healing. Moreover, as the polymer degrades, the end result is a bare-metal stent--Steve Levin.

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