Friday, June 28, 2013

Deals of the Week Gets Better Connected, Dips A Toe In Digital Health

Digital health is a bit of a catch-all. It encompasses everything from inexpensive exercise- and diet-recording gadgets to sophisticated multimillion dollar disease management systems, online pharmacies and website-based behavioral therapies. Truth be told, this DOTW correspondent, like many pharma execs, has always put the drugs first.

But there's no denying the clamor of expert opinion claiming digital health will be a powerful disrupter of health care markets in the future, potentially transforming pharma and device companies into service providers. "Digital health is going to happen, it may take time and will advance in fits and starts, but it will happen without the help of the establishment," Simon Cook, CEO of VC firm DFJ Esprit, told the London meeting of the Digital Health Forum, DHF13, earlier this month. "Nine out of 10 digital health businesses will fail, but a few will succeed and change the health care system." DFJ has investments in biopharma companies like Kiadis Pharma and Oxford Immunotec, as well as the internet nutritional company, Graze.

The transformation is coming faster now than two or three years ago, Cook said, because of the increasing pressure on individuals to take control of their own health, coupled with the increasing pervasiveness of smart phones and apps, making people comfortable with digital technology.

The investment community also is more engaged. Low-capital intensity business models are starting to emerge for digital health companies and are "incredibly compelling" for venture capitalists, said Alex van Someren, managing partner of seed funds at Amadeus Capital Partners. Amadeus, along with Archimedia Investments, put £1.6 million ($2.4 million) into the health care cloud platform, Qinec, in November 2012, and took part in May 2013 in a £2 million financing round for TrialReach, a company trying to improve patient awareness of clinical trials.

But small investment rounds, which characterize the digital health sector, often slip below the radar, or are not disclosed publicly, leading to a lack of comprehensive information about deal flows and valuations.

In the increasingly hot area of patient engagement and consumer health, much of the attention devoted to digital health has focused on continuous health monitoring followed by instant intervention via 24/7 connectivity. Innovators have focused on the concept for years, progressing slowly, but newcomers say they're at a turning point. U.K-start-up CellNovo, backed by investors and VCs to the tune of more than $40 million, is one of a slew of companies trying to address this challenge, and believes it is the most advanced in the diabetes sector.

Cellnovo has developed algorithms and software which allow physicians to monitor patients remotely in a sophisticated manner not seen with other company's systems. It anticipates a commercial launch of its digitally interconnected blood sugar monitor, insulin patch pump and exercise diary later this year, said Executive Chairman Eric Beard.

The theory that digital tools can improve the quality of care while saving money is exactly what the US and other countries are striving for as they work to reform their health care systems. In that sense, digital health tools are aligned with systemic priorities, and its benefits have not gone unnoticed by pharmaceutical companies as they and others try to grapple with harsh demands. Johnson & Johnson's business unit, Janssen Healthcare Innovation (JHI) is accelerating J&J's change from a product-centric to a health care solutions company. The company has noticed digital health start-ups often struggle to scale-up, and intends to offer master classes to European entrepreneurs in business development, to enhance the digital health ecosystem, in collaboration with partners.

But while we await the detonation of digital disruption, pharma and biotech have continued to forge deals and agreements, as we unveil ...

AstraZeneca/Roche: AstraZeneca and Roche are teaming up in a medicinal chemistry data-sharing collaboration with the aim of accelerating drug discovery. The deal announced June 26 is a sign big pharma may be more willing to work together in the pre-competitive space to improve the pace of drug development than in the past. Under the arrangement,  the two companies will use a technology called matched molecular pair analysis (MMPA) to identify chemical modifications that can be applied to each company's individual compounds to improve metabolism, pharmacokinetics or safety. The aim is to identify potential new drug candidates faster by using their combined databases of experimental results. Roche and AstraZeneca are committed to making the data generated by the program available to the broader research community, and are open to additional drug manufacturers joining the collaboration. The data-sharing will be managed by MedChemica, an expert in MMPA technology. - Jessica Merrill

MorphoSys/Celgene: Germany's MorphoSys has forged a potentially transformative alliance with Celgene, under which the latter receives worldwide rights to MorphoSys' CD38-targeting antibody, MOR202. The product, which is in Phase I/IIa trials in multiple myeloma, is believed to be Celgene's first clinical-stage antibody for the disease, a therapeutic area it dominates. In return for the rights, MorphoSys receives an upfront fee of $92 million, and Celgene will purchase $60 million worth of shares in MorphoSys at a premium of at least 15% to the biotech's closing share price of $37.06 on June 26. MorphoSys also will receive development, regulatory and sales milestones, plus double-digit royalties outside of a co-promotion territory in Europe, the companies announced June 27. The deal gives the partners the financial firepower to speed MOR202 to the market, while potentially broadening its indications beyond multiple myeloma. - John Davis

Aspen/Merck: South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, the largest generics drug firm in Africa, continued its geographic, manufacturing and portfolio expansion efforts in a complex deal valued at more than $1 billion with Merck, roughly one week after revealing it hopes to acquire two mature thrombosis drugs and a manufacturing site from GlaxoSmithKline. For approximately $600 million, Aspen will buy a portfolio of 14 drugs from Merck and acquire active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing and related sales sites in the Netherlands and the U.S. In the deal, Aspen will get the Boxtel site in the Netherlands as well as part of two other API plants in that country, along with a manufacturing site in Iowa. Sales offices in the Netherlands and Illinois also will be included in the package. News surfaced June 18 that GSK is mulling an offer from Aspen to purchase Arixtra and Fraxiparine, which generated aggregate sales of $670 million in 2012, as well as a manufacturing site in France. - Joseph Haas

Cytokinetics/Astellas: Cytokinetics has signed a two-year research collaboration including rights to its skeletal muscle activator CK-2127107 with Astellas Pharma. The deal, announced June 25, is the second Cytokinetics has signed in two weeks, extending the company's cash runway and providing financial flexibility to carry on with the development of its lead drug tirasemtiv independently. Like '107, tirasemtiv is a skeletal troponin muscle activator, currently being tested in a Phase IIb clinical trial in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; data are expected by the end of the year. The license for '107 to Astellas is for non-neuromuscular disorders. The development plan encompasses potential indications like cachexia and sarcopenia. The deal does not exclude the potential to study other skeletal activator mechanisms that may emerge from the research in neuromuscular indications. Cytokinetics will receive $40 million initially from Astellas, including a $16 million upfront payment and $24 million in R&D reimbursement over the first two years of the collaboration. The biotech stands to receive as much as $450 million in development and commercial milestones, as well as royalties on any drugs emerging from the collaboration. Cytokinetics announced an expanded collaboration with Amgen June 12, under which it received $25 million upfront in exchange for giving Amgen rights to the heart failure candidate omecamtiv in Japan; the two already are partnered in other parts of the world - JM

Seattle Genetics/Bayer/Agensys: Antibody-drug conjugate specialist Seattle Genetics executed its seventh partnership since the start of 2009 around its auristatin-based ADC technology platform on June 25. This time, the Bothell, Wash., biotech will receive $20 million upfront from Bayer for a multi-target oncology collaboration. Seattle Genetics could earn up to $500 million in milestones under the Bayer agreement, as well as royalties on any products reaching the market. Targets were not disclosed. Bayer will be responsible for all R&D costs, plus manufacturing and commercialization. Seattle Genetics, which brought the first ADC to market for oncology with the 2011 U.S. approval of Adcetris (brentuximab vedotin), now has partnerships with five of the 12 big pharma companies, as well as three Japanese pharma and four biotech firms. In a release, VP of Corporate Development Natasha Hernday said Seattle Genetics has 15 ADCs in clinical development between proprietary and partnered programs, and is in line to earn up to $3.5 billion in milestones and royalties from its strategic partnerships. The biotech also announced June 27 it had taken an option under its 2007 collaboration with Astellas-affiliated Agensys. Seattle Genetics will fund 50% of the future development costs of ASG-15ME, a potential ADC therapy for bladder and lung cancer for which an IND has been submitted to FDA. - JAH

ADC Therapeutics/VivaMab: Swiss-based ADC Therapeutics is adding to its preclinical pipeline of around 10 antibody-drug conjugates by licensing a novel internalizing antibody, VM101, from BioAtla LLC's therapeutic division, VivaMab LLC. The antibody conjugated with a cytotoxic warhead has already shown in vivo efficacy against models of intractable hematological cancers, the companies reported June 24. ADC Therapeutics plans to start pre-IND development of the antibody-drug conjugate immediately for the treatment of a hematological cancer, with San Diego-based VivaMab providing development support and receiving undisclosed milestones and royalties. The antibody binds to antigens on the surface of tumor cells, is internalized and then releases the cytotoxic pyrrolobenzodiazepine payload. The Swiss firm say it intends to move multiple drugs into the clinic over the next three years. Upon successful proof of concept, it will seek to license the antibody-drug conjugates to pharmaceutical companies. - JD

Immunocore/Genentech: Genentech has become the first major partner of the privately held UK biotech Immunocore, which is developing a new class of bispecific therapeutic proteins called ImmTACs. The companies have entered into a research collaboration and licensing agreement for the discovery and development of multiple novel cancer agents, with Immunocore receiving an initation fee of $10-20 million for each program, the companies announced June 27. Immunocore will also receive more than $300 million in development and commercial milestones for each target program, and tiered royalties. The company's lead product, IMCgp100, which is in a Phase I/II clinical trial in patients with late-stage melanoma, is  not part of the deal. ImmTACs consist of high-affinity T-cell receptors linked to an antibody fragment, anti-CD3, which activates the immune system. T-cell receptors can recognize intracellular changes tha occur during cancer or viral infections, and ImmTACs are expected to target and destroy cancer cells without affecting healthy cells. - JD

Tesaro/Myriad Genetics: Tesaro, a three-year-old company focusing on cancer and moving at lightning speed, will use Myriad Genetic's BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation tests to screen patients for enrollment in Phase III trials for one of its lead drugs, niraparib. The drug, a PARP inhibitor, which Tesaro in-licensed from Merck in 2012, is geared to patients with BRCA1 & 2 mutations who have breast or ovarian cancers. Myriad is the only company offering an FDA-approved version of this test, so the alternative would be to go to laboratories offering home grown versions, but the latter may not be as robust, a downside for inclusion in pivotal trials. Both studies will be initiated in mid-to-late 2013. Tesaro told Robyn Karnauskas, an analyst with Deutsche Bank, that its PARP inhibitor program is its most de-risked development strategy, based on very specific input from EMA and FDA. Women with germline BRCA 1 or 2 mutations have increased risk of developing high-grade ovarian and breast cancers, which are particularly sensitive to PARP inhibitors. Management further believes that the drug may be effective in other indications. - Wendy Diller

Nicox SA/Immco Diagnostics: Nicox, a French ophthalmics company, has entered into an exclusive agreement with Buffalo, NY-based Immco Diagnostics to promote a proprietary laboratory test targeted at early detection and diagnosis of Sjoegren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that destroys the ability to produce tears and saliva. Under the terms of the deal, Nicox will detail the test to ophthalmologists in North America, to whom patients with the syndrome often present because dry eye is a symptom. Immco will be responsible for processing the test and all regulatory activites and reimbursement. Nicox will receive a majority of revenues generated from the ophthalmologists and has a nine-month option to exercise ex-U.S. commercial rights to the test as well. The disease destroys the exocrine glands that produce saliva and tears. Current diagnostic techniques for Sjoegren's syndrome are only moderately effective and detect disease only at advanced stages. The new test aims to diagnose the disease at earlier stages, when it is more treatable. Dry eye is a primary symptom of the disease, which is chronic, and the test is aimed at helping early diagnosis and more efficient management of it; rheumatologists are also involved in treatment. The test was approved in the U.S. in 2013, with a commercial launch expected in the second half of the year - WD

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Financings of the Fortnight Spins A Big LP

Since when did “LP” stand for “Lavish Pharma” – as in, lavishing cash upon the life science venture world?

Everyone in our corner of the playground has known for some time that corporate venture groups are making more direct investments, especially in funding early-stage biotechs. “We’re going in earlier and earlier,” Jens Eckstein, the head of GlaxoSmithKline’s longstanding venture arm SROne, told "The Pink Sheet" recently. “We’re now incubating companies and creating companies on our own.”

In 2012, 28% of the nearly 80 biopharma or diagnostic start-ups that raised A rounds had at least one corporate investor on board (and often had more). In 12 of those deals, the corporates took the lead. Eckstein also said that SROne invested $53 million in 2012, its most active year yet.

Big Pharma is filling the void left by limited partners, too. Again, one of the most aggressive spenders is GSK. The latest example, announced last week, is its $23 million investment in a fund run by French firm Kurma Life Sciences Partners to focus on rare diseases. Officially Kurma Biofund II, it’s the first instance of a fund specific to a disease or indication subsector that we can recall since Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers said it would set aside $200 million for a “pandemic and biodefense” fund in the midst of the avian flu frenzy. (That link is well worth clicking, by the way, if only for the San Francisco Chronicle file photo of Brook Byers rocking That ‘70s Hairdo.)

Glaxo, like most of its Big Pharma brethren, wants products with the possibility of accelerated approval and high prices that won’t get push-back from payors. The rare-disease rush has gone on for quite some time, prompting our colleagues to ask a year ago if it were a precarious bubble. Apparently GSK and Kurma’s other LPs that include New Enterprise Associates don’t think so.

To be clear, the money GSK is pouring into venture funds is separate from the capital under management at SROne. (SROne used to make LP investments but hasn’t for about six years, Eckstein said.)  In the case of Kurma, GSK feels its smaller partner is better suited to sniff out the opportunities in European research labs, a similar story it told when it agreed earlier this year to co-fund up to 10 single-asset startups with Avalon Ventures in San Diego. (Again, the cash did not come from SROne’s capital pool.) GSK isn’t a limited partner in the Avalon deals, per se, but it is leaning heavily on Avalon’s scouting expertise. “If we can’t find ten cutting-edge programs, we’re not going to get into ten,” Lon Cardon, GSK’s SVP of alternative discovery and development, told Start-Up in April. “But we’re pretty confident Avalon can source four, five, or six without too much trouble.”

The Avalon arrangement also gives GSK an option to purchase each entity as it produces a clinical candidate that can move into IND-enabling studies. But in its more straightforward LP relationships – at least the ones publicly disclosed – it invests with no such strings attached.

Since the start of 2012, GSK has made other big commitments. In March 2012 Index Ventures said it had closed its first life-science-only fund at €150 million ($220 million) with GSK and Johnson & Johnson combining to commit half the total.

In January 2013 GSK said it would pump $50 million into Sanderling Ventures’ new $250 million fund, a surprising bit of news if only because Sanderling’s previous fund closed eons ago in 2004. Based near San Francisco, Sanderling’s West Coast location, where GSK had not partnered with a venture firm at the time, was a factor in GSK’s decision. (Since that announcement, during this year’s JPMorgan conference, Sanderling has not filed any regulatory updates that would indicate more progress toward the $250 million goal.)

GSK also has invested in Boston-based Longwood Founders’ Fund, run by Boston biotech veterans Christoph Westphal, Michelle Dipp, and Rich Aldrich. Dipp and Westphal were GSK executives for a relatively brief and controversial time after the company bought their Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. The amount of GSK’s Longwood investment was not disclosed.

(Other examples of Pharma LP investments: VenBio’s first fund backed by Amgen, Baxter International, and the CRO Pharmaceutical Product Development; Merck & Co.’s Research Venture Fund initiative, which includes an investment in Flagship Ventures’ latest fund; and Eli Lilly’s “Mirror Funds,” which after a big opening splash in 2010 hasn’t produced news since 2011.)

The $64,000 question – or multibillion-dollar question, really – is whether all this activity will pay off with more drug revenue for GSK and its peers. There’s strong evidence that direct corporate venture bets have rarely led to the parent company acquiring the investment targets, but there’s nothing yet to help glean how much Pharma’s LP activity has helped. Let's take GSK: From 2010 to 2012, the firm was 461 million pounds in the red based on its purchase and sale of equity investments, so assuming the SR One and LP activity counts against those figures, it’s hard to say GSK is getting a good financial return. But all this corporate venturing, whether as GP or LP, not just a financial exercise; GSK personnel take scientific advisory positions in the funds it invests in, where they have a window into dealflow and emerging ideas and technology.

Perhaps it’s instructive to note that of all the Big Pharma, GSK has made the most noise about re-organizing its internal research with a more venture-like mindset. As companies like GSK, Merck, and J&J cozy up to innovative entrepreneurs and financiers, is the warm fuzziness of innovation rubbing off? That's their hope. And even though there's been little correlation between corporate investors and corporate acquirers, as noted earlier, it's no predictor of future behavior, so don't be surprised if the investments lead to buyouts. Pharma's co-investors -- the other LPs in their strategic funds and the VCs who syndicate with their corporate venture funds -- are likely to do well. (They already do; companies with corporate VC investment command better acquisition multiples than companies without.)

What remains to be seen is the influence Pharma's cash has on the recipients of said cash. A curmudgeon might note that big Pharma advice -- the bow wrapped around the gift of its early-stage investment dollars -- hasn't resulted in productive R&D within its own walls over the past decade. Directing more resources -- human and financial -- toward what Pharma thinks it wants right now may mean that other opportunities (ones Pharma doesn't realize it needs later on) might not get funded. Then again, without those Pharma dollars propping up the early stage ecosystem, we might see far fewer companies and drug candidates altogether.

Whew. With that, we've managed to put the "long-playing" back in LP. But DJ FOTF is never done dropping old-school science; we put the needle on the record when the drumbeats go like...

Esperion Therapeutics: The anti-cholesterol drug developer just pulled off what sounds like a zen koan or knock-knock joke: An initial public offering for the second time. The Michigan firm priced its IPO on June 26 and will raise $70 million by selling 5 million shares at $14 a pop, giving it at first a market capitalization over $200 million. It’s not really the firm’s second IPO; a previous iteration, also called Esperion, went public in 2000 and was bought by Pfizer in 2004 for more than $1 billion. The program Pfizer brought in ended up stalling, and the current version of Esperion was created to spin it back out. The program is ETC-1002, designed to lower LDL-C (the so-called bad cholesterol) in statin-resistant patients, and is currently in Phase II. The through-line in all this is Roger Newton, leader of the team that discovered Lipitor (atorvastatin) in the previous millennium at Warner-Lambert. He founded the first Esperion in 1998, stayed on at Pfizer after the first Esperion’s acquisition, and spun back out with ETC-1002 in 2008 to form the second Esperion with $23 million in venture backing from Alta Partners, Aisling Capital, Domain Partners and others. Longitude Capital Partners led a $33 million Series B. Pfizer also took a small stake at the time of the spinout; Esperion’s regulatory filings show Pfizer as a 10% owner before the IPO, thanks in part to a conversion of debt into equity, but Pfizer holds no rights or royalties to ETC-1002. Pre-IPO, Esperion’s largest shareholders were Alta, Aisling and Domain, all with nearly 20% stakes. Not unusual these days, existing investors including Newton pitched in to make the IPO happen, buying 1.2 million of the shares, or more than 20%. Newton owned more than 7% of the company before the IPO. Credit Suisse and Citi led the underwriting and will be able to buy up to 750,000 more shares. – Alex Lash

XO1: The Cambridge, UK start-up has formed to develop an anti-clotting antibody with an $11 million Series A investment from Index Ventures, the venture firm’s largest solo A round to date. The preclinical anticoagulant, ichorcumab, was synthesized by a University of Cambridge research team, based on an antibody produced by a patient with unusual blood-clotting patterns. Index’s David Grainger was a longtime Cambridge research scientist who became an advisor to Index in 2008, then joined as a venture partner in 2012. He told our Pink Sheet colleagues that his close ties to the school led to a quick deal, rather than a competitive process.XO1’s key asset was created after a head-injury patient in her fifties exhibited a rare trait. Grainger said the patient in question had “a benign tumor of the immune system,” naturally producing a previously unseen antibody at an “out-of-control” pace. Her rare condition allowed her to survive a hematoma without bleeding to death, despite a clotting profile apparently similar to that of a hemophiliac. Cambridge researchers produced a similar effect synthetically with an antibody that targets exosite 1 of the thrombin molecule. Index invested from its €150 million ($200 million) Index Life VI fund that closed in March 2012. As noted earlier in this column, half the fund’s money came from GSK and Johnson & Johnson, but neither receives special rights to the portfolio companies in return. – Paul Bonanos

PTC Therapeutics: Rare diseases make for frequent IPOs these days. The latest debut for a biotech working on treatments for orphan indications belongs to PTC, which sold 8.4 million shares at $15 each to net itself $117 million. The deal was upsized from the 6.9 million shares it aimed to sell in the $13 to $16 range. Founded in 1998, the firm raised more than $300 million in private cash and tried to go public in 2007, only to withdraw its filing. The company is spending most of its resources on ataluren, in Phase III in the US for Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy caused by nonsense mutations and under review for market approval in the European Union. It is also in Phase III for nonsense mutation cystic fibrosis, only one of a handful of firms working on a disease-modifying drug in the area. PTC’s IPO came days after bluebird bio, a gene therapy firm going after rare blood-borne diseases, raised $116 million in its debut. Another rare-disease firm, Prosensa Holding, could follow soon.-- A.L.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals: In the last fortnight, specialty pharma and serial acquirer Valeant raised a total of $5.5 billion in funds to pay for its most expensive takeover to date, eye care company Bausch & Lomb. On June 24, Valeant closed on a public offering of 27.1 million shares (including full exercise of the 3.5 million-share overallotment) to gross $2.3 billion, selling stock at $85 apiece. Days earlier, the company launched a private offer of $3.2 billion principal amount in senior unsecured notes due in 2021 and 2023. Valeant announced in late May the $8.7 billion acquisition of Warburg Pincus-owned B&L, creating one of the largest ophthalmology companies in the world that will sell prescription and OTC drugs, including Valeant’s existing AMD treatment Macugen, gained through the 2012 Eyetech acquisition, plus contact lens products and surgical devices. Warburg Pincus will receive $4.5 billion of the purchase price, and the remainder will be used to retire B&L’s outstanding debt. Valeant has previously focused on dermatology and neurology drugs, as well as branded generics. The B&L deal marks Valeant's 25th acquisition in the last five years, for an aggregate $19.4 billion in up-front payments and potential earn-outs, according to Elsevier’s Strategic Transactions. -- Amanda Micklus

All The Rest: In a Series B round led by Stanley Family Foundation, with Clarus Ventures and Takeda Ventures also participating, Heptares (GPCR drug discovery) raised $21mm…3-V Biosciences brought in $20mm in Series C funding to advance its Phase I cancer candidate…protein therapeutics firm Complix NV raised a $15.5mm Series BVasopharm GMBH completed a $6.5mm Series F round to fund start of Phase III of VAS203 for traumatic brain injury…Trigemina’s Series A-1 round garnered $4.5mm to advance Phase II TI-001, an intranasal oxytocin migraine candidate…A Series A round for Numedii led by Claremont Creek Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners brought in $3.5mm…University of Turku spin-out Forendo Pharma (treatments for endometriosis and low testosterone levels) received the first €1.2mm ($1.57mm) tranche from Karolinska Development, which gains a 21% ownership and over a three-year period will invest a total of  up to €3mm…Following a 2012 recapitalization, predictive biosimulation company Entelos received additional undisclosed venture funding from Clearlake Capital Group and Michaelson Capital…epigenetic neurological drug start-up Rodin Therapeutics received undisclosed seed funding from J&J Development and Atlas Ventures…Formed late last year by the merger of public European antibody and vaccine developers Vivalis and Intercell AG, Valneva SE raised €40mm ($53.5mm) in an underwritten rights offeringRepros completed a follow-on offering of 3.75mm shares at $19 for net proceeds of $67mm…FOPOS were also completed by Intercept Pharmaceuticals, $61.7mm; Cempra Pharmaceuticals, $47.7mm; Progenics, $35.2mm; Mast Therapeutics, $23mm; Biodel, $18.5mm; Echo Therapeutics, $10.1mm; and Soligenix, $9.2mm…Four initial public offerings went final: Gene therapeutics firm bluebird bio raised $108mm through the sale of 6.8mm shares at $17, above its initial $14-16 range; Esperion (cardiometabolic drugs) netted $65.1mm, selling 5mm shares at $14, the midpoint of its anticipated range; Aratana Therapeutics, which had postponed its filing of 4.3mm shares at an $11-$13 range, amended its IPO terms to sell 5.8mm shares at $6, raising $35mm; and Canadian drug design company Antibe Therapeutics netted $2mm, selling 3.9mm shares at $0.55…Prosensa Holding BV announced terms of a 5mm ordinary share IPO priced between $11-13…Several firms filed for IPOS: Liver disease therapeutics developer Conatus Pharmaceuticals; outsourced medical services provider Envision Healthcare; small-molecule cancer therapies developer Onconova Therapeutics (Baxter holds a 14.7% stake and a 2012 alliance with the company worth up to $565mm); and specialty pharmaco Iroko Pharmaceuticals…Through a $25mm senior secured term loan facility led by GE Capital, Navidea Biopharmaceuticals gains support for its Lymphoseek radiopharmaceutical agent platform…Hercules Technology Growth Capital provided Rockwell Medical (end-stage renal and chronic kidney disease treatments) with $20mm in debt financing…To help Phase II trials for its lead candidate for primary brain cancer, Diffusion Pharmaceuticals brought in $5mm through the sale of convertible notes to existing investors, adding onto a $5mm convertible note sale of September 2012…Following Elan Corp.'s withdrawal of its offer to acquire private Austrian drug company AOP Orphan Pharmaceuticals, AOP spun off its 80% ownership in cancer business Activartis Biotech GMBH to a group of private investors.

Photo courtesy of flickrer technochick, aka Angie Linder. Thanks, Angie!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Deals of the Week Watches The Stakes Rise

The wide-open IPO window has given private companies more liquidity options, so maybe it’s no wonder that pharmas are willing to pay more than usual for closely-held start-ups. Judging by some recent acquisitions, pharmas are digging deep to buy assets they believe will become blockbuster cancer drugs. The mid-June buyout of Aragon Pharmaceuticals by Johnson & Johnson for $650 million up front is among the cancer sector’s largest takeouts of a privately-held, clinical-stage company ever – and comes despite a lingering lawsuit and a prominent competitor.

Among purchase prices for pure-play oncology start-ups, J&J’s down payment for Aragon is nearly peerless. Daiichi Sankyo's buyout of Plexxikon in 2011 leads the pack at $805 million up front; if Plexxikon wasn’t technically a pure-play, virtually all of its value was tied up in a key cancer asset. Like the Aragon deal, the Plexxikon deal was heavily front-loaded: Just $130 million was tied to milestones, while J&J will be on the hook for $350 million more if Aragon hits all its marks. And compared to other cancer deals in recent memory, such as Amgen Inc.’s 2011 purchase of cancer immunotherapy developer BioVex Inc. ($425 million up front) and Gilead Sciences Inc.’s 2011 deal for Calistoga Pharmaceuticals Inc. ($375 million up front), it’s a giant step richer. 
Catherine of Aragon, via Wikimedia commons

Aragon CFO Paul Cleveland declined to discuss specifics of Aragon’s earn-out, but the deal centers on Phase II program ARN-509, an androgen receptor inhibitor for castration-resistant prostate cancer. For its hefty purchase price, J&J gets an asset that’s already withstood one court challenge from rival Medivation Inc., and could face another. Medivation’s Xtandi (enzalutamide) shares lineage with ARN-509; both were discovered based on the research of University of California, Los Angeles professor Charles Sawyers, and Medivation alleged that the school hid ARN-509’s existence while out-licensing Xtandi. A judge affirmed that Aragon owns ARN-509 in January, but Medivation is appealing the ruling; a resolution might not come until next year.

Apparently the uncertainty wasn’t enough to spook J&J, but it’s possible that a different uncertainty spurred it to buy: Aragon’s choice regarding whether to conduct an IPO. The queue for new biotech listings is a long one, and it might be as easy as ever to go public. Even bluebird bio Inc., a mid-clinical-stage company in the once-untouchable gene therapy field, priced above expectations in mid-June, signifying that appetites are high for new offerings – even ones that carry a lot of risk. Indeed, Cleveland told “The Pink Sheet” that Aragon had a “very feasible go-it-alone strategy” that included a partnership and/or an IPO. (The strategy has apparently been in place for awhile, as CEO Richard Heyman told us last year.) Rather than risk letting Aragon brave the public markets, J&J moved to buy now.

In the end, J&J gets a drug that could succeed its existing prostate cancer therapy Zytiga (abiraterone), whose key patents expire in 2016. In the process, it extends a franchise that will compete with Xtandi, a drug S&P Capital IQ equity analyst Herman Saftlas said could deliver $2.5 billion in annual sales by 2015. And Aragon’s investors? Well, they get liquidity at a handsome multiple, but as part of the arrangement, they’ll also roll over some of their cash returns into a new company, Seragon, into which Aragon will spin out its Phase I selective estrogen receptor degrader ARN-810. -- Paul Bonanos

We know you have choices of your own, so thanks for choosing….

MedImmune/NGM: MedImmune, the biologics arm of AstraZeneca, signed on with privately held NGM Biopharmaceuticals June 17 to collaborate on the discovery and development of novel peptide or antibody therapeutics for type 2 diabetes and obesity. No financial terms were disclosed, but NGM will receive an up-front payment and research funding with the potential to earn development, regulatory and commercial milestones, as well as worldwide royalties on any products resulting from the partnership. The deal is the latest by MedImmune’s Innovative Medicines Unit for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Currently, bariatric surgery, which bypasses part of the patient’s intestines, is not reversible, and presents an array of gastrointestinal side effects, is reserved mainly for morbidly obese patients, who sometimes also suffer from out-of-control type 2 diabetes. “It’s not for every individual,” Christina Rondinone, chief of MedImmune’s cardiovascular and metabolic disease IMED said. “What we plan to do is develop a product that will mimic the benefits of surgery, avoid the side effects, and that every individual with diabetes can use. Our goal is not to treat the disease but reverse it with a drug.” Founded in 2008, South San Francisco, Calif.-based NGM now has signed three partnerships around its technology for understanding the roles that hormones play in certain diseases. In 2012, it partnered with Daiichi Sankyo to discover and develop drugs for type 1 and type 2 diabetes that modulate beta cell regeneration. Then, in January, NGM agreed to an exclusive collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. to discover and develop novel therapeutics for type 2 diabetes. - Joseph Haas  

Teva/MicroDose: The Israeli firm Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. said June 17 it would acquire privately held MicroDose Therapeutx Inc. for $40 million up front and up to $125 million more in post-acquisition milestones. The New Jersey company’s two unpartnered clinical candidates are MDT-637, a treatment for respiratory syncytial virus, and a nerve agent antidote, both delivered via the company’s own inhalation technology platform. It acquired the anti-RSV candidate from ViroPharma Inc. in 2009. The firm has other delivery platforms, but Teva highlighted MicroDose’s respiratory technology and pipeline, saying the acquisition would strengthen its respiratory franchise. Underscoring Teva’s focus, the firm said it would also pay sales-based milestones and royalties upon commercialization of MDT-637 and an earlier stage asthma/COPD compound. Teva has expanded its generic empire as well as the branded side of its business through acquisition, although it has kept a fairly low profile since its $6.8 billion takeover of Cephalon Inc. in 2011. The firm has three branded respiratory products: QVAR for asthma, ProAir HFA for bronchospasm, and QNASL, a nasal spray for allergies. - Alex Lash  

Perrigo/Fera: Michigan-based Perrigo Co. said June 17 it would add to its smorgasbord of generic, over-the-counter, and animal health products by licensing a portfolio of nine generic ophthalmic offerings from specialty firm Fera Pharmaceuticals LLC of New York. Perrigo will pay $93 million, with $36 million more in contingent payments if more products are licensed. The portfolio includes sterile ointments and solutions and brought in more than $30 million in net revenue in 2012, according to Perrigo. Fera launched in 2009 with an ophthalmic portfolio that it acquired from Fougera Pharmaceuticals Inc., then the US arm of Nycomeduntil Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. bought Nycomed in 2011. Fougera was owned by a private equity group until 2012, when Sandoz, the generics division of Novartis AG, bought it. Fera CEO Frank DellaFera and other top management were formerly with Sandoz. Perrigo claims to be the largest manufacturer of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals for the private label or “store brand” market. - A.L.  

Sanofi/Curie: A research collaboration between Sanofi and Institut Curie will revisit the basic biology that leads to ovarian cancer, according to the two entities’ joint statement issued June 19. Financial terms weren’t disclosed. The companies plan to identify targets that lead to cancer by revisiting a library of tumor samples that the Institute has preserved. Sanofi’s oncology division will work with Curie-Cancer, the Institute’s partnership organization, to address ovarian cancer using a translational approach. Sanofi plans to select targets based on tumor genome sequences, which are compared with healthy tissues to identify molecular alterations. It’s the second partnership Paris-based Curie-Cancer has formed with a major pharma this year. Roche and Curie-Cancer said in May that they would expand an existing four-year research deal reached in 2009, which had given Roche access to Curie’s pre-clinical research models. - P.B.  

DARA Biosciences/T3D Therapeutics: As it aims to focus wholly on oncology support therapeutics, North Carolina-based DARA BioSciences Inc. has spun out the last of its unrelated assets. DARA announced June 18 that T3D Therapeutics has licensed the worldwide rights to DB959, an oral, dual nuclear receptor agonist whose primary target is peroxisome proliferator activated receptor delta (PPARd). DARA has already developed the drug through Phase I for diabetes and dyslipidemia. T3D, which was founded by DARA’s former Chief Scientific Officer John Didsbury, intends to refocus the molecule as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. T3D is paying $250,000 up front, another $250,000 before the end of the year, plus commercial and development milestone payments. DARA will now focus solely on the commercialization of products that help with the side effects of cancer treatment – the company currently has three marketed products that fit this category, including a cream for skin irritation caused by radiation treatments. The company is looking to in-license other commercial-ready products and to find a partner that will develop the cancer support product it has in its pipeline. - Lisa LaMotta  

Protalix/Fiocruz: Israel’s Protalix BioTherapeutics Inc. reached an agreement with Brazil’s Ministry of Health that will allow the Brazilian government to manufacture the Gaucher disease treatment Uplyso (alfataliglicerase). The June 19 supply and tech-transfer agreement between Protalix and Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, known as Fiocruz, calls for the Brazilian health group to purchase $280 million worth of Uplyso from Protalix. Fiocruz will construct a facility and receive a license to manufacture its own Uplyso after seven years, once the purchase agreement is fulfilled. Uplyso, known in the U.S. and Israel as Elelyso, is an enzyme replacement therapy for Gaucher disease, a lysosomal storage disorder. Pfizer Inc. had licensed the drug locally and received Brazilian marketing approval in March, but returned rights to Protalix in exchange for $12.5 million in annual payments. Fiocruz is obligated to buy $40 million worth of Uplyso during the first two years of the agreement, and $40 million each year subsequently until it reaches the full $280 million. The seven-year agreement may be amended to add an additional five-year term to fulfill the financial terms. - P.B.

The Real Story Behind FDA’s Delayed Approval Of Eliquis

With what seemed to be stellar results from the ARISTOTLE trial, showing the first superiority over warfarin on bleeding and mortality for a novel oral anticoagulant, Bristol-Myers Squibb/Pfizer’s Eliquis (apixaban) was expected to have a clean trip through FDA.

So why was agency approval of the third novel oral anticoagulant to come down the regulatory pathway in recent years delayed by nine months?

The answer, which was largely hidden from investors and competitors, boils down to study conduct and oversight – things that should have been a piece of cake for experienced sponsors.

It turns out that the much-ballyhooed, 18,000-patient ARISTOTLE trial had a few problems, according to FDA review documents that are dissected in the June issue of Elsevier Business Intelligence’s Pharmaceutical Approvals Monthly, part of a regular series of drug review profiles (see the lead story, free for the next 30 days, here).

What were the problems? Well, for one thing there was documented evidence of fraud by employees of BMS and its contract research organization, PPD, at a Chinese study site. It seems these individuals altered source records ahead of an FDA inspection to cover up good clinical practice violations.

FDA’s need to further investigate this issue, as well as the data integrity for other Chinese sites and the impact on the overall ARISTOTLE results, led to a three-month extension in the original PDUFA date.

Publicly, BMS/Pfizer said only that the review extension resulted from its submission of a “major amendment to the application.” An accurate statement? Absolutely. But the fact that this “major amendment” comprised a more detailed accounting of the fraud was a juicy, and likely market-moving, tidbit not shared with the public at-large.

To its credit, BMS discovered the fraud and reported it to the FDA, and the alleged perpetrators were terminated. In contrast, the agency had to root out on its own answers to the second major problem that delayed apixaban’s approval – dispensing errors in ARISTOTLE.

Buried on page 88 of the clinical study report was a statement that 7.3% of subjects in the apixaban group and 1.2% of subjects in the warfarin arm received “a container of the wrong type” of medicine at some point during the double-blind, double-dummy study. This overall high rate of dispensing errors, and the disparity between treatment arms, troubled FDA, in part because these figures were based only on the sponsor’s analysis of one incomplete source of data.

FDA believed further investigation into the true rate of dispensing errors was warranted. Furthermore, agency reviewers seemed incredulous that the unusual number of medication errors failed to prompt a “serious inquiry” by the sponsor prior to NDA submission and that such errors occurred throughout the course of the trial without meaningful corrective measures, suggesting shortfalls in trial oversight.

So annoyed were agency reviewers by the whole situation, including BMS/Pfizer’s partial and evolving responses to FDA’s questions, that the team leader on the application said the NDA would have received a “refuse-to-file” letter had agency staff known about the dispensing errors issue at the time of submission.

Ultimately, FDA issued a “complete response” letter specifically directing the sponsor to get to the bottom of the problem – not that you would have known this from the sponsor’s public statements.

In a press release, BMS/Pfizer said only that the letter requested “additional information on data management and verification from the ARISTOTLE trial.” Again, not a falsehood, but also not exactly the type of information that would have been helpful to assessing what was really going on with apixaban’s prospects for a near-term approval.

Ultimately, the companies submitted data that convinced FDA reviewers that even under a worst-case scenario, the dispensing errors would not have disturbed the key efficacy and safety findings in ARISTOTLE.

So, all's well that ends well for BMS and Pfizer, right?

Well, not exactly. Eliquis failed to gain a coveted mortality benefit claim in the Indications statement, which would have set it apart from its two competitors who beat it to market, Boehringer Ingelheim GMBH’s Pradaxa (dabigatran) and Bayer AG/Johnson & Johnson’s Xarelto (rivaroxaban) (see PAM's analysis of how FDA reviewers picked apart the statistical significance here [$]).

Eliquis generated just $22 mil. in its first full quarter on the market, according to Bristol's first-quarter earnings report.

-- Sue Sutter (

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

Once You Start Up Financings of the Fortnight, It'll Never Stop

Your faithful FOTF correspondent is in San Diego this week for the CalBIO conference, specifically to wax journalistic on a panel trying to look into the future – 2030! -- and opine sagely upon what we see. Some call this prediction; others call this pulling objects out of one’s nether regions, which thankfully doesn't require the Jagger-like calisthenics seen at the start of this week's video flashback.

What we can predict with near certainty is that the upcoming issue of Start-Up, arriving soon in print or electronic edition according to your subscription preference, will be full of timely topics. We’ll go inside Third Rock Ventures, which has raised more than $1 billion since 2007 to invest solely in early stage biotech. And not just invest; Third Rock creates many of its own companies, then puts its own partners into temporary executive roles in those companies once they launch.

Is it working? Hard to say yes, definitively, until they start truly reaping what they’ve sown. (Only two exits so far.) But Third Rock has a 28% stake in one of the companies in the IPO queue, bluebird bio, and a 24% stake in Agios Pharmaceuticals, which filed its S-1 a few days ago. More might be coming this year. LPs have enthusiastically bought into the Third Rock promise, that's for sure. But that’s not to say the group hasn’t hit snags or that there aren't adjustments to make. (You'll have to read Start-Up to find out what those are.)

Third Rock’s not the only VC growing their own. Flagship Ventures has been at it twice as long, in fact, and about five years ago – right around the time Third Rock rolled into town – it decided to put a brand on its in-house start-up brewery: VentureLabs. They’ve been busy lately, with big – dare we say “Third Rock-like”? – Series A rounds to launch two high-concept start-ups, Moderna Therapeutics and Syros Pharmaceuticals. The new Start-Up will also look at the early days of Moderna, and how the Flagship/VentureLabs folks helped push what was at first an advancement in the induced pluripotency of stem cells toward a new therapeutic modality that, despite many question marks, almost immediately attracted a major Pharma partnership and nearly a quarter of a billion dollars guaranteed.

If bluebird or Agios goes public, it will be Third Rock’s first IPO, but Flagship’s been around the block many times. In the current window, it’s already notched two IPOs since the start of 2012 – Receptos and Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals – and it owns 16% of Agios. Others have ushered even more biotechs public in the same time frame: As we note in the next Start-Up, New Enterprise Associates and funds associated with Fidelity top the charts with five IPOs apiece.

But as our colleague Stacy Lawrence reports, there’s been no rush to exit: Among all major shareholders (those with 5% stakes or higher)  that went through IPOs in 2012, less than one third have reduced their holdings. Thirty of 43 have held tight or increased their shares, often in the IPO as part of an agreement to get the deal done.

Just published in "The Pink Sheet" DAILY, Stacy also talks to several VCs about what seems to be a reinvigorated IPO appetite for early-stage biotechs – a good sign indeed for the likes of Third Rock and Flagship. And what of the growing number of early-stage biotechs with corporate investors providing the backbone of support? Once quite rare, we’re now seeing new companies out of the gate mainly backed by corporates, such as Protagonist Therapeutics, whose JJDC-led Series B we describe below. Another, ArmaGen Technologies, caught our attention when it made Start-Up’s 2012 A-List for its intriguing receptor-mediated technology that draws therapeutics through the blood brain barrier, and for its unusual Series A syndicate: Four corporate investors splitting evenly a $17 million round. Our colleague Paul Bonanos was even more curious, and in the story he’s penned for -- you guessed it -- the new Start-Up, he noted this telling quote from one of ArmaGen’s backers: “When you take away the worry about losing your money, great opportunities arise.”

In essence, at least a couple of ArmaGen’s investors consider exposure to the company’s technology just as important, if not more, than their financial return. Outlooks like that among corporate investors should make for very interesting strategy discussions when it comes time to ready a company for sale or for a public debut. Then again, not all corporate VCs embrace strategic return more than financial return. (For a rather brusque counterpoint, see this story about Novartis Venture Funds and chief Reinhard Ambros' decision to drop its strategy-oriented option fund: "Strategic means you pay money for something intangible, and you waste money.")

If we don’t get to the blurbs soon, this column will go past the point of no return. So let’s sum up: If you like the topics of conversation here at FOTF, you should love Start-Up, perhaps even enough to subscribe. That ends our shameless plug; now back to our shameless prose, often referred to as...

Avaxia Biologics: The therapeutic antibody firm topped off its Series B round with an undisclosed amount of cash from the venture arm of AbbVie, bringing the round to $11.4 million. It’s a fascinating case for several reasons. First, Avaxia’s lead product, an oral TNF inhibitor currently in a Phase Ib study in irritable bowel syndrome patients, goes after the same target as AbbVie’s superblockbuster Humira (adilimumab). That might lead one to believe AbbVie wants a closer look at what could make a potential replacement for Humira. But that outcome would be a rare occurrence, indeed. According to our Strategic Transactions data, from 2006 to 2011 only two private companies backed by corporate venture funds were eventually bought by the funds’ parents: Avid Radiopharmaceuticals (bought by Eli Lilly) and Avidia (Amgen). AbbVie does not gain any rights to Avaxia’s lead, AVX-470, or other products, but it does take a board seat. Another reason this is one to watch is Avaxia’s antibodies. They’re not monoclonal, like Humira and so many other key biotech products. They’re polyclonal, essentially a gemisch of antibodies strained from cow’s milk, and therefore quite capable of surviving a trip into the gut. Avaxia comes along just as a few companies, led by Symphogen, are dipping a toe into the possibility of antibody combinations. But those combinations are made from monoclonals, not polyclonals. Other than serum products, it’s hard to find precedent to what Avaxia is aiming for. Just as notable is how far Avaxia has gotten with its platform, funded to this point by angel investors. Its A and B rounds, totaling nearly $10 million before the AbbVie add-on, were led by angel groups. – Lisa LaMotta and Alex Lash

Clovis Oncology: Clovis took advantage of a strong clinical data release with a public offering that brought in $240 million, the third largest secondary offering of the year behind Onyx Pharmaceuticals and Ariad Pharmaceuticals. The firm is the best performer from the biotech IPO class of 2011, with a 445% gain as of June 13, thanks in large part to a mighty ASCO bump – that is, data it presented at the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology conference that took Clovis’ share price from $36.56 to $74.59 in one weekend. The company reported Phase I/II efficacy data for its non-small cell lung cancer drug CO-1686 in patients with the T790M mutation, which confers resistance to current treatments. Clovis has done well with its strategy of in-licensing candidates and companion diagnostics; it brought in CO-1686 from Avila Therapeutics in 2010, then partnered with Roche to develop a test for the T790M mutation a year later.  Clovis’ recent run-up also benefited from positive initial data at ASCO for its drug rucaparib in ovarian cancer. Rucaparib is an oral poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor that Clovis licensed from Pfizer in 2011, and subsequently partnered with Foundation Medicine to create a companion test to find patients most likely to respond to the compound. -- A.L.

Protagonist Therapeutics: The peptide development firm said June 4 it has raised a $14 million Series B round, led by Johnson & Johnson Development Corp. JJDC joined Series A investors Lilly Ventures and Australian firm Starfish Ventures. Protagonist spun out of the University of Queensland’s Institute of Molecular Biosciences and, while headquartered in the San Francisco suburb of Menlo Park, Calif., it maintains discovery operations in the Queensland capital of Brisbane. It’s the latest example of early-stage biotechs drawing most or all of their venture funding from corporate-affiliated funds, which are helping fill the gap left by traditional venture moving their limited resources toward the later stages. Protagonist says it has developed a platform to identify disulfide rich peptides, a more stable version of a molecule that has limited therapeutic availability. Also called constrained or stapled peptides, the area is looking to Aileron Therapeutics, which recently completed the first clinical trial of a stapled peptide and answered some questions about the compound’s ability to remain stable in vivo and avoid safety concerns. The preclinical Protagonist has signed deals with Zealand Pharma and Ironwood Pharmaceuticals; one of the firm’s pursuits is the development of orally-active therapeutics for inflammatory bowel diseases. -- A.L.

Dermira: The firm developing treatments for acne and other skin disorders said June 11 it has raised a $35 million Series B financing to move into a Phase I/II trial its lead program, lemuteprofin, a photodynamic acne therapy, and two preclinical programs. Dermira’s Series A investors Canaan Partners, New Enterprise Associates and Bay City Capital all re-upped and were joined in the round by Maruho, a 100-year-old Japanese firm that specializes in dermatology and typically keeps a low deal profile. Dermira has now raised more than $70 million in venture funding; its $42 million A round helped it purchase Valocor Therapeutics, at the time the owner of lemuteprofin after its spinout from failed Canadian biotech QLT. -- A.L.

All The Rest
: To fund work on Phase II AKB6548 for anemia associated with CKD, Akebia Therapeutics raised $41M in Series C financingResearchGate, which is developing a platform to share and search for scientific data online, closed a $35M Series CEdge Therapeutics collected $18M in Series C funds to support Phase II of EG1962 in preventing delayed cerebral ischemia…Prism Pharma, which has a lead compound for fibrosis, completed a $15M Series C…GSK spin-off Autifony Therapeutics topped up its Series A with an additional £5.5M from Pfizer Venture Investments and International Biotechnology Trust…in addition to adding Janssen as a new partner, Second Genome completed a second tranche on its Series A, which now totals $11.5M…concurrent with a $2.3M grant from the Norwegian Research Council's BIA-Program, Targovax raised $1.4M in equityArcturus Therapeutics, focusing on RNAi for rare diseases, closed a $1.3M seed roundBaxter Ventures came in as a new backer for Ocular TherapeutixARCA biopharma publicly sold $20M in Series A convertible preferred shares…StemCells received the right to sell Lincoln Park Capital Fund up to $30M in common shares…Oncothyreon raised $10M in an RDO to fund up-front payment in Array BioPharma co-promote…an undisclosed health care fund bought $9.8M in Celsion’s common stock…BioTime grossed $9.1M through a PIPE…epigenetics company Epizyme grossed $77M in its IPOPeptiDream floated on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, raising $52M…Israeli firm Kamada completed a $52M IPO in the US…Kadimastem, which commercializes pluripotent stem cell-derived products, raised $5.5M in an IPO on TASE…Heat Biologics, PTC Therapeutics, bluebird bio, and Esperion all set terms for their IPOs…stem cell producer Cellular Dynamics International and Agios Pharmaceuticals, which is targeting inborn errors of metabolism, filed for their IPOs…Array BioPharma offered $115M in convertible senior notes…and Anacor Pharmaceuticals received a $45M three-tranche loan facility from Hercules Technology. -- Amanda Micklus