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

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