Friday, July 19, 2013

Deals Of The Week: Kicking The Tires

Apparently, virtually by the time it became “news,” it transformed into “non-news.” News reports of Roche’s interest in acquiring ultra-rare disease focused Alexion Pharmaceuticals surfaced suddenly July 12 and just as rapidly evaporated the following week, as Wall Street analysts noted the prohibitive premium price and lack of cost-saving synergies.

That doesn’t mean that “tire-kicking” season is over in biopharma, if indeed it ever ends. During a steamy summer season highlighted by the running of the bulls in Spain, the jockeying for position of the bikers in France, and world-class tennis being followed quickly by world-class golf in the U.K., renewed speculation about the fate of cancer specialist Onyx Pharmaceuticals after it it put itself up for sale in in late June surfaced just as the Roche/Alexion story sputtered to an end.

Recall that Amgen got the ball rolling on Onyx speculation with a $120-per-share bid confirmed by Onyx on June 30. Onyx declined the offer but also put itself on the auction block, hoping to attract an even greater price tag. Now, perhaps four or more companies are interested in the oncology firm, possibly including its long-time partner Bayer and competitors in the multiple myeloma space such as Celgene and Takeda.

Media reports also cited Bristol-Myers Squibb and Gilead Sciences as possible suitors, while Pfizer was mentioned as a player, then backed off due reportedly to the price premium. Also not in the running, according to speculation, are Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartisand Biogen Idec.

Roche’s reputed interest in Alexion, while understandable because of the Connecticut biotech’s all-out success with Soliris (eculizumab), the highest-priced drug in the world, also is puzzling because of questions about how the Swiss pharma would derive value from such a pricey acquisition. The company has only one commercial product – for a pair of ultra-orphan diseases – albeit a rapidly growing, billion-dollar product, bolstered by an up-and-coming robust pipeline. Reports – unconfirmed – had Roche looking over financing vehicles in order to make a purchase in the range of $25 billion for Alexion.

Deutsche Bank analyst Robyn Karnauskas wrote July 15 that while many European large pharma companies might be able to afford Alexion, they would balk at the price. Roche likely would be better off pursuing “a product/company with more strategic fit or transformational potential,” she said. Projecting Alexion total revenues of $1.7 billion in 2014 and $2.6 billion in 2015, the reported Roche bid would translate into multiples of 15x next year and 10x in 2015, she estimated.

An analyst at UBS Investment Research, Matthew Roden, who covers Alexion, wrote July 15 that the company is an attractive and likely take-out target but would offer few points of potential synergy with Roche. It would be more of a “bolt-on” transaction than a “fold-in” acquisition, he suggested.

“Since the Alexion business model requires a high degree of patient touch and very specialized sales force to reach idiosyncratic PNH (paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria) and aHUS (atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome) markets, we see limited capability for SG&A cost savings through a deal beyond regulatory structure,” Roden said.

His U.K.-based colleague Andrew Whitney, who covers Roche, noted July 15 that an offer of about $130-per-share for Alexion would represent 35 times the UBS projections for 2014 earnings by the biotech.
So, while Roche/Alexion apparently is not happening and Onyx could end up in the hands of a big pharma, a big biotech or some business model in between, DOTW can offer these transactions that reached the point of signatures along the dotted line …

Spectrum/Talon: Spectrum Pharmaceuticals acquired Talon Therapeutics in the hopes of expanding the indications for Marqibo. The liposomal form of vincristine received accelerated approval from FDA in August 2012 to treat third-line patients with Philadelphia chromosome-negative acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Spectrum hopes Phase III data to treat newly diagnosed, elderly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients will pan out and lead to an approval in NHL, thereby significantly expanding the potential market for Marqibo. A Phase III trial of Marquibo in newly diagnosed ALL patients also is ongoing. This trial is intended to serve as a confirmatory trial for the accelerated approval. Disclosed on July 17, the deal was slated to close a day later. Spectrum paid $11.3 million in cash, in addition to 3 million of its shares. Spectrum shares closed at $8.77 on July 17. At that price, Spectrum paid $37.6 million in cash and stock, plus contingent value rights (CVRs) worth up to $195 million. CVRs are tied to Marqibo sales milestones and an approval for Menadione, a Phase II topical lotion for the treatment of the skin toxicity associated with epidermal growth factor receptor anti-cancer (anti-EGFR) agents. Spectrum plans to launch Marqibo before early December, with a price point similar to other improved formulations of oncology treatments, like Abraxane, a long-acting, nanotech formulation of paclitaxel, or Doxil, a liposome-encapsulated doxorubicin. Private equity firm Warburg Pincus and hedge fund Deerfield Management recapitalized Talon in 2010, buying at least $69 million in equity in the last three years. - Stacy Lawrence

Pfizer/Sequella: Anti-infective drug specialist Sequella has licensed a mid-stage tuberculosis antibiotic from Pfizer. The privately held Rockville, MD, company acquired worldwide rights to sutezolid, previously known as PNU-100480, for an undisclosed amount. Pfizer previously investigated the oxazolidinone antibiotic in both drug-sensitive and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, conducting Phase II and pivotal trials in Africa and Russia respectively. Sutezolid complements the Phase II drug SQ109, Sequella’s lead program in Mycobacterium tuberculosis; the company plans to investigate pairing the two in a combination therapy. The 16-year-old company has another TB drug, SQ609, as well as programs in Helicobacter pylori, Clostridium difficile and M. avium paratuberculosis. Sequella traditionally has supported itself by raising capital from hedge funds and other private investors as well as government grants. It also completed a partnership with Maxwell Biotech Venture Fund in 2011, giving the Russian investor territorial rights to SQ109. Pfizer said it is shifting its anti-infective focus from treatment to prevention, and has been seeking to partner drug candidates such as sutezolid. The drug also could be studied in Gram-positive infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus, as well as other forms of tuberculosis. – Paul Bonanos

Medtronic/Amgen: Medtronic reps who sell the firm’s interventional spine devices will need to expand their skill set to include drug sales beginning this month. Under a three-year strategic partnership with Amgen, announced July 15, Medtronic will start promoting the biotech's Prolia (denuosumab) to U.S. spine specialists by July 31. Prolia is an FDA-approved biologic for the treatment of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis at high risk for fracture. For Amgen, the deal offers access to Medtronic’s expansive customer base of spine physicians, “who are at the forefront of evaluating and treating women with fractures caused by [postmenopausal osteoporosis],” said Marion McCourt, a VP with Amgen, in a July 15 press release. “This partnership allows us to intervene shortly after an osteoporosis-related fracture has occurred, and encourage therapeutic interventional to help reduce the risk of a subsequent fracture.” The upshot for Medtronic is not as clear cut. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. “This new agreement increases awareness and access to our current base of orthopedic and spine physicians already treating patients with osteoporotic vertebral compression fractures,” said Doug King, president of Medtronic Spine. “Identifying successful treatment options and access to care at the site of service for the growing number of women with osteoporosis at high risk for fracture is our primary objective.” - David Filmore

Royalty/Quest: Quest Diagnostics has divested its stake in the highly-anticipated cancer drug ibrutinib as it continues to refocus its business on information services and simplify its operations. Quest sold the single-digit royalty stream to Royalty Pharma for $485 million, the companies announced July 18. Ibrutinib, an oral Bruton’s tyrosine kinase inhibitor (BTK), is being developed by Pharmacyclics and Johnson & Johnson for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, small lymphocytic lymphoma and mantle cell lymphoma. Pharmacyclics submitted an NDA for the drug to FDA on July 10. Earlier this year, the regulatory agency granted the drug its new breakthrough designation, a means of pushing highly-effective drugs through regulatory approval more quickly. The drug is expected to receive a fast track review and could be on the market by early next year. Analysts estimate worldwide peak sales between $2 billion and $3.5 billion. Royalty Pharma buys up royalty streams from other companies – the investment firm has stakes in several of the largest drugs on the market, including AbbVie’s blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira (adalimumab), Pfizer’s fibromyalgia pill Lyrica (preagbalin), J&J’s RA drug Remicade (infliximab), Biogen Idec’s recently approved multiple sclerosis pill Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate), and Merck’s diabetes blockbuster Januvia (sitagliptin). - Lisa LaMotta

Auxilium/Sobi: Auxilium Pharmaceuticals has found a new partner to take over commercialization of its treatment for Dupuytren’s contracture and Peyronie’s disease, Xiapex (collagenase clostridium histolyticum), in Europe after its prior partnership fell through due to slow sales of the drug. Swedish Orphan Biovitrum (Sobi) will take over where Pfizer left off, taking on commercialization of the drug in the 28 EU member countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, 18 Central Eastern Europe/Commonwealth of Independent countries, including Russia and Turkey, and 22 Middle Eastern & North African countries. In exchange for the commercialization rights, Auxilium will receive tiered double-digit royalties on all sales and will be eligible for up to $40 million in milestone payments that are tied to undisclosed sales benchmarks. Pfizer originally signed on to commercialize Xiapex in Europe in 2009. At the time, Pfizer paid Auxilium $75 million upfront, and agreed to pay $150 million in regulatory milestones and $260 million based on undisclosed sales milestones. In addition, Auxilium was to receive increasing tiered royalties based on sales in Pfizer's territories. Pfizer to pull out of the partnership in November 2012, but did not stop promoting the product until the end of March. It will continue supplying the product to physicians until mid-October. - L.L.

Rexahn/University of Maryland, Baltimore: Rexahn Pharmaceuticals has in-licensed a novel drug delivery platform, Nano-Polymer-Drug Conjugate Systems (NPDCS), from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the company announced July 17. The technology delivers chemotherapeutics directly into tumors, potentially increasing efficacy and reducing toxicity. Rexahn plans to use the technology to develop RX-21101, a preclinical-stage polymer conjugated form of docetaxel. By minimizing the circulating concentration of docetaxel in the blood and maximizing the concentration in the cancer tumor, RX-21101 may increase anti-tumor activity while lowering adverse events. The financials were not disclosed. Rexahn, based in Rockville, Md., has three oncology candidates in clinical development, the lead of which is Archexin, an akt1 inhibitor partnered with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. - Jessica Merrill

Bausch & Lomb/Mimetogen: Eye-care company Bausch & Lomb has acquired the option to license a Phase II compound for dry eye syndrome from Mimetogen Pharmaceuticals. The compound, MIM-D3, stimulates the production of mucin, which is essential for lubrication of the eye. The drug was shown to be effective and safe in Phase II studies and a late-stage trial is expected to begin before the end of the year. B&L paid Mimetogen an undisclosed option fee and will have the opportunity to pursue development upon Phase III results. At that time, B&L will assume all development costs and will pay Mimetogen development and sales milestones, as well as royalties. Dry eye affects 25 million people in the U.S. alone and tends to affect more people as they age. The global market is currently worth $2.5 billion and is growing at a rate of 10% annually. - L.L.

Alexion/Ensemble: Bringing to a close a week highlighted by Roche’s apparent buyout interest, Alexion signed a drug-discovery collaboration July 18 with Ensemble Therapeutics. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Ensemble gets an upfront payment and research funding, along with potential for development and commercial milestones under the agreement. Ensemble, whose Ensemblin technology platform can produce novel small-molecule candidates to address targets normally addressed by biologic therapies, will screen more than 10 million macrocyles against undisclosed disease drug targets specified by Alexion. Alexion, which focuses on life-threatening, ultra-rare disorders, will have exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize any candidates emerging from the collaboration. Recently hired Executive VP and Head of Global R&D Martin Mackay said this transaction is meant to expand Alexion’s product portfolio. “We seek to broaden the number of pathways toward developing potentially transformative first-in-class drug candidates for patients with selected severe and life-threatening ultra-rare disorders,” he said in a release. - Joseph Haas

Ocera/Tranzyme: Ocera Therapeutics has made its way to the public markets through a reverse merger with the publicly-traded biotech Tranzyme. The new company will focus on developing Ocera’s lead drug, an ammonia scavenger OCR-002 in development for hyperammonemia, the ammonia build-up in the blood when the liver is no longer able to remove toxic substances from the blood. That build-up can cause hepatic encephalopathy, marked by worsening brain function, which eventually can lead to brain swelling, coma and death. Ocera’s investors also committed $20 million in a private placement financing, cash that will see the company through most of a Phase IIb trial testing OCR-002. Becoming a publicly-traded company wasn’t the impetus for the transaction, however, CEO Linda Grais said. “The strategic rationale was really the strength of the combined management team, particularly bringing the clinical development team from Tranzyme together with the program from Ocera,” said Grais. “We realized that this was a team that would take us a long time to build from scratch.” Though Tranzyme’s research was focused in gastrointestinal disease, its Research Triangle Park, NC, team led by Chief Medical Officer Franck Rousseau has extensive experience in liver disease. Before joining Tranzyme, he worked at Gilead asTherapeutic Area Head, Hepatic Diseases and VP Clinical Development. Tranzyme ran into trouble in 2012 when a Phaes III trial in postoperative ileus on lead drug TZP102 failed to meet its primary and secondary endpoints. It began reviewing strategic options early this year. - J.M.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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