Friday, November 08, 2013

Deals Of The Week Road-Tests Biopharma Options

More options are always better, right? Obviously, that’s a “yes” when it comes to building our dream Tesla Model S. But big biopharma is getting nowhere fast with deals that build in options to license drug candidates.

The number of option-to-license deals executed peaked at more than 30 in 2009, when biotech financing had dried up in the wake of the 2008 U.S. economic meltdown, and has declined every year since, according to data from Elsevier’s Strategic Transactions database. That’s only counting deals with an option-to-license as the main component. What has big biopharma accomplished with its slew of option deals in the last decade and a half? Not much, so far. Even though option-based partnerships can be cheap, they also rarely offer results.

Option-to-license deals, or option-alliances, are often a way of making a half-hearted bet on biotechs’ riskiest, early-stage candidates and technologies. For small biotechs, the extent to which they rely upon these deals can be a sign of their relative fiscal desperation. Option-alliances lock up biotech assets very early, with a high level of continued uncertainty (and development costs) for the biotech and a capped future potential upside.

For pharma, these deals are a bargain – pay a little upfront and part of early-stage R&D costs and then pick up rights to a candidate, or not, typically after clinical proof-of-concept data emerges. Biotechs are able to retain control of their assets for a while longer, potentially allowing them to move development forward faster.

We analyzed all R&D-based option-alliances with a disclosed potential value of $100 million or more. That’s almost 120 deals, some dating back as early as the late 90s. Many of the more recent ones remain active, of course; these deals typically extend over at least three or four years. Most of the remaining deals either expired or were terminated. We could only find seven of these $100M+ deals that actually resulted in option exercises, and some of those later blew up in the clinic.

GlaxoSmithKline is a nice case in point. It has been one of the most active R&D options dealmakers, with at least 18 of these deals, most of which were initiated from 2006 through 2009. A few of GSK’s option-alliances have resulted in abject disappointments – most prominently with Nabi Biopharmaceuticals for the smoking cessation product NicVax, which failed in Phase III. Last year, Nabi merged with Biota.

Others got shunted to the side due to changes in GSK priorities (a $1.5B bio-bucks deal w Targacept was terminated in 2011 as the pharma left neuroscience) or as biotechs became defunct (after a $1.2B bio-bucks deal in 2007, Epix Pharmaceuticals then slid out of existence in 2009). Several of GSK’s option-to-license deals were done under its Center of Excellence for External Drug Discovery (CEEDD), which silently sank under waves of corporate restructuring around 2010.

(GSK is undeterred from experimenting with its approach to external, early innovation. This week it picked the first set of winners from a discovery-stage academic competition. See below for further details.)

The pharma does have several ongoing option-alliances, including at least four with companies that recently IPO’d. One is an option to back-up compounds for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) from Prosensa; GSK is partnered with the biotech on lead compound drisapersen, which failed in Phase III testing to treat DMD in September. Optimists are hoping its exon skipping technology has progressed since the first iteration and are looking for an effective DMD treatment among Prosensa’s back-up compounds, some of which GSK can option. Prosensa is the worst-performing 2013 IPO, down 72%.

GSK also has an anti-inflammatory and HCV deal with microRNAi company Regulus Therapeutics, initiated in 2008 and expanded in 2010; an anti-cancer stem cell antibody deal with OncoMed Pharmaceuticals that was for four candidate originally from 2007, but was cut down to two candidates in 2011; and a discovery deal with Five Prime Therapeutics for skeletal muscle diseases and muscle wasting targets and candidates that was originated in 2010 and expanded in 2011.

GSK has exercised its options at least twice, but both times candidates were returned. In 2010, it optioned Anacor Pharmaceuticals’ Gram-negative infection treatment and then subsequently returned it a few years later. That same year, it optioned Traficet-EN (now vercirnon) from ChemoCentryx. This September, GSK returned rights to the candidate for all indications. The pharma retained CCX354 for rheumatoid arthritis, which it also optioned. It may still option a third candidate under the 2006 deal.

Despite keeping a lot of options open, no one’s going anywhere fast. But we’re keeping our eyes on the road, moving ahead to all the latest deals (including loads of academic and discovery partnerships) in this edition of…

Salix/Santarus: The union of Salix Pharmaceuticals with Santarus creates a billion-dollar gastrointestinal specialty pharma that holds U.S. rights to fast-growing diabetes drug Glumetza (metformin extended release). Salix agreed Nov. 7 to pay $32 per share in cash for San Diego-based Santarus, valuing the company at $2.6 billion; its combined annual revenues would be about $1.3 billion based on their most recent quarterly performances. Salix has relied heavily on Xifaxan (rifaximin) for traveler’s diarrhea caused by Escherichia coli infections and hepatic encephelopathy; it produced $514.5 million in 2012 revenues, about 70% of the company’s total product sales. But it says the conjoined entity will be more diversified, with no drug accounting for more than half its revenues. Glumetza, a drug Santarus shares with Depomed, has delivered $131.4 million in revenue to Santarus in the first nine months of 2013. The buyout price represents a 37.8% premium over Santarus’s Nov. 7 closing price of $23.22. Raleigh, N.C.-based Salix had about $817 million in cash at the end of the third quarter, but intends to finance the deal with $1.95 billion in debt and a $150 million revolving credit facility from Jefferies Finance, as well as nearly all of its cash on hand. - Paul Bonanos

Roche/Polyphor: Switzerland-based Roche signed an exclusive global licensing deal to develop and commercialize Swiss biotech Polyphor's investigational antibiotic POL7080 against certain hospital-acquired superbug infections known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, signaling Roche’s first foray back into antimicrobial development for three decades. Roche will pay up to CHF 500 million ($548 million) for the experimental antibiotic, which has only just entered Phase II testing, the companies said Nov. 4. The world’s largest maker of cancer drugs, which is trying to diversify into other disease areas, will make an upfront payment of CHF 35 million and milestone payments of up to CHF 465 million to the Swiss biotech. Roche said POL7080 belongs to a new class of antibiotics that kills P. aeruginosa, a bacterium found in hospitals and resistant to many antibiotic treatments, by a novel mode of action. It’s the first of a number of novel antibiotic candidate drugs being assembled by research and early development group pRED, which is now under the new leadership of John Reed and focusing on three main areas of unmet medical need: Hepatitis B, Influenza and Antibiotics. The pact with Polyphor is the first demonstration that Roche is back in antibiotics. In contrast, other Big Pharma companies have cut back, including former field leader Pfizer, which closed its antibiotic R&D center in Connecticut in 2011, as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly. AstraZeneca, GSK, and Merck remain active in the space. Privately-owned Polyphor discovers and develops macrocycle drugs intended as a complement to classical small molecules and large biopharmaceuticals. Although Polyphor, whose main shareholders are private individuals, doesn’t have any products on the market, its pact with Roche is its sixth deal since 2008. Its three drug candidates developed using its protein epitope mimetics (PEM) drug discovery technology are POL7080; POL6326, a CXCR4 antagonist currently in Phase II and ear-marked for several indications; and POL6014, an elastase inhibitor that’s in pre-clinical studies. PEMs are “medium-sized…, fully synthetic cyclic peptide-like molecules that mimic the two most relevant secondary structure patterns involved in Protein-Protein Interactions (PPIs),” according to the company’s Web site. It adds that they are “among the most potent and selective molecules known to modulate PPIs, GPCRs with large ligand-binding domains, and enzymes.” - Sten Stovall

Endo/Paladin: Endo Health Solutions’ new CEO Rajiv De Silva is making good on following in the footsteps of his former employer Valeant by conducting rapid-fire M&A that adds to the specialty pharma’s business. The Pennsylvania company announced Nov. 5 that it will acquire Montreal-based Paladin. The Canadian spec pharma has over 60 marketed products and will give Endo a jumping off point for building its business in Canada, Mexico, and South Africa. The $1.6 billion deal will be an almost all-stock transaction, with Endo paying CAD$77 ($73.70) per share for all outstanding shares of Paladin, a premium of 20% to Paladin’s share price of $63.91 on Nov. 4, the day before the deal was made public. Paladin shareholders will receive 1.6331 shares of the new company in stock and CAD$1.16 in cash, as well as one share of Knight Therapeutics, a new company. Knight will be spun-out of Paladin and be formed around Impavido (miltefosine), a treatment for the parasitic disease leishmaniasis. Impavido received a positive opinion from an FDA advisory committee in mid-October and has a PDUFA date of Dec. 18. Following the deal, the new company will be re-domiciled in Ireland in an effort to take advantage of a more favorable tax rate. Currently, Endo has a tax rate in the high-20% to 30% range. The new company will have a tax rate closer to 20%. - Lisa LaMotta

Pfizer/Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) said Nov. 4 it would partner with Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI) to co-fund up to four jointly selected projects in the fields of immune tolerance, diabetic nephropathy and beta cell health. This is JDRF’s first corporate partnership since it announced a collaboration last year with Novo Nordisk, which will run out of the pharma’s Type 1 Diabetes R&D Center in Seattle. JDRF is the largest charitable supporter of type 1 diabetes R&D; it is currently sponsoring about $530 million worth of research, with $110 million in support last year. Pfizer’s CTI was established in 2010 to help further translational science; it hopes to get its first compound into the clinic this year and to bring two candidates into the clinic every year starting in 2014. CTI works with a network of 24 academic and medical institutions. Financial details of the deal were undisclosed. - Stacy Lawrence

Eisai/Arena: Eisai doubled down on Arena’s weight loss drug Belviq (lorcaserin) by expanding its commercialization rights to most of the world from much of North and South America. That’s despite slow sales in the drug’s first full quarter on the market – only $5.4 million. Insurers have been slow to start to reimburse for Belviq and Vivus’ Qsymia (phentermine/topiramate ER). Under the expanded deal, Arena will receive a $60 million upfront payment and up to $176.5 million in regulatory and development milestones. That’s an increase of $123 million from the milestone amount remaining under the prior agreement. Arena will continue to sell Belviq to Eisai for the U.S. and other North and South American territories for a purchase price of 31.5% and 30.75% of Eisai’s net sales in those regions, respectively. For Europe, China and Japan, Arena will receive 27.5% of Eisai’s net sales, while for all other territories the rate is 30.75%. These rates can increase on a tiered basis. Arena also stands to receive a one-time purchase price adjustment of $1.56 billion based on sales in the territories covered by an agreement; that’s an increase of $185 million from the prior deal. Eisai has exclusive commercialization rights in all countries worldwide, excluding South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Israel and New Zealand. The partners expect also to investigate Belviq as a smoking cessation treatment. - S.L.

GSK/Various Academic Researchers: With a view to front-loading its pipeline, GSK has selected eight winners in its first Discovery Fast Track competition, designed to translate academic research into starting points for new potential medicines. The contest attracted 142 entries across 17 therapeutic areas from 70 universities, academic research institutions, clinics and hospitals in the US and Canada. The program gives certain researchers the opportunity to partner with GSK and jump-start their research into a development program. The winning projects deal with important unmet medical needs, including antibiotics resistance, diseases of the developing world, and certain cancers. The selected scientists will collaborate with GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) team, the sponsor of the competition, to quickly screen and identify novel compounds to test their hypotheses. If advanced chemical testing is successful, the winning investigators could be offered a DPAc partnership to further refine molecules and assess their potential as novel new medicines. GSK devised the contest as a potential engine for accelerating input into its translational research operation, hoping to entice the brightest minds across North America with the promise of lending its potential to their discovery-stage programs. GSK and the academic partner share the risk and reward of innovation, where the U.K. drug maker funds activities in the partner laboratories, and provides in-kind resources to progress a program from an idea to a candidate medicine. Work on the winning Discovery Fast Track projects will begin immediately and the first screens are expected to be completed in mid-2014. - S.S.

Johnson & Johnson/ Evotec: Johnson & Johnson and Evotec are looking broadly, beyond the current focus on beta amyloid and Tau protein-based mechanisms, to identify new targets for Alzheimer’s disease. Under a collaboration announced on Nov. 8, the companies will seek to identify drug targets that could lead to entirely new approaches to treatment using Evotec’s TargetAD database. At best, the drugs in clinical trials today, if successful, will have modest efficacy for treating symptoms of mild-to-moderate patients, and “delay Alzheimer’s symptoms by a few weeks,” said Evotec’s Werner Lanthaler in an interview. The Janssen-Evotec partnership is much more ambitious than current efforts, both in its approach to how it achieves its goals and the goals themselves, he added. The database is derived from analysis of dysregulated genes in high-quality, well-characterized human brain tissues representing all stages of disease progression, Evotec said. It was built off of tissue contributions from The Netherlands Brain Bank and is “systematized, unbiased, and comprehensive,” said Lanthaler, explaining that by being unbiased, it is agnostic to whether the approach is ultimately an antibody, small molecule, or other kind of compound.  No other companies currently have access to the database, and Lanthaler was cagey in stating whether they would or its use would be exclusive to J&J. But he did say that J&J was the first company Evotec approached when it decided to look for licensees, and it jumped on the opportunity – perhaps in part because the companies have had a previous successful relationship in other therapeutic areas. Janssen will reimburse up to $10 million of full-time employee-based research costs and make preclinical, clinical, regulatory and commercial payments, capped at between $125 million and $145 million per program. Evotec will also be entitled to royalties from sales from any products that emerge from the collaboration. The deal runs for three years, and, on J&J’s side, is being conducted through its California Innovation Center. - Wendy Diller

(Thanks to for use of this image of our new Tesla S -- are you paying attention Santa??)

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