Friday, December 13, 2013

Deals of the Week: GSK's Stealth Move To The Coasts

GlaxoSmithKline is following some of its big pharma peers to key innovation hubs in the U.S. by opening satellite R&D centers in San Diego and Cambridge, MA.

When Johnson & Johnson opened its innovation center in Boston earlier this year, the company made a big to-do about the move and announced plans to fund two startups there. Pfizer, meanwhile, announced a significant $100 million investment through a collaboration with local hospitals and academic institutions when it anointed the Boston area the headquarters for its academic deal engine, the Centers for Therapeutic Innovation.

GSK, on the other hand, went in a different direction with its announcement, unveiling the move … via blog post. We couldn’t help but notice the difference in tactics and wonder if GSK’s decision to downplay the announcement reflects its ambitions for the satellite offices.  Whatever the reason, GSK clearly views the expansion as an evolution of its business development strategy, not a seismic shift in the way it approaches R&D.

GSK’s Damien McDevitt, VP Business Development, R&D Therapy Areas, will run the California center. He confirmed details in an interview Dec. 10. "These are both small virtual offices,” he said. “They are not large R&D centers by any stretch of the imagination.” The San Diego office will host about five to 10 scientists and the Boston office will have about 10 to 12, with a heavy emphasis on business development, he said.

"We have always had collaboration activities in these two locations, but what we haven’t had, at least on the West Coast, is a satellite office to be able to work more closely with all the groups we work with, including academia, venture and biotech,” he said. The company’s main U.S. R&D offices are located in Research Triangle Park, NC, and Philadelphia. GSK’s venture group, SR One, has offices in San Francisco and Boston. And its most recent venture effort, Action Potential Venture Capital, is headed by Imran Eba, who recently relocated to Cambridge to open up that shop.

GSK views its California and Boston R&D outposts as bridges to strengthen its existing relationships and forge new ones. A big focus, at least for the West Coast, will be on its partnership with VC firm Avalon Ventures. Earlier this year, the partners announced plans to fund 10 new single-molecule drug companies. Their first biotech, celiac disease drug developer Sitari Pharmaceuticals, was hatched with a $10 million Series A in November.

McDevitt said GSK and Avalon are aiming to establish at least three or four new companies by the end of 2014. But the new R&D centers won’t be solely focused on venture funding opportunities. They will be scouting new partnerships with academia and biotech, while also strengthening ties to existing partners. GSK has collaborations with some 22 West Coast partners, McDevitt pointed out.

GSK will be agnostic about therapy areas when it comes to new projects, and will consider both platform technologies and new products, with an emphasis on preclinical programs. Mostly, he said, the point is “keeping an open mind” and looking for breakthrough science. - Jessica Merrill

Our minds are always open, but we’re here to tell you when the deals are closed. With that in mind, here’s this week’s edition of...

Roche/Prothena: Prothena's new deal with Roche, worth $45 million in upfront payments and near-term clinical milestones and potentially up to $600 million to the biotech in the long run, gives it a major pharma partner that recently cited central nervous system diseases as a core R&D priority. In turn, Roche gets access to a synuclein antibody program that is ready for the clinic and has been guided by scientists who are world-class drug developers. The Dec. 10 deal revolves around PRX002, a Phase I-ready antibody that targets alpha-synuclein, believed to play a role in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. But it also gives the partners opportunities to collaborate on related conditions. Prothena is receiving most of the first tranche of $45 million from Roche up front, but a small portion of that amount will be a milestone payment when Prothena moves the drug into Phase I, an event that it expects will happen in the first half of 2014, said CEO Dale Schenk.  Prothena also has a no-cost option, which it can exercise prior to approval, to co-promote PRX002 in the U.S. Costs, revenues and profits will be divided 70-30 between the partners, with Roche assuming the larger burden and reaping the larger bounty. Prothena has been looking to out-license PRX002 in order to concentrate on some of the compounds it is targeting for diseases in smaller populations. Roche traditionally has been strong in central nervous system diseases, but, as with other parts of its business, it has moved away from large-population conditions treated largely by primary care doctors, such as depression, to more complex CNS disorders, treated by specialists.- Wendy Diller

Biogen Idec/Proteostasis: Already no stranger to Alzheimer’s disease treatments, Biogen Idec has licensed another program showing promise in neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In a Dec. 9 deal, the biopharma disclosed a new partnership with Proteostasis Therapeutics to study and develop therapeutics inhibiting the enzyme ubiquitin specific peptidase 14, or Usp14. It’s believed that blocking Usp14 modulates proteasome activity and thereby speeds up degradation of toxic proteins such as alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s and tau in Alzheimer’s, potentially spelling a disease-modifying approach. The deal includes research funding and potential development and commercial milestones totaling $200 million, as well as tiered royalties. The partners will jointly pay for and conduct preclinical research to identify lead compounds for clinical development. At undisclosed, pre-specified development points, Proteostasis will have the option to receive milestones or exercise an option for global co-development and co-commercialization rights. In addition, Biogen Idec is making an equity investment in Protestasis of undisclosed size. Biogen Idec already has Phase Ib anti-beta amyloid antibody candidate BIIB037, which could be moved directly to Phase III as soon as 2015 if trial data are strong enough, SVP of Neurology Al Sandrock said at Deutsche Bank’s BioFEST Conference in early December.  Cambridge, MA-based, privately held Proteostasis is backed by HealthCare Ventures, Fidelity Biosciences, New Enterprise Associates, Novartis Option Fund and Genzyme Ventures. - Stacy Lawrence

Retrophin/Kyalin/Novartis: Retrophin is making good on its plan to expand beyond its initial focus on ultra-rare diseases. On Dec. 12, it announced an agreement to acquire San Diego-based Kyalin Biosciences for an undisclosed sum. Kyalin’s lead asset carbetocin, a synthetic, nasally administered formulation of the hormone oxytocin, is in Phase I for symptoms of autism. On the same day, Retrophin made good on an August announcement that it would license in a drug to treat autism and schizophrenia from an unnamed major pharmaceutical company. The mystery licensor is Novartis, and the asset is Syntocinon (oxytocin), another synthetic, nasally delivered form of the same drug. Retrophin paid $5 million upfront plus undisclosed milestones and royalties for an exclusive U.S. license. Novartis had marketed the drug in the U.S. to assist with initial postpartum milk ejection, but discontinued it in 1997 for commercial reasons. The proceeds from a $25 million PIPE financing in August helped pay for the transactions. The licensing of Syntocinon also gives Retrophin a market-ready prescription treatment addressing a lactation deficiency for which there are no current therapies. Retrophin plans to re-launch it for that indication in the second quarter of 2014, providing an immediate, if likely small, revenue stream. As for the decision to double down on oxytocin, CEO Martin Shkreli said while Syntocinon is FDA approved, carbetocin is far behind in the clinic. “It might never be approved,” he said, “but it has superior qualities [to Syntocinon]. For instance, it’s longer-acting. So, there is a rationale to replace one with the other over time.” He added that there is a considerable amount of applied research and clinical experience behind the use of oxytocin in autism and schizophrenia. - Michael Goodman

GlaxoSmithKline/Inserm Transfert: Continuing a busy year of collaborations, the French National Institute for Health (INSERM) signed a worldwide licensing agreement Dec. 11 with GlaxoSmithKline to investigate the use of immune-checkpoint molecules in cancer treatment. GSK will pay Inserm Transfert, the tech-transfer subsidiary of INSERM, an undisclosed upfront fee with the possibility of development milestones and sales royalties. The pharma gets rights to develop and commercialize monoclonal antibodies that modulate the inducible T-cell costimulator (ICOS) protein, which offers the potential to enhance anti-tumor immune response. The agreement is part of a larger, long-term strategic alliance between INSERM and GSK. The collaboration “is making progress and illustrates a shared vision by GSK and Inserm Transfert that successful development of new drugs requires proactive action and alignment from both sides,” Inserm Transfert Executive VP, Head of Business Unit Open Innovation Augustin Godard said in a release. - Joseph Haas

Crealta/Savient: Start-up Crealta Pharmaceuticals will buy the gout drug Krystexxa (pegloticase) and other assets of troubled Savient Pharmaceuticals following an auction in bankruptcy court, the firms announced Dec. 11. Crealta will pay $120.4 million for the assets, marking its first significant investment toward becoming a specialty pharmaceutical company. Private-equity firm GTCR formed Crealta in August in partnership with Crealta’s CEO, Ed Fiorentino, and said it would invest up to $200 million to support the company. It’s the second company launched by Fiorentino and the PE firm. The two established Actient Holdings LLC in March 2009 and developed it into a diversified specialty pharmaceutical company through a series of five acquisitions, with GTCR providing a similar initial $200 million investment. Urology specialist Auxilium Pharmaceuticals acquired Actient earlier this year for $585 million upfront plus contingency payments. Now GTCR appears to be following a similar playbook in hopes of another successful exit, though turning around Krystexxa will take some effort. The drug was approved in 2009, but never achieved its perceived potential, challenged by Savient’s poor commercial planning and a market dominated by low-cost generic allopurinol. Savient never regained its footing after failing to sign a marketing partner for Krystexxa, and despite several leadership changes and a cost-reduction program, sales of the drug never led Savient into the black.- J.M.

Thanks to Flickr user ah zut for the lovely shot of one of our favorite coastlines, reproduced under Creative Commons license.

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