Friday, February 28, 2014

DOTW Keeps Tabs As Tax Trimming Fuels Deals

As an industry, biopharma actually fares pretty well when it comes to taxes. Among profitable companies, biotech and pharma have some of the lowest effective U.S. tax rates compared to companies in other sectors. But that doesn’t mean they have stopped working to push their tax rates even lower.

Along with a recent ramp-up of the usual strategies, such as buying companies or assets based in low-tax locales or moving intellectual property there, the industry also is starting to take advantage of the newest twist on tax inversions – in which two companies in high tax locales, only one of them the U.S., merge and create a new company based in a low-tax country.

The specialty pharma consolidation frenzy is driven in part by tax benefits derived from buying companies in lower tax jurisdictions like Ireland. The spec pharma with the lowest tax rate wins – or at the very least earns the right to leverage all that cash on their books to gobble up higher tax rate competitors, thereby making higher margins on the same products.

Valeant is the obvious winner on this front; it will have an astonishing 2% tax rate in 2014, according to data from RBC Capital. But most recently, taxes were also a factor in the Actavis purchase of Forest Laboratories Inc. Actavis had already lowered its tax rate with the acquisition of Irish-headquartered company Warner Chilcott that completed last fall. Now Actavis can apply that reduced tax rate to a product portfolio that will encompass Forest. Prior to the deal announcement, RBC expected Forest would have a 24% effective tax rate in 2014 and that Actavis’ would be 17%.

And, of course, Perrigo is also a newly Irish company, with its purchase last year of the floundering Elan. But there aren’t a lot of direct routes left to Ireland. The largest independent, public Irish therapeutics company is drug delivery company Alkermes; it’s only one of six remaining that also include another drug delivery play Merrion Pharmaceuticals as well as antibody company Prothena, according to the Strategic Transactions database.

(In Ireland, all roads lead back to Elan. Alkermes garnered its Irish locale after a 2011 merger with the drug delivery unit of Elan, while Prothena is the 2012 spin-out of Elan’s drug discovery business. Merrion is also based on IP purchased from Elan.)

Most biopharmas count themselves lucky to have an effective tax rate in the teens – or even the low 20s. The big biotechs with the highest anticipated 2014 effective tax rates are Biogen Idec Inc. at 27% and Gilead Sciences Inc. at 25%, according to RBC. Between them they’ve had two of the most successful launches in recent years for Biogen’s Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) and Gilead’s Sovaldi (sofosbuvir).

Intellectual property for each of these products is domiciled in Ireland in an effort to curb tax expenditures. But that’s a long-term solution that could take years to work. Biogen had a 28.8% non-GAAP tax rate in the fourth quarter. Due to a larger percentage of its profits coming from the U.S. with the Tecfidera launch, the biotech expects the rate to remain at this level through 2014 but for it to subsequently decline in the following two years.

Alexion beefed up its Irish and Singapore operations last year and in January bought an Irish vialing facility for its Soliris (eculizumab). These efforts resulted in tax benefits that are expected to give it a 2014 non-GAAP tax rate of 11% to 12% (GAAP tax rate of 20% to 25%). That’s down from a whopping 51.9% effective tax rate in 2013, which translated into an income tax provision of $273 million. Alexion’s non-GAAP rate is expected to rise to 13% to 14% in 2015 and 16% to 18% in 2016 and beyond, since some benefits are only short-term tax credits.

The most creative tax tactic in the sector is the recent Endo-Paladin deal. The usual approach to tax inversion is for a U.S. company to become the subsidiary of a foreign company. The latest twist on this long-standing move, the third deal of its kind according to RBC, is exemplified by the Endo-Paladin merger, in which a U.S. and Canadian company are merging to form a new entity – in this case, an Irish company.

One risk of being overly imaginative with corporate tax strategy is always bad publicity, as it can trigger allegations of being a ‘tax avoider’ or, even worse, attract the tender attentions of the IRS. Those issues make it difficult for the big multinationals to be very aggressive on the tax front, although becoming enormous hasn't slowed Valeant’s efforts on this front.

The highest corporate income tax rate in the United States is around 40%, including federal, state and local taxes. But at $242 billion in 2012, corporate income taxes are a small percentage of U.S. federal receipts compared to the $1.1 trillion in individual income taxes and $845 billion in social insurance taxes during that year, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report. Since the 1980s, corporate taxes have ranged from roughly 6% to 15% of federal revenue.

Ireland isn’t the only useful tax locality – the top four are the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to RBC. These countries had a 2013 corporate tax rate of 23%, 12.5%, 25%, and 18%, respectively, according to data from KPMG.

Ernst & Young’s Mitchell Cohen, the life sciences global tax leader at Ernst & Young, also includes Belgium (35%, with substantial patent and R&D related deductions and credits), Singapore (17%) and Puerto Rico (20% to 30%) among the ranks of countries with a significant life sciences presence that provide tax benefits.

Among profitable companies overall, the average effective tax rate is 26.6%, according to a current dataset from Aswath Damodaran, a professor of finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University. The profitable pharma companies in his dataset had a 22% average effective tax rate, while the money-making biotechs were at an average of 17.4% That puts both groups in the bottom one-third of corporate tax paying sectors.

And while DOTW can't promise that you'll personally enjoy an effective tax rate of 2% this season, we do want to send you off with this week's deal news. Please read on to discuva the latest, including a pair of preclinical deals and another two that were called off in this week's edition of. . . .

Celgene/Abide: Celgene likes to keep all its options open – to acquire companies, to acquire programs and to license programs. In its latest R&D deal with the preclinical Abide Therapeutics, disclosed on Feb. 28, it included an option to purchase its biotech partner as well as an option to license the rest-of-the-world rights on the first two programs to reach the clinic. Abide’s most advanced compound, AB101131, is expected to enter the clinic in 2015. The biotech expects to get three or four additional candidates into the clinic under the collaboration.  Its technology selectively targets serine hydrolases to develop new treatments for inflammation and immunological disorders. Founded in 2011, Abide was seeded by venture firm Cardinal Partners. Celgene and Cardinal Partners both participated in an undisclosed equity financing concurrent with the deal. Other terms of the deal, including the upfront, also remain undisclosed. Abide is headed by Alan Ezekowitz, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Cardinal Partners who became the biotech’s president, CEO and co-founder. Prior to that, he was at Merck Research Laboratories, the research division of Merck & Co. Inc., as SVP and franchise head of bone, respiratory, immunology and endocrine. Abide’s platform is based on work by Professors Ben Cravatt and Dale Boger of the Scripps Research Institute. The biotech secured its first big biopharma deal last May; it partnered with Ezekowitz’ former employer, Merck. In that deal, it garnered an undisclosed upfront and milestones of up to $430 million to discover, develop and commercialize small molecules against three novel targets to treat metabolic diseases with a focus on type II diabetes. In the last few years, Celgene has done at least three prior deals that included an option to purchase the company: an October 2013 deal with cancer and fibrotic disease company PharmAkea Therapeutics, a July 2013 partnership with toll-like receptor agonist developer VentiRx Pharmaceuticals, and an October 2012 deal with selective small molecule histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor developer Acetylon Pharmaceuticals. - Stacy Lawrence

Roche/ Discuva: Roche and U.K. biotech Discuva are collaborating on the discovery and development of new antibiotics to treat multi-drug resistant gram-negative infections using Discuva’s Selective Antibiotic Target Identification technology platform. SATI uses next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics to identify bacterial targets and select from among them promising drug development candidates. The deal, announced on Feb. 28, fits well with Roche’s revamped research strategy in infectious diseases, a field its R&D organization exited more than 20 years ago, but recently has re-entered. The new, narrower focus is on multi-drug resistant, pathogen-specific, hospital-directed therapies, rather than broad spectrum antibiotics that were Roche’s original focus. Companion diagnostics, an area of strength due to Roche’s long experience in molecular diagnostics, will be important in identifying pathogens. In an October 2013 meeting in New York, Roche’s head of research and early-stage development John Reed outlined his organization’s priorities, noting that the antibiotics field is attractive now in part because “the animal models are good in the clinical context” and the regulatory path is clearer, particularly for safety requirements, thanks to recent FDA guidance.” Discuva will receive an upfront payment of $16 million, as well as research fees and payments on multiple programs of up to $175 million per product upon achievement of certain development, commercial and sales milestones. It will also receive potentially double-digit royalties on product sales. Discuva uses proprietary methods built from recent genomic discoveries to identify targets that affect bacterial growth and viability, as well as related genes potentially associated with development of downstream resistance. The problem of multi-drug resistance to gram-negative infections is growing but has not received as much attention as gram-positive infections. Gram negative pathogens addressed by Discuva include Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, Klebsiella pneumonia, Escherichia coli, and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The company was founded in early 2012, with backing from New Wave Ventures. New Wave’s co-founder Tim Bullock is chairman of Discuva’s board; the amount his firm contributed to the start-up is not public. David Williams is an entrepreneur who founded Sareum, a U.K. oncology biotech that went public on AIM, and previously worked at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Acambis, and Medivir. - Wendy Diller

Merck/Ariad: The fate of Ariad Pharmaceuticals’ mTOR inhibitor ridaforolimus is uncertain now that pharma partner Merck & Co. has decided to return rights to the cancer drug. Ariad revealed in its year-end financial release Feb. 25 that Merck is terminating a licensing agreement for the development and commercialization of ridaforolimus effective in November. The move creates “a new clinical and business opportunity for Ariad,” the company said in a statement, but management didn’t even mention ridaforolimus during a same-day conference call. Ariad is focused on the re-launch of Iclusig (ponatinib), which re-entered the U.S. market in January for the treatment of leukemia after sales were temporarily halted last year due to safety concerns. The company is also running clinical trials to meet FDA’s post-marketing commitments for Iclusig and to expand its label to new indications. Merck’s decision to end the agreement shouldn’t surprise investors, especially now that the big pharma’s oncology focus has shifted to its PD-1 immunotherapy program. Ridaforolimus was rejected by FDA in 2012 as a maintenance treatment for sarcoma after it failed to demonstrate a benefit on survival in a Phase III trial and only a limited two-week progression-free survival advantage. Under the original 2007 collaboration between the two companies, Merck paid $75 million upfront for development and commercialization rights to ridaforolimus and agreed to pay up to $452 million in development milestones and $200 million in R&D payments; the deal was revised in 2010 to give Merck global rights rather than a U.S. profit split. Merck paid out some $222.5 million in upfront and milestone payments during the life of the deal, according to the Strategic Transactions database. - Jessica Merrill

Teva/Andromeda: In a case of a “No-Deal” possibly leading to another deal – Andromeda Biotech reacquired rights to type 1 diabetes candidate DiaPep277, along with equity, from fellow Israeli company Teva. To undo the firms’ 2007 partnership around the human heat shock protein 60 (Hsp-60)-derived peptide, Andromeda will pay Teva total consideration of approximately $72 million in future installments based upon revenues or proceeds payable to its shareholders.That unraveling of a deal on Feb. 24 was followed by media reports Feb. 26 that Clal Biotechnology, another Israeli company which owns 96% of Andromeda, was working on selling Andromeda and the DiaPep277 program to an undisclosed U.S. biopharma for a price that might number in the hundreds of millions of dollars. At press time, however, a second transaction could not be confirmed. Andromeda said it will continue a 475-patient confirmatory Phase III trial for the candidate. The 24-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial is being conducted at more than 100 locations in North America, Europe, Israel and Argentina. Patient recruitment was completed in September 2012 and the trial is expected to produce data by the end of this year. The trial is studying DiaPep277’s ability to preserve the patient’s insulin secretion by the pancreas, with a primary endpoint of maintenance of glycemic control. - Joseph Haas

Thanks to 401(K) 2013 from Flickr for the use of the image, which we find both alarming and strangely beautiful.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Deals Of The Week: Novartis Places Bid To Dominate In Cancer

While the largest deal of the week, and certainly the one receiving the most attention, has been Actavis' expansion of its branded portfolio via its $25 billion purchase of Forest Laboratories, the deal that could have major implications for a hot target space in cancer is Novartis' pick-up of a small Massachusetts biotech.

Novartis nabbed young start-up CoStim Pharmaceuticals at the beginning of the week for an undisclosed amount – a move that could make it a major force in the red hot area of cancer immunotherapy.

The closely held biotech was founded in 2012 by MPM Capital and led by MPM managing directors Luke Evnin and Robert Millman. Atlas Ventures joined MPM in early 2013 to fund the company’s $10 million Series A round. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Atlas partner Bruce Booth wrote in a recent blog post that “if the contingent milestones are paid, this deal will return a significant portion of the entire Life Science allocation in Atlas Fund VIII.”

The Swiss pharma knows a thing or two about oncology – it’s been marketing Gleevec (imatinib), one of the earliest targeted cancer treatments and a multi-billion dollar drug annually, since 2003. And it boasts one of the richest oncology pipelines in the industry, spanning numerous solid- and liquid-tumor indications and many of the hottest biological targets. Its latest R&D foray into chimeric antigen receptor technology (CART) – and the programs it’s acquired from CoStim – has enriched the pharma’s immunotherapy platform and upped its commitment to being a dominant player in oncology.

While Novartis has been cagey about revealing what CoStim actually has to offer, Bill Sellers, its global head of oncology, says the Cambridge biotech brings four to five late-stage programs to the table – programs the industry could start hearing about in early 2015.

“One of our strengths is attacking cancer from its genetic base,” said Sellers. “But we have not done a lot of work in immunotherapy until two years ago,” he admitted.

That’s when Novartis inked its deal with the University of Pennsylvania for its CART research. The deal is based on the work of Carl June, whose lab created T-cells that express the receptor CART 19, a synthetic fusion protein consisting of antibodies that attach to the CD-19 protein, commonly expressed in chronic lymphocytic (CLL) and other B-cell mediated leukemias. The genetically engineered T-cells are injected back into the patients, where they find their way to CD-19-expressing leukemia cells and kill them.

Since pairing up with Penn, Novartis has been “building expertise internally,” said Sellers, as well as opening a large-scale manufacturing facility in Morristown, NJ. “CART has shown dramatic efficacy, but it doesn’t work in everybody,” said Sellers. “So there is room to augment that.”

Sellers said Novartis has been looking for a way to get into checkpoint inhibitors and other immunotherapies for a couple of years, knowing it doesn’t have the expertise in-house. That’s where CoStim comes in – one of its late-stage assets targets the PD-1 pathway. The smokin’ hot PD-1 pathway – if you’ve paid any attention to, or even just glanced at, companies like Merck or Bristol-Myers Squibb in recent months, then you’ve heard about their anti-PD-1 drugs. Combination therapies with these checkpoint inhibitors are going to be huge - $35 billion huge, if some analysts are to be trusted.

Merck already is jumping on the combo bandwagon – it’s inked three deals with Pfizer, Incyte and Amgen just this month to combine its anti-PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor MK-3475 with assets in their respective pipelines.

Novartis is employing a different strategy – it’s hoping to move forward with a CART/PD-1 combo. “We are just starting to explore CART in solid tumors, which are thought to be more immunosuppressant,” said Sellers.

CART programs may be just as revolutionary as PD-1. On Feb. 19, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced results from a trial of adult B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia that showed 88% of patients achieved complete remission after receiving the modified T-cells. (The technology is the basis for the founding of high-profile start-up Juno Therapeutics, which currently is locked in a patent dispute over the CAR technology with Novartis.)

French biotech Servier also is getting in on the action, as you can read below in ...

Actavis/Forest – Actavis is nearly unrecognizable from the little Icelandic company it was just three years ago. The company has merged with both Warner Chilcott PLC and Watson Pharmaceuticals during that time to become a generics behemoth with multinational presence. Now, it is continuing down the road of transformation with its $25 billion acquisition of Forest Laboratories. The stock-and-cash deal will turn Actavis into a developer of specialty brand name drugs, boosting specialty products to represent about 50% of combined company revenue. North American specialty pharmaceuticals currently comprise about 30% of Actavis’ standalone revenue. Forest shareholders will get $26.04 in cash and a portion of an Actavis share for each Forest share. The total, per-share price of $89.48 represents a premium of about 25% over Forest's closing price on Feb. 14, the last trading day before the deal was announced, of $71.39. For Forest this is an ideal exit for its shareholders; activist investor Carl Icahn has said in news reports that this acquisition is a good example of when activist measures work. Forest CEO Brent Saunders has been touted as having the magic touch – he flipped Forest in less than six months after taking over and was the architect behind the sale of Bausch + Lomb to Valeant Pharmaceuticals for $8.7 billion before that. - Lisa LaMotta

Servier/Cellectis – Servier wants a piece of the CART action; the French biotech inked a collaboration with cell therapy company Cellectis on Feb. 17 for $10 million upfront and $840 million in potential milestones tied to the development, regulatory and commercial success of six potential products. The deal includes the development of UCART19, Cellectis’ lead product, a CD19-targeting compound that is in early stages, but could be a potential rival to Novartis’ lead CART program – which also targets the CD19 T-cells. “These original cell-based therapies will well complement Servier's innovative clinical oncology pipeline, which currently includes immunotherapeutic monoclonal antibodies, an HDAC inhibitor, kinase inhibitors, antiangiogenic and proapoptotic small molecules,” said Jean Pierre Abastado, head of oncology at Servier. The deal initially will focus on leukemias and lymphomas, with Servier having the option to license the products and take over development after Phase I has been completed. - L.L.

Gilead/CURx - Gilead Sciences has had its hands full, what with plotting the domination of the market for all-oral HCV treatment. So busy, in fact, that the biotech has signed only one R&D deal in almost the last two years – a preclinical partnership with antibody company MacroGenics last January, according to the Strategic Transactions database. On Feb. 19, Gilead announced its latest R&D deal, but this time it has flipped the usual script and out-licensed a late-stage candidate for development. It’s calling upon CURx Pharmaceuticals develop non-core asset inhaled fosfomycin/tobramycin to treat Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infection in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. The candidate met the primary endpoint in a Phase II trial in 2010 in this indication, but Gilead subsequently discontinued development. There already are two treatments for this indication approved in the U.S.: Gilead’s own Cayston (inhaled aztreonam) and Novartis' Tobi (inhaled tobramycin). In preclinical studies, inhaled fosfomycin/tobramycin has shown activity against several other pathogenic bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). About half of all CF patients become infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and about a quarter are infected with MRSA, according to CURx. The financial details of the transaction were not disclosed. - Stacy Lawrence

Pfizer/ MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center - Pfizer and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are collaborating on the use of novel synthetic biology tools to enhance drug discovery and development. The three-year deal, announced on Feb. 20, covers multiple therapeutic areas at Pfizer and involves several core investigators at MIT’s Synthetic Biology Center, according to the MIT press release. Scientists have different definitions for synthetic biology, but, essentially, it involves integrating current and new biotech tools, systems biology and bioinformatics to enable engineering of new biological parts, in short, making new genetic codes from scratch. The ultimate goal of using such techniques is to make design and construction of novel biological systems into a professional engineering discipline. Synthetic biology as an area of scientific focus has taken off in the past decade, with support from the National Science Foundation, which funded creation of the first synthetic biotech research center, Synberc, in 2006. Participants in Synberc were the University of California at Berkeley and University of California, San Francisco, Stanford University and MIT. Since then, NSF has awarded millions of dollars more to other academic organizations to set up centers of synthetic biology research, including the J. Craig Ventor Institute and New York University. Start-up activity also is climbing, with one of the most visible practitioners, Intrexon, netting $171 million in an initial public offering last year. The ability to use synthetic biology parts as “programmable entities” presents the opportunity to create new biological processes. The partners plan to use cellular genome engineering to support development of next-generation protein expression systems. Pfizer didn’t provide more details, except for comments by Jose Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, the company’s group  senior VP and head of Biotherapeutics R&D. He noted in a press release that “We are reaching a key inflection point where advances in synthetic biology have the potential to rapidly accelerate and improve biotherapeutic drug discovery and development, from early-stage candidate discovery through product supply.” - Wendy Diller

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Financings of the Fortnight And the Neverending Venture Round

Somewhere out there, perhaps, is the end of NovImmune's Series B round.
More than a year ago, our friends at START-UP examined the fates of biotechs that had reeled in huge private financing rounds. Giant biotech venture rounds are back with a buzz in 2014 thanks to Juno Therapeutics, which launched in December with a $120 million Series A commitment. Last month it added on with cash from Venrock and Bezos Expeditions, aka chief Jeff Bezos' private money stash.

But in raw coinage, Juno's A round doesn't hold a candle to what NovImmune has raised in its Series B. Novi-who? It's a Swiss antibody developer founded 16 years ago that in 2006 first notched CHF 58 million ($46 million at the time) for its Series B. Eight years and three extensions later, the Series B now stands at CHF 200.5 million, most recently boosted by a CHF 60 million ($67 million) tranche announced February 18 and led by London life science specialists Rosetta Capital, whose partner Jonathan Hepple is joining the NovImmune board.

That makes NovImmune's Series B the largest biopharma venture round with at least one extension raised in the past decade, according to our Strategic Transactions database. FOTF reached CEO Jack Barbut via email, and he said NovImmune has kept the round open this long to create fairness for all shareholders. "This makes the share structure very easy," Barbut wrote. "For employees, common stock options (sweat equity), and for investors, preferred shares, all [have] the same liquidation rights and thus comply with Swiss statutes, which are very stringent on equal treatment for ALL shareholders." 

CEO since 2000, Barbut said when the Series B started, he didn't expect it to carry on this long. He doesn't know if this recent tranche will be the last.

We went back a decade into our Strategic Transactions database to see what kind of precedent there might be for NovImmune. We found 59 private companies whose extended rounds reached at least $50 million. Here are the handful, other than NovImmune, that topped $100 million:

Four of those companies have since gone public and one (Sangart) has gone under, shut down by its main investor, as first reported by Fierce Biotech. Meanwhile, Symphogen is in no hurry to go public, as its CEO told Start-Up in this feature last year.

NovImmune is not only top of the charts for money raised, but it also has no peer in the length of time of the round. None of the companies with blockbuster rounds took more than two years to secure their extensions. A few smaller rounds took longer. For example, Theraclone Sciences began raising its Series B in 2007 as Spaltudaq (we applaud the name change) and brought the total to $50 million about a year ago. Endocyte took five years to raise a nearly $80 million Series C before going public in 2011. And Alvine Pharmaceuticals spent more than four years building its Series A and is now waiting to find out if AbbVie will exercise an option to buy its lead Phase II program in celiac disease or the entire company outright. (If AbbVie does, it would be one of the very few corporate investors to buy out one of its portfolio companies.)

NovImmune's Barbut said his investors expect "some sort of liquidity event" too, of course, but in the nearer term he said the company is focused on finding a partner for NI-0101, its anti-TLR4 monoclonal antibody that has entered Phase I. It would also like to advance its NI-0501 program, an anti-interferon gamma antibody, and commercialize it solo. NI-0501 has orphan status in the US and EU in hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a deadly pediatric autoimmune disease, and has completed a Phase I study.

NovImmune doesn't seem to have cushioned its cash with a lot of non-dilutive funding. Its biggest deal to date is the outlicensing of an anti-IL17 antibody to Genentech in 2010, no financials disclosed. The candidate completed Phase I in 2013.

So we've got an orphan disease-focused biologics company with multiple, wholly owned clinical assets, a partnership with one top-tier biopharma, and the kind of cash runway that seems to attract more investment these days from the public markets. The IPO market has welcomed every stripe of biotech, from still-preclinical platforms to heavily capitalized specialty plays, in the past year, so NovImmune seems like an inevitable "ask." If its cards are well played -- keep in mind several banks are in NovImmune's investor pool -- an IPO could provide a nice bump for those who didn't have to ride the traditional valuation escalator (or be forced off of it) through later rounds.

We offer a bump, too -- a fist bump to Maureen Riordan, who did much of the work behind the scenes for this column. Without her this week, there would be no...

Melinta Therapeutics: Known as Rib-X Pharmaceuticals until last fall, antibiotic developer Melinta hasraised a $70 million Series 3 round led by existing investor Vatera Healthcare Partners. New investors included Falcon Flight, an affiliate of the Santo Domingo Group, and undisclosed backers. As Rib-X, the firm raised more traditionally named A, B and C rounds last decade. But a failed IPO try in 2011, and a set of new investors led by Vatera, have led to a housecleaning. In November 2012, the company disclosed a $67.5 million "Series 2" funding led by Vatera. Last fall, it unveiled its new name and new executive team, led by CEO Mary Szela. The Series 3 cash will help fund its Phase III study of antibiotic delafloxacin, a differentiated flouroquinolone in testing as an oral, single-dose therapy for uncomplicated gonorrhea. Melinta is aiming for an NDA filing in late 2014. In addition, the money will finance a two-trial Phase III program of delafloxacin in acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections, as well as lead-candidate selection from the firm’s RX-04 discovery program seeking to address serious and life-threatening Gram-negative infections via targeting of novel binding site on the bacterial ribosome. – Joseph Haas

Argos Therapeutics: Immunotherapy is hot, right? Well, yes and no. While the likes of Juno can command above and beyond $100 million in a single financing, cancer and infectious disease immunotherapy play Argos raised a mere $45 million in its February 7 IPO, its second try at launching onto the public markets. And that’s only after it had to dramatically cut the price to $8 a share from a $14 mid-point of its proposed range. It also had to increase the dilution, selling 5.6 million shares rather than the 4.3 million it had proposed. Existing investors bought 1.4 million shares of the IPO, or roughly a fourth of the deal. No word yet if the underwriters will exercise the overallotment, but the share price has largely treaded water since the offering. Argos investors can take some solace knowing the bargain-priced IPOs of 2013 ended up as top performers of the year. What's discounted now might have legs later, as Argos is one of many biotechs with notable clinical milestones in reach this year, as START-UP explored in January. Argos might see a boost later this year when it reports Phase IIb data for AGS-004 for treatment interruption in HIV/AIDS patients, although data due in 2016 -- Phase III survival data in renal cell carcinoma -- is more likely to be game-changing for Argos. The firm also expects this year to start two Phase II HIV eradication studies, one in adults and another in pediatric patients. Argos aims in these trials are ambitious – to eliminate the HIV virus or to reduce it to negligible levels. – Stacy Lawrence

Arrowhead Research: RNAi therapeutic developer Arrowhead said February 19 it grossed $104 million in a follow-on offering, selling 5.5 million shares at $18.95 a piece. Of the several public biotechs that sold $100 million-plus in stock this fortnight -- Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, Macrogenics, PTC Therapeutics and Puma Biotechnology were the others -- Arrowhead's inclusion would have been unthinkable this time last year, when it was bumping along in microcap land and had just a few million dollars in cash remaining. Arrowhead isn't strictly an RNAi developer; it has a peptide-drug conjugate in the clinic, too. But there's no doubt RNA interference, riding a revival of sorts highlighted by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals' giant deal last monthwith Sanofi/Genzyme, is driving the Arrowhead agenda. It's also worth noting that RA Capital, the hedge fund that helped propel the big Dicerna IPO, is also a key investor at Arrowhead as of last spring, having led a $35 million offering at $1.83 a share that recapped the company. With its stock now worth more than 10 times as much (it closed February 20 at $21.90) Arrowhead is pushing hard to get its lead RNAi compound, against Hepatitis B, into Phase II.  While RA, now a 9.9% owner, led a turnover in the company's cap table, it wasn't a bloodbath. Arrowhead's longtime CEO Chris Anzalone is still at the helm, and the board remains the same. – Alex Lash

Pronutria: Pronutria revealed February 13 a $12.5 million Series B round, with unnamed private investors participating alongside Flagship Ventures. CEO Robert Connelly told our colleagues at "The Pink Sheet" that Flagship provided less than half of the new round, while “business entities, individuals and family offices” supplied the remainder. Flagship created Pronutria within its VentureLabs program in 2011, quietly funding it with a $10.8 million Series A round over a two-year period before lifting the lid last October. Much of the Series B, which Connelly said is probably Pronutria's final venture round, will be used for clinical trials on two muscle-protecting candidates that preserve strength in frail, elderly people with sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass that can occur during periods of hospitalization. The candidates, PN-107 and PN-365, are formulations of the amino acid leucine delivered as small “shot”-sized beverages similar to bottled energy products found on supermarket shelves. The specific pharmacokinetics and efficacy of each candidate, and the effects of their specific balances of amino acids, will be compared with each other in the trials. The company is still deciding on a regulatory pathway for each one, including possibly developing them as nutritional supplements, medical foods or pharmaceutical products, each of which has its own requirements. Initial clinical trials, now underway, are scheduled for completion by mid-year; Connelly said the company also is mulling parallel development of drug and non-drug formulations of similar product candidates. Further down the line, Pronutria is aiming for products addressing the metabolic, gastrointestinal, immune and renal disease areas, as well as beneficial products for patients with rare diseases and those going through chemotherapy. Whatever drug products Pronutria develops will reside in a separate business unit, which will help ease eventual sales or spin-outs. – Paul Bonanos

Best of the Rest (Highlights of Other Activity This Fortnight): Endocrine disease-focused Versartis raised $55M in Series E financing, and concurrently filed for an IPO…to support the launch of opioid dependence drug Bunavail in the second half of this year, BioDelivery Sciences grossed $60M in a registered direct offering…PTC Therapeutics publicly sold $126M in a FOPO to complete Phase III development and gain regulatory approval of ataluren in Duchenne muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis caused by nonsense mutations, in the wake of last month’s EMA/CHMP negative opinion on that candidate’s MAA…Concert Pharma priced its IPO at $14, the top end of its range, to net $78 million...three Israeli biotechs – Galmed, Bio Blast, and MediWound – are all hedging their bets and trying to float on Nasdaq…and PDL BioPharma, which manages patents and royalty assets, completed a $261M convertible notes offering. – Amanda Micklus

Photo courtesy of Mike Mantin  on flickr, via a Creative Commons license. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Deals Of The Week: UCSF Catalyzes R&D Tech-Transfer Deals With Private Sector

Neither MedImmune, the biologics arm of AstraZeneca, nor the University of California, San Francisco, is a stranger to R&D collaboration between private industry and academia, but the agreement they signed on Feb. 11 is somewhat unique in that it will take advantage of a UCSF program that was intended to provide external expertise that might help to move basic research into more advanced stages.

At UCSF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the Catalyst Awards program benefits from the input of industry and academic advisors who review burgeoning science and help select which projects should advance further and be given increased resources. CTSI oversees UCSF researchers working on therapeutics, devices, diagnostics and digital health applications, explained June Lee, director of early translational research at CTSI.

The Catalyst program started with about 120 advisors, and now has about 140 and is growing in numbers. “These folks are from all different disciplines, mostly from industry, and represent various different sectors and areas of expertise for product development in the life sciences,” Lee said. According to her, it’s more of a happy coincidence than a plan that the Catalyst Awards program spurred a broad-based partnership – considering both small- and large-molecule projects in cardiovascular and metabolic disease, oncology, respiratory, inflammation and autoimmune disorders, neuroscience and infectious disease – with MedImmune.

The collaboration could end up bringing early-stage assets to MedImmune (or AstraZeneca) in any of those areas, Lee added, since UCSF has 2,400 faculty, of whom about 1,300 are doing research primarily. “Our people are working in all areas of research, and that’s not accounting for post-docs or graduate students,” she said.

“Our primary goal was to enable and support of early-stage technology projects at UCSF,” she said. “For things that have product potential, we bring in the necessary expertise to help the faculty move projects along. Even though spurring deal-making may not have been our primary purpose, the program really is a very appropriate portal for people on the outside to look through to determine which university technologies are most ready to be licensed out.”

Terms have not been disclosed for the MedImmune/UCSF tie-up but Senior VP and Head of the Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmune Innovative Medicines Unit (iMED) Bing Yao said that unlike the Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland, Baltimore arrangements signed last year, which feature an overall R&D funding allocation, funding for this partnership will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“Some of the programs, we will want to bring to the next stage – they could be preclinical or [we could want to move them] further into clinical development,” Yao noted. “This way, we can give a lot of input. As a company developing products for multiple therapeutic areas, we can bring our expertise to facilitate [the projects] but each program will be unique.”

The agreement extends for three years, with an option to extend it. MedImmune and AstraZeneca personnel will join with the Catalyst Awards advisors and UCSF staff to determine which products move forward with MedImmune/AstraZeneca backing. And the company will have exclusive options rights to the programs it backs, Yao said.

In the six months, Gaithersburg, Md.-based MedImmune has shored up its local base by signing a five-year, $6.5 million, broad-based R&D partnership with Johns Hopkins University in December and a five-year, $6 million pact with University of Maryland, Baltimore in September. It also has R&D relationships with academia in the U.K. and, now, with the UCSF partnership, gets better access to technological advances stemming from the biotechnology hub in the San Francisco bay area, Yao told Deals of the Week.

UCSF, meanwhile, is one of five founding members of the Academic Drug Discovery Consortium, founded in 2012 to serve as a clearinghouse for both academia and industry on research underway within U.S. and international drug research programs. Since 2010, UCSF has negotiated research collaborations with Genentech, Pfizer, Sanofi and Bayer, while licensing a preclinical antibody for organ failure to Stromedix and genetic encoding intellectual property for Parkinson’s disease to uniQure.

While that agreement was signed, other M&A and licensing activity was heating up the cold and snowy winter. Read on for the rest of ....

Mallinckrodt/Cadence: Mallinckrodt will have a lot of work to do to make good on the $1.3 billion it’s paying for Cadence Pharmaceuticals, a price more than 10 times the projected 2013 sales for Cadence’s sole product, Ofirmev (intravenous acetaminophen). Mallinckrodt says the acquisition gives it a third therapeutics platform, in the hospital setting, in addition to its existing focus on generic drugs and pain medications. The specialty drug company plans to keep Cadence’s sales and marketing capabilities and acquire additional hospital products to sell through them. Mallinckrodt announced the acquisition Feb. 11, its first major transaction since it was spun-out from medical device and supply company Covidien in July. Ofirmev launched in January 2011 and is approved to treat mild-to-moderate pain, for the management of moderate-to-severe pain with adjunctive opioid analgesics, and for the reduction of fever. It has expected net product revenues of $110.5 million for 2013. That’s more than twice the $50.1 million posted in 2012, its first full year of sales. As of Sept. 30, Cadence shareholders included Fidelity Management (7.6 million shares), T. Rowe Price Associates (7.2 million), Capital Research (7.1 million), Wellington Management (6 million), The Vanguard Group (3.4 million), NEA (2.1 million) and BlackRock (1.9 million). Mallinckrodt will pay $14 per share for Cadence, a 32% premium to the trailing 30-trading-day volume weighted average price; in 2006, the company completed an IPO at $9 per share with a valuation of about $250 million. That gives shareholders who bought and held IPO shares a roughly 1.5x return. - Stacy Lawrence and Jessica Merrill

Pierre Fabre/Aurigene: Pierre Fabre Group, the French pharmaceuticals and cosmetics firm whose sales are split almost equally between drugs and skincare cosmetics, has acquired worldwide development and commercialization rights (excluding India) to a novel immune checkpoint modulator, AUNP-12, from the Indian drug-discovery firm Aurigene Discovery Technologies. AUNP-12 is the only peptide under development as a PD-1 immune modulator, the companies say. The candidate could be associated with greater efficacy and fewer side effects when used as part of combination therapies, they announced Feb. 12. The peptide achieves effective levels in vivo after subcutaneous dosing, and has inhibited tumor growth and metastasis in preclinical models of cancer. Aurigene, the Bangalore-based biotech that has collaborated with six of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies since its inception in 2002, will receive an undisclosed upfront payment from Pierre Fabre, and milestone payments based on development, regulatory and commercial progress. The deal terms are in line with others in this space, the companies said. It’s also the first major deal the French company has signed since the death of its founder, Pierre Fabre, in the middle of last year. Pierre Fabre specializes in the development of anti-cancer drugs, either alone or with partners; with marketed drugs that include Javlor (vinflunine) and Navelbine (vinorelbine), while Aurigene is a profitable Indian biotech that generates lead compounds and progresses them to preclinical development in concert with collaborators, particularly in oncology and inflammation. - John Davis

Retrophin/Manchester: Retrophin, which netted $37.4 million in an initial public offering in January, has arranged to purchase privately held Manchester Pharmaceuticals for $62.5 million, including $29.5 million upfront. Announced Feb. 12, the transaction is expected to close on March 1, Retrophin said. Like Retrophin, Manchester focuses on rare diseases. The Ft. Collins, Colo.-based firm has two FDA-approved drugs in its portfolio – Chenodal (chenodeoxycholic acid), which is indicated for patients suffering from gallstones in whom surgery poses an unacceptable health risk due to disease or advanced age, and Vecamyl (mecamylamine HCI tablets), indicated for the management of moderately severe to severe essential hypertension and uncomplicated cases of malignant hypertension. Retrophin said it also will seek quick FDA approval for Chenodal, the only FDA-approved chenodeoxycholic acid, for cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis (CTX), a rare metabolic disorder that can cause severe intellectual disability or even prove fatal in young patients. The New York firm also guided that it anticipates revenue of between $10 million and $12 million this year overall, and $19 million to $21 million in 2015. - Joseph Haas

Debiopharm/Affinium: Swiss biopharma Debiopharm Group broadened its antibiotic portfolio by acquiring key assets from Toronto-based Affinium Pharmaceuticals on Feb. 11. The deal includes two narrow-spectrum anti-bacterial candidates, the Phase IIa FabI inhibitor AFN-1252 and its Phase I prodrug, AFN-1720. Debiopharm also acquired Affinium’s technology platform with which it created the two drugs. Terms of the arrangement weren’t disclosed. Affinium says its drugs represent a new class of antibiotics that inhibit the type-II fatty acid synthesis pathway, known as FAS-II, essential for bacterial growth. Its compounds have shown promise in combating staphylococcus infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-intermedia Staphylococcus aureus infections, while allowing intravenous-to-oral switching for patients leaving hospital care. Debiopharm expects to develop a companion diagnostic to select appropriate patients as AFN-1720 progresses through the clinic. Debiopharm entered the anti-bacterial field last fall, when it struck a deal with India’s TCG Life Sciences to develop new antibiotics. The company is aiming to develop drugs that preserve existing gut flora while overcoming resistance to broad-spectrum drugs. Affinium raised $33 million in two rounds of funding in 2007 and 2011, from investors including SV Life Sciences, Genesys Capital Partners, Forward Ventures, Oxford Bioscience Partners and Ontario Emerging Technologies Fund.  - Paul Bonanos

Aveo/Astellas: In our “No-Deal of the Week,” Aveo Pharmaceuticals and Astellas announced Feb. 14 that they have terminated a partnership around renal cell carcinoma candidate tivozanib. The Japanese pharma paid $125 million upfront, with $50 million pegged to cover Aveo’s R&D expenses, in 2011 for worldwide rights, except for Asia, to develop, manufacture and market the compound, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor of all vascular endothelial growth factor receptors. An NDA was filed in November 2012, but an FDA “complete response” letter and unenthusiastic reception at an advisory committee left the companies not expecting approval in advanced RCC. They terminated the trial program for that indication and decided to re-focus on developing tivozanib for breast and colorectal cancers. Now, Astellas has decided to exit the collaboration for what it calls “strategic” reasons, and the two companies are terminating a Phase II program studying the compound in CRC. All rights to tivozanib will return to Aveo as of Aug. 11. - J.A.H.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 07, 2014

Can Novel-Novel Combinations Work? Deals Of The Week Watches Merck Test The Waters

Merck & Co. Inc.’s Feb. 5 announcement that it is collaborating with three companies to test various combinations of its investigational oncology compound MK-3475 with their drugs highlights the extent to which the big pharma is committed to building a major presence in onco-immunotherapy. The company appears prepared to take aggressive steps to achieve its aims, even as it cuts back in other parts of its business.

The announcement also signals just how important combination drug trials are becoming to certain areas of cancer therapy development, and in particular the importance of “novel-novel” combination trials. Until recently, the industry rarely, if ever, undertook trials in which two investigational-stage drugs are put through clinical development together in the hopes that results will be stronger than either would have garnered alone. With the exception of some government sponsored projects, even combining two novel drugs made by the same company has been rare. Lack of scientific drivers and operational and legal hurdles have kept potential partners at bay.

Certainly science is shifting, and many oncology researchers believe early-stage collaborations are inevitable, given the direction of scientific innovation and the costly and time-consuming nature of clinical trials. Furthermore, FDA has shown greater willingness to consider novel-novel combinations in recent years, issuing a first draft guidance in December 2010, and, in June 2013, a final guidance, which clarifies its thinking on the potential regulatory path for approving two new drugs as a combination regimen.

RocheCyclacel Pharmaceuticals Inc., and just maybe one or two others, are currently testing combinations of their own investigational drugs--developments are followed diligently by "The Pink Sheet"'s Shirley Haley and others on the team. But those initiatives pale in terms of scope with Merck’s willingness to work with Pfizer Inc., Incyte Corp., and Amgen Inc.   The drug involved is a high-profile litmus test for Merck: MK-3475, a PD-1-specific antibody, is currently in Phase III as a monotherapy for melanoma and is being studied in a total of 13 clinical trials involving more than 4,000 patients suffering from a variety of cancers.  The company announced in January that it is starting a rolling NDA for the drug, which it expects to complete in mid-2014.

Investigators will evaluate MK-3475's safety and efficacy when combined with Pfizer’s small molecule kinase inhibitor Inlyta (axitinib) in patients with renal cell carcinoma, and also with the investigational immuno-oncology drug PF-05082566 in multiple cancers. Inlyta already is on the market as a monotherapy for RCC, and ‘2566, which targets the human 4-1BB receptor, is in Phase I, according to Pfizer’s website.

In the second agreement, Merck will cooperate with Incyte on a randomized, double-blinded Phase I/II study of MK-3475 and Incyte’s investigational drug INCB24360, an immunotherapy that inhibits indoleamine 2, 3-dioxygenase (IDO) in patients with previously treated metastatic and recurrent non-small cell lung cancer. Finally, MK-3475 and Amgen’s investigational immunotherapy talimogene laherparepvec will be put to the test in a Phase Ib/II study in patients with previously untreated mid- to late-stage melanoma.

Merck already has signed a similar deal with GlaxoSmithKline PLC around combining MK-3475 with GSK’s Votrient (pazopanib) in advanced RCC, and it seems ready for more. “You can expect to see more of thse deals, both in terms of monotherapy and in combinations,” said Merck's VP, Clinical Oncology Research Eric Rubin on the day the company announced its triple play. As for the particular compounds chosen, he noted, these were areas of particular interest based on “our understanding of drug mechanisms and the potential of combination effects that will be synergistic in their efficacy.”

He would not discuss details of the data Merck looked at to select its partners, but said each case had “a strong rationale.” A  fair amount of literature has been published on IDO as a target and its involvement in immune regulation and in particular with melanoma, for example, he said. Nor would he discuss timing of read outs from any trials, all of which are expected to begin later this year.  The Incyte compound is currently in Phase II as a monotherapy for ovarian cancer and as a combination therapy with Bristol-Myers’ Squibb’s Yervoy (ipilimumab) for advanced melanoma.

Merck’s previous experience with a novel-novel combination trial involving its AKT (part of the phosphaltidylinositol-3 kinase pathway) inhibitor and AstraZeneca PLC’s MEK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) inhibitor also likely paved the way. That effort began in 2009 and was among the first, if not the first, examples of two big companies collaborating in such close fashion on such early-stage compounds.  The Merck drug was in Phase I trials at the time the deal was signed, while the AZ drug was in Phase II but had not yet reached proof of concept.  The timing inevitably led to concerns about sharing of proprietary data and intellectual property, as well as scientific uncertainties and questions about potential regulatory uncertainties down the road.

Merck isn’t saying much about how the new deals are managing the operations or funding of the trials, but Rubin noted that the earlier relationship with AZ has been positive and “a good way to learn how to do this.” Some of the learnings resulted in other trials, he said, including as one of four arms of the BATTLE-2 trial, which investigators will discuss at the American Association of Cancer Research meeting in April. That trial, now recruiting 450 patients with advanced non-small-cell-lung cancer, is expected to complete in 2017, according to

The structure of the 2009 deal was fairly simple, with Merck sponsoring the Phase I study and both companies splitting the costs.  A joint governance committee with shared decision making rights oversaw the program. IP arising from the collaboration is to be shared by the inventors, and most importantly, each company was to have freedom to study its compound alone or with other drugs as well.

Merck’s been active on other fronts in the deal space, and recently revamped its R&D unit's business development group, bringing in a new leader, Iain Dukes from Amgen. Other companies are also doing their share of wheeling and dealing, as is seen in the latest round of ...--Wendy Diller

Merck/ Ablynx: Merck  has turned again to Ablynx’s Nanobody technology platform to identify new product candidates, this time compounds directed at immune checkpoint modulators, currently a hot area of research following the success of  Yervoy.

Building on their initial research partnership started in October 2012 in neuroscience, Merck and Ablynx have now agreed a research collaboration and licensing agreement that will discover and develop several predefined Nanobodies that could become cancer immunotherapies. Nanobodies are based on single-domain antibody fragments, and have several beneficial features compared with conventional small-molecule or antibody-based therapies, including the possibility of being linked together in bi-specific or tri-specific constructs. Researchers believe combinations of immune checkpoint inhibitors could be important in the treatment of certain cancers.

Ablynx will receive an upfront of €20 million ($27 million) and up to €10.7 million in research funding during the three years of research covered by the new collaboration signed Feb. 3. The Ghent, Belgium-based biotech could also receive development, regulatory and commercial milestones on achieved sales thresholds for a number of products that could amount to a chunky €1.7 billion, plus tiered royalties. Merck will develop, manufacture and commercialize any products resulting from the collaboration. 

Ablynx has been active over the past six months in signing up Big Pharma companies for research collaborations and partnerships. In September 2013 it strengthened an existing collaboration with Merck Serono by setting up a dedicated discovery team for the German Big Pharma at Ablynx. In the same month, U.S company AbbVie licensed the anti-interleukin-6 Nanobody, ALX-0061, for global development.-- John Davis

Accelerating Medicines Partnership:  NIH Director Francis Collins outlined a broad public/private partnership Feb. 4 to speed up and increase the success rate of research into finding new biological pathways for therapeutic intervention. Called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), the alliance will combine the efforts of NIH, FDA, 10 biopharma companies, and the non-profit community to transform the current discovery model for new drugs and diagnostics.
The five-year effort is funded with $230 million provided in approximately a 50/50 split between NIH and the pharmaceutical industry. It will focus first on characterizing effective biomarkers and distinguishing biological targets most likely to respond to new therapies in three areas: Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and a pair of autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus.

AMP’s work will be considered “pre-competitive” – all parties have agreed to forego seeking any intellectual property rights on the group’s work, which will be disseminated for free usage by any and all medical researchers, public or private, affiliated or independent. “Competition will come later after the initial discovery phase where we, the AMP, collectively identify the most compelling targets and then the full competitive power of the pharmaceutical industry will kick in to develop the actual therapeutic molecules,” Collins said.

The companies participating in AMP are AbbVie, Biogen Idec, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer., Sanofi and Takeda. Also taking part are PhRMA, the Foundation for the NIH and a set of disease advocacy groups focused on the four diseases chosen for initial focus. --Joseph Haas

Myriad/ Crescendo: Having watched Crescendo Bioscience gain a foothold in the market for inflammatory and autoimmune diagnostics market, Myriad Genetics is now moving to acquire the company – a right it obtained via a novel strategic investment agreement in 2011. That agreement included a $25 million loan – nondilutive financing that was to be repaid in years 4-6 – and a three-year option to acquire Crescendo at a multiple of revenues once those revenues hit an initial threshold and according to a formula gauging their rate of growth after that.

In November 2013, Myriad said Crescendo had met the terms for exercising the option. The purchase price – $270 million cash, less $25 million payback on the loan – was calibrated according to the pre-established revenue target. The press release announcing the acquisition noted that Crescendo’s sales for the most recent quarter were $10 million. Sales of Crescendo’s inaugural product, the Vectra DA protein-based diagnostic for measuring disease activity in RA patients, surged in 2013 owing to a confluence of factors: In May, Crescendo obtained CMS coverage, representing close to 40% of the RA population. It simultaneously expanded the Vectra sales force from 20 to 33.

Then in June, the company presented ten posters at the EULAR Annual Meeting, which further drove interest in ordering the test. The deal is in keeping with Myriad’s goal of diversification in therapy area (beyond oncology) and technology (protein versus DNA/RNA tests). (A more detailed analysis will be out shortly in Informa's monthly strategy publication, IN VIVO.) The announcement did little to deflect analyst concerns over Myriad’s immediate prospects, however. CMS recently reduced payments for its BRACAnalysis tests by almost half, and the company is facing new competition in BRCA testing following the US Supreme Court decision last June invalidating BRCA gene patents.  As Michael Yee of RBC Capital Markets said in a note following Myriad's February 4 earnings call, during which the Crescendo acquisition was discussed, “we think the stock remains a battle of Bulls/Bears this year until more visibility occurs.”--Mark Ratner

Valeant/ PreCision: When it comes to acquisitions, Valeant Pharmaceuticals investors have high expectations now that CEO J. Michael Pearson have vowed the company will become a top-five pharma by 2016 with business development the key avenue to meeting that goal. Valeant announced its first acquisition of the year Feb. 3, buying PreCision Dermatology Inc., a prescription and cosmetic dermatology firm. Valeant agreed to buy the privately-held dermatology company for $475 million in cash plus $25 million in milestones.

Relative to some of Valeant’s recent acquisitions like Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. for $2.6 billion in 2012 and Bausch &  Lomb Inc. for $8.7 billion in 2013, the PreCision buyout is smaller and should be one that an experienced buyer like Valeant can quickly integrate into its operations. PreCision’s sales are expected to be approximately $130 million in 2014, according to Valeant. The company, based in Cumberland, R.I., employs about 175 people. It was established in December 2010 from a spinout of Onset Therapeutics, a subsidiary owned by Collegium Pharmaceutical Inc. PreCision’s initial investors were Essex Woodlands, Boston Milennia Partners, Frazier Healthcare and Westfield Capital Management.

The acquisition of Medicis catapulted Valeant into a leader position in dermatology, where it ranks second behind Galderma SA. The company added more dermatology businesses in 2013, including Obagi Medical Products Inc., the maker of aesthetic and prescription skin-care lines, which it bought for $418.4 million. In December, Valeant said it would buy Solta Medical Inc. for $237 million for its aesthetic devices, which are sold to dermatologists.--Jessica Merrill

Novo Nordisk/ Zosano: In the crowded market for diabetes drugs, methods of administration and delivery systems can be important differentiation factors. Novo Nordisk added a new delivery system to its experimental drug pipeline on Feb. 5, when it partnered with Fremont, Calif.-based Zosano Pharma Inc. to gain rights to its microneedle patch system. Novo Nordisk will attempt to create a transdermal delivery system for semaglutide, its Phase III glucagon-like peptide-1 analogue for type 2 diabetes.

Zosano received an up-front payment of undisclosed size to cement the deal. Novo Nordisk agreed to pay development, regulatory and commercial milestones worth up to $60 million for the first product jointly developed under the agreement, as well as royalties. The companies will also investigate other GLP-1 products, each of which could trigger an additional $55 million in milestone payments. The companies will collaborate on development during the preclinical product stage, but Novo Nordisk will cover further development costs and reimburse Zosano for other development and manufacturing costs.

Spun out of Alza Corp. in 2006, Zosano has raised more than $120 million from investors including New Enterprise Associates, ProQuest Investments, and Nomura Phase4 Ventures. It has previously tested its microneedle patches in products based on Eli Lilly’s Forteo (teriparatide) and Amgen’s Epogen (epoetin alfa).--Paul Bonanos

Hat tip to  James Moore, Certified Accountants for image

These Days, You Can't Spell Financings Of The Fortnight Without "I-P-O"

It turns out a lot of the words that contain the letters "IPO" are biomedical words:

Pluripotent. Liposomal. Adiposis. Gallipot.

And it turns out a lot of biomedical companies have IPO in them, too. Since we last met 14 days ago, dear reader, a stunning 13 biotechs have made their public debuts, although if not for Eleven Biotherapeutics, it would have been 12.

There are all kinds of ways to slice and dice this baker's dozen; one way is to look at first-day pops. Indeed, our colleagues at "The Pink Sheet" will soon have a detailed look at the crazy first-day run-up of RNAi developer Dicerna Therapeutics; the 207% gain was the biggest in biotech since Antigenics jumped 241% in February 2000, according to Renaissance Capital.  (More on Dicerna's IPO in the roundup below.)

But with the momentum that began in earnest last spring showing no signs of tapering off, we're curious about a different indicator: insider purchases. As soon as IPOs began to rebound from the financial crisis, insiders often did heavy lifting to get the deals off the ground.

But those levels began to decline in 2013, as Atlas Venture partner Bruce Booth noted on his blog last fall. He also noted that insider participation could signal a cooling of the market. Well, yes, but as we noted on this blog in early 2012, it's hard to draw conclusions about deal-by-deal participation. Is heavy insider presence a sign of desperation to get a deal done, or is it a sign of singular enthusiasm? With crossover investors already on the cap table and wanting more at IPO, and with some VCs playing more frequently on the public side of the fence, it can be hard to tell. What's more, SEC filings don't always divulge the true level of insider participation.
With all that, let's round up what this year's IPOs have revealed:

Here are the 13 IPOs the past two weeks, plus GlycoMimetics on January 9, and the percentage of insider participation noted in the regulatory filings:

Company Name
Insider Participation at IPO

That's an average of 16% raised from insiders, but with caveats: some of these numbers (highlighted green) are based on filings which note that insiders indicated an interest of purchasing a certain amount. At the time of this writing, it's not clear whether they actually pulled the trigger, but often those indications don't change much. Other caveat: The percentages don't factor in the green shoe. In other words, some of the numbers you see above will change as more information emerges.

For what it's worth, our own IPO data show insider participation in 2013 averaged 14%. 

It's hard to say what all this means. Two years ago, when insiders shouldered heavy IPO loads -- taking on more risk instead of getting to precious exits -- it was easier to wonder about the desperation of it all. But now, more early stage biopharma investors (Third Rock Ventures, Flagship Ventures, OrbiMed Advisors, 5am Ventures and so on) are squaring the circle, from fundraising to new investment to IPO and back again, and biotech's boom means those extra IPO shares, if you can afford them, could be a lucrative proposition. And as our START-UP colleagues noted last year, biotech VCs haven't been shy about holding... and holding... and holding their shares well past IPO.

Is it worth mentioning that you also can't spell "ripoff" without IPO? Or perhaps we should leave you with this lighter linguistic play: The only anagram of IPO is "poi." A select few find the ancient Hawaiian staple of taro root mush delicious, but other people just need some time to appreciate it. Hmm, sounds like a recipe for what we cook up every two weeks, except we call it...

Dicerna Pharmaceuticals: RNA interference specialist Dicerna more than tripled in its first day of trading, making it the largest post-IPO pop since 2000. Demand for the offering was almost unprecedented with over $1 billion in orders, thanks in part to the RNAi-validating $700 million deal between Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi's Genzyme that stole the show at January’s JP Morgan Healthcare conference. But unlike many IPO candidates going into 2014, Dicerna can't count on near-term milestones to support the stock. It expects to start clinical trials for the treatment of primary hyperoxaluria in 2015, with proof-of-concept data due later that year. It also expects to advance DCR-M1711 for cancers driven by the MYC oncogene in the first half of 2014, with proof-of-concept data in 2015. The biotech originally targeted $60 million, but by increasing its price to $15 and shares sold to six million, it ended up raising $90 million. The overallotment could add another $13.5 million. Last July, Dicerna raised a $60 million Series C round at $7 a share with crossover investors RA Capital, Deerfield Management and Brookside Capital Partners, as well as VCs Domain Associates, Skyline Venture Partners, Abingworth Bioventure, SROne and Oxford Biosciences Partners. At market close on February 6, Dicerna’s share price had settled to $33.98, down from its first-day high of $46, but still more than double the IPO offer price.  – Stacy Lawrence

uniQure: The groundbreaking Dutch company gained the first regulatory approval for a gene therapy in the Western world, but it isn’t the first to go public. The company followed bluebird bio and, just by a few days, Celladon into the public markets with its February 4 listing on the Nasdaq, pricing 5.4 million shares at $17 apiece, above the anticipated range of $13 to $15. uniQure netted $81.9 million in the transaction, net of discounts and expenses; a greenshoe option could add $13.8 million more to the offering’s value. uniQure made history in November 2012, when EMA approved its Glybera (alipogene tiparvovec) to treat rare metabolic disease lipoprotein lipase deficiency. It’s part of a renaissance of interest in the field of gene therapy, once considered overly risky, and VCs have stepped up investment in new treatments in the field. After meeting with US regulators, uniQure plans to file an IND for Glybera by midyear. The company will also use its IPO proceeds to complete its Lexington, Mass. manufacturing facility and advance pipeline candidates including Phase I/II hemophilia treatment AMT-060. The company is planning a 2014 commercial launch of Glybera in Europe, in conjunction with regional partner Chiesi Farmaceutici. – Paul Bonanos

Lumos Pharma: Two years after paying $695 for a crowdsourced logo, Lumos has reeled in real cash: a $14 million Series A round led by Sante Ventures and New Enterprise Associates. The Austin, Texas firm is working on a small molecule therapeutic for the rare disease Creatine Transporter Deficiency (CTD), which is in preclinical studies. Lumos was among the first companies to gain support from the National Institutes of Health's "TRND" program, or Treatments for Rare and Neglected Diseases. As our sister publication START-UP noted in late 2011, CEO Rick Hawkins, a serial biotech entrepreneur, turned to TRND for help in what he called the worst disruption in the capital markets he'd seen in 35 years. CTD is an inborn error of metabolism that results in a profound lack of creatine in the brain. It's an x-linked disorder, which means boys are more affected than girls, with severe autism-spectrum symptoms such as language and speech delay, epilepsy and destructive behavior. Lumos is repurposing a drug -- what it calls a kinetically similar analog of creatine -- previously studied as a solid tumor treatment, and tested in knockout mice at the University of Cincinnati. Kevin Lalande, Managing Director of Sante Ventures, and NEA Partner Ed Mathers will join the Lumos board. – Alex Lash

NightstaRx: We admit we first thought about writing up NightstaRx to poke gentle fun at its name. (It apparently is pronounced "Nightstar," which makes for the first silent "X" in the English language.) But we would never be that shallow; the firm merits a write-up for other, more legitimate reasons. First, the company is the initial therapeutic investment from Syncona Partners, the new £200 million ($325 million) evergreen venture fund of the mighty Wellcome Trust, which has been rather slow to get cranking (it was first announced nearly two years ago). Once known as Project Sigma, Syncona aims to fund private biotechs and keep full ownership, at least for a while. It's for-profit and although fully funded by Wellcome, it's separate from the Trust's investment division, which has billions of pounds of private equity holdings. Now that Syncona is truly up and running, it should b be a significant source of early stage funding for European biotechs. Our second reason to highlight NightstaRx, a spinout from the University of Oxford, is that Syncona's £12 million ($20 million) will help move forward a gene therapy treatment for choroideremia, an inherited form of progressive blindness. It's the latest entry in a venture-backed field of ocular gene therapy companies, as The treatment uses a small modified virus, AAV.REP1, to deliver the correct version of the mutated gene that causes to cells in the retina of the eye. Six months after treatment with this therapy, the first six patients showed improvement in their vision in dim light and two of the six were able to read more lines on the eye chart, according to a January 16 paper in the British medical journal Lancet. The vector is currently in Phase I trials and follow-on tests are expected to begin in 2016. – Sten Stovall and Alex Lash

Best of the Rest (Highlights of Other Activity This Fortnight): Cancer MAb company Igenica announced a second closing of $14 million to its June 2012 Series C round, raising the total proceeds to $47 million…In another add-on, Sialix, which is focused on sialic acids to treat cancer and inflammatory-mediated diseases, tapped angel investors to supplement its August 2011 Series B financing with a $1.2 million tranche, bringing the round total to $4 million…Through a public offering, renal drug developer Keryx Biopharmaceuticals netted $108.2 million (including the overallotment)… Large FOPOs were also completed by other cancer-focused biotechs: Geron ($97.3 million) and Tesaro ($94.8 million)… While numerous initial public offerings were completed, there are still an abundance of filers in the wings, hoping to go public soon; among them is UK biotech Circassia, intending to float on the London Stock Exchange's Main Market, which, if successful, would be the first UK-market IPO since Clinigen Group’s £6.6 million flotation on AIM in October 2012 (UK biotech Egalet just completed its $50 million IPO, but on Nasdaq)… Canadian spec pharma Aptalis Holdings withdrew its December 2013 IPO filing on Nasdaq in favor of a $2.9 billion buy-out by Forest Laboratories… Through the sale of debt, Emergent BioSolutions raised $250 million to fund its acquisition of Cangene… Also through a debt offering, Fluidigm brought in $170 million to finance its takeover of DVS Sciences. – Maureen Riordan

Many thanqkxs to Mr. Thomas for the Scrabble photo via a Creative Commons license.