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

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