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Bio-JPM Roundup: Lilly Buys Loxo, Sage’s Stock Soars, ALS Cash & More

Xconomy National — 

The flow of biotech news is particularly heavy today, and for good reason. The annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, one of the biggest gatherings for the biopharmaceutical industry, kicked off today in San Francisco, and many companies, whether they’re speaking at the event or not, use this time to get their news out.

Xconomy is on the ground covering the conference this week. In the meantime, here’s a short roundup of biotech news announced today.

DEALS AND DATA

—Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) is paying $8 billion cash to acquire Loxo Oncology (NASDAQ: LOXO), a company developing drugs that target cancers based on their genetic signature. This is the latest big cancer deal in recent weeks. In December, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) announced a $5.1 billion buyout of Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO). Last week, Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMS) agreed to acquire Celgene for $74 billion.

—Sage Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ: SAGE) stock price soared on the news of positive data from its Phase 3 trial testing its pill SAGE-217 in women with postpartum depression. After just two weeks of treatment, patients showed statistically significant improvements in depression scores over placebo, achieving the main goal of the study. Nearly half of patients taking the pill saw their symptoms disappear.

—A Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) immuno-oncology partnership that was set to end next year will continue with a focus on two programs. Under the restructured pact, Sanofi will pay its Tarrytown, NY-based partner the remaining $462 million due under the 2015 agreement. That figure covers up to $120 million in development costs for two bispecific antibody drugs that are now in clinical development for multiple myeloma and other cancers, as well as a termination fee for other programs started in the original deal.

—Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) inked a partnership with Yuhan focused on developing compounds from the South Korean company into treatments for advanced fibrosis, or tissue scarring, that’s caused by the fatty liver disease NASH. The partners will handle preclinical work together and Gilead will be responsible for clinical testing.

Gilead is paying its partner $15 million up front; milestone payments could reach $770 million. The Yuhan deal comes less than a month after Gilead paid Scholar Rock (NASDAQ: SRRK) $80 million up front to license and develop that company’s experimental fibrosis drugs.

BIOTECH FUNDING

Frequency Therapeutics reeled in $42 million in a Series B round for its hearing loss drugs. The Woburn, MA, company expects to release data this year from its first clinical trial, which is testing a drug injected into the ear to spur growth of sensory cells.

—Keros Therapeutics has raised $23 million in Series B financing, which will help the Lexington, MA, startup move two drugs for rare neuromuscular diseases through to mid-stage clinical testing. The company says it should start clinical trials the first half of this year. The funding came from earlier investors Pontifax, Arkin Bio Ventures, Partners Innovation Fund, and Medison Pharma, as well as from a new investor, Global Health Sciences Fund.

—Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) hasn’t gotten as much attention from drug developers as other neurodegenerative diseases, but that might be starting to change, with Apic Bio receiving $40 million in Series A financing. The Cambridge, MA-based startup is working on gene therapies for a genetic form of ALS, and a rare lung and liver disease called Alpha-1. Morningside Venture Investments led the funding round. Earlier investors, The Alpha-1 Project (TAP) and A1ATD Investors, also joined in, along with new investor, the ALS Investment Fund.

—Eight months after gene sequencing technology company 10x Genomics raised $125 million in debt and equity financing, the company now has an additional infusion of cash. The Pleasanton, CA-based company announced that the equity portion of last year’s funding, a $50 million Series D round, has been extended by $35 million.

—Cancer drug developer Stelexis Therapeutics raised $43 million in Series A funding to support its technology aimed at discovering the pre-cancerous stem cells that become tumors, as well as the development of drugs to target them. Launched by investment firm Deerfield in 2017, New York-based Stelexis says its initial focus will be developing treatments for acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

—The embattled cancer researcher, Jose Baselga, who resigned as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s top doctor in September amid a conflicts-of-interest controversy, has landed at AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) as its head of oncology R&D.

Corie Lok contributed to this report.

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