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Bio Roundup: Array Bio Acquired, IPO Spree, Sanofi’s Job Cuts & More

Xconomy National — 

[Corrected 6/24/19, 12:08 p.m. See below.] Cancer remains one of the hottest areas for pharma deals and this week saw a big one: Pfizer’s proposed $11.4 billion buyout of Array Biopharma.

The announcement comes less than a month after Boulder, CO-based Array announced positive data from a pivotal study of its combination drug in colorectal cancer. Array has told investors that its top priority is maximizing the success of the combination, Braftovi and Mektovi. The clinical data likely  caught Pfizer’s eye, but Array’s pipeline might have clinched the deal. Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, told analysts that Array is positioned to bring a new cancer drug into human testing each year for the foreseeable future.

Summer is here but the biotech news hasn’t slowed down. Let’s get to this week’s highlights in the roundup.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL

—Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) will pay $11.4 billion to acquire Array Biopharma (NASDAQ: ARRY), betting both on the future of a double regimen of targeted cancer drugs—Braftovi and Mektovi—and Array’s potential to churn out new ones. Pfizer could also earn royalties from drugs Array has licensed to other companies.

—Merck (NYSE: MRK) is looking for more small and midsize deals like its recent buyouts of Peloton Therapeutics and Tilos Therapeutics to acquire more cancer drugs, vaccines, and animal health medicines, the Wall Street Journal reports. The company held its first investor day in five years on Thursday.

—Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) is hiring Google to apply artificial intelligence and other data-intensive technology to drug discovery and other parts of its business.

CASH GRABS AND NEW STARTS

—Five life-science companies joined the public markets this week, raising a combined $607 million. Stoke Therapeutics (NASDAQ: STOK) kicked things off, followed by Personalis (NASDAQ: PSNL), Akero Therapeutics (NASDAQ: AKRO), Prevail Therapeutics (NASDAQ: PRVL), and Atreca (NASDAQ: BCEL). Dermavant Sciences has reportedly postponed its IPO plans.

—Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) entered the crowded protein degradation field, paying $45 million to Nurix Therapeutics in a partnership to develop drugs for cancer and other diseases.

—Gene testing company Invitae (NYSE: NVTA) agreed to pay $55 million in cash and stock to acquire Singular Bio, a San Francisco startup developing technology to analyze each molecule of a patient’s DNA instead of analyzing a sample in aggregate.

—After climbing 20 percent since April on buyout rumors, shares of Biohaven Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: BHVN) kept rising this week after the company dropped out of a conference. But the gains were wiped out when the company announced a $300 million share offering instead—a sign the company “is raising money to go it alone commercially,” wrote SVB Leerink analyst Mani Foroohar.

Bloomberg stoked more buyout rumors, this time centering on gene therapy developer UniQure (NASDAQ: QURE), which is “exploring options including a sale,” according to the report. Shares climbed more than 10 percent to all-time highs.

—BeiGene (NASDAQ: BGNE) and Pfizer spinout SpringWorks Therapeutics formed a joint venture, MapKure, that will develop BeiGene’s preclinical cancer drug BGB-3245.

—Sanofi is cutting European jobs to refocus on cancer and gene therapy, but it is handing back two experimental gene therapies to Voyager Therapeutics (NASDAQ: VYGR). It’s the second restructuring of their relationship. Sanofi, which walked away from Voyager’s Parkinson’s gene therapy in 2017, can still opt in to two other Voyager programs.

—Comet Therapeutics of Cambridge, MA, launched with $28.5 million in Series A financing that will fund development of drugs for metabolic disorders and other diseases.

IN THE BLOOD

—At the annual European Hematology Association meeting in Amsterdam, Bluebird Bio (NASDAQ: BLUE) announced a $1.8 million price in Europe for its beta thalassemia gene therapy Zynteglo, a figure that blew away analyst estimates. Bluebird also disclosed manufacturing changes that could delay Zynteglo’s launch.

—ArQule (NASDAQ: ARQL) shares jumped 50 percent after its experimental drug ARQ-531 showed promise in lymphoma patients resistant to similar drugs, like ibrutinib (Imbruvica) and alacabrutinib (Calquence). Here’s more from Vantage.

—Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) updated early results for a drug, REGN1979, that the company says could help lymphoma patients who have failed other treatments, including CAR-T cell therapy.

IN THE PIPELINE

—Using IQVIA (NYSE: IQV) data, Fierce Pharma looked at the top-selling US drugs in 2018 from a couple angles. One takeaway: Fighting off biosimilar competition has made AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV), owner of adalimumab (Humira), very rich.

—Roche nabbed its first approval in the field of cancer drugs that target a genetic aberration, not a type of tissue. Japan approved entrectinib (Rozlytrek) for cancers with NTRK fusions. The first NTRK-targeted drug to gain approval, from Loxo Oncology, led to an $8 billion buyout. [Updated to correct description of entrectinib’s Japan approval.]

—Regulators in Europe and Japan approved olaparib (Lynparza), from AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) and Merck, as a maintenance therapy for ovarian cancer patients with BRCA mutations who have responded to chemotherapy.

—The FDA also cleared Merck’s immunotherapy pembrolizumab (Keytruda) for small-cell lung cancer patients who have failed at least one treatment. It’s the first approval for Keytruda in SCLC, an aggressive form of lung cancer linked to smoking.

—Unity Biotechnology (NASDAQ: UBX) of San Francisco unveiled its first cut of early data for its drug that is meant to attack part of the aging process. Unity framed the data as “promising”—and garnered detailed coverage from Stat—but investors weren’t buying it, sending shares down 20 percent before a partial recovery by close of market Thursday.

—Sci-B-Vac, an experimental hepatitis B vaccine from VBI Vaccines (NASDAQ: VBIV), met the main goals of a Phase 3 study, but did not beat a GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) vaccine that’s already on the market. Shares of Cambridge-based VBI sank 60 percent.

POLITICS AND POLICY

—Two weeks after suing Retrophin (NASDAQ: RTRX) for ousting him in 2014, imprisoned former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli reached a settlement with the company, CNBC reported. Terms weren’t disclosed, but Retrophin said it would provide more information in a forthcoming regulatory filing.

—Stat investigated the House Democrats’ puzzling, short-lived attempt to roll back a ban on genetic editing of human embryos intended to start a pregnancy.

—Late last week, three drug makers and an advertiser trade group sued the Trump administration over new requirements that TV drug ads disclose list prices. The companies, which include Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar’s old employer Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY), say prices would scare patients from seeking treatment.

—Last week the FDA halted clinical trials of fecal microbial transplant—giving poop from a healthy person to a sick person—after one death in an FMT trial to treat C. difficile infection. This week, companies developing microbiome-related therapies released statements distancing themselves from FMT.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

—Maze Therapeutics promoted Jason Coloma to CEO… Unum Therapeutics named Jessica Sachs chief medical officer… former Armune BioScience executive David Esposito was named CEO of ONL Therapeutics… Robert Forrester stepped down as president and CEO of Verastem (NASDAQ: VSTM)… Pharis Mohideen, chief medical officer of Millendo Therapeutics (NASDAQ: MLND), is leaving… and Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ: RARE) promoted Erik Harris to chief commercial officer.

Ben Fidler and Alex Lash contributed to this report.

Photo by Flickr user Dave Winer via a Creative Commons license