Bio Roundup: Opioid Exposé, Gilead’s Gambit, Life Science IPOs & More

Bio Roundup: Opioid Exposé, Gilead’s Gambit, Life Science IPOs & More

The opioid crisis reaches all corners of the nation, and newly released data this week revealed how the growth of the epidemic tracked with a massive increase in the production and distribution of these drugs.

From 2006 to 2012, the number of pills distributed to pharmacies increased by more than 50 percent. In total, 76 billion pills flooded the market. The figures were reported by The Washington Post and HD Media, which won a legal battle for access to a federal database that tracks US transactions of controlled substances.

The data show that the highest concentration of pills was in West Virginia. That state also had the highest opioid death rate in the seven-year period covered by the released data. And while Purdue Pharma is the company widely associated with opioids, it was the fourth largest producer, accounting for just 3 percent of the pills. Mallinckrodt (NYSE: MNK) subsidiary SpecGx was the biggest opioid manufacturer, with market share topping 37 percent, according to the data.

In other news this week, Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) made a $5 billion investment, a startup raised a $100 million-plus Series A round, and Wall Street welcomed a few more biotechs. Let’s get to those stories in this week’s news roundup.


—Gilead Sciences paid Galapagos NV (NASDAQ: GLPG) about $5.1 billion to up its stake in the Belgian biotech and kick off a wide-ranging alliance that will give the Foster City, CA, company rights or options to a slew of experimental drugs for inflammatory diseases. The deal is meant to help jumpstart R&D for Gilead, which has had a tough time supplementing its core HIV franchise and dwindling revenue for its hepatitis C medicines.

Skyhawk Therapeutics inked a deal with Genentech, a partnership focused on using the Cambridge, MA, startup’s technology to develop RNA-targeting drugs for cancer and neurological diseases.

—Boehringer Ingelheim bought Swiss cancer immunotherapy developer Amal Therapeutics in a deal that could be worth up to $325 million.

—AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) acquired Seattle-based cancer immunotherapy startup Mavupharma for an undisclosed sum.

—Astellas Pharma paid Woburn, MA, startup Frequency Therapeutics $80 million for non-US rights to an experimental drug for sensorineural hearing loss that should begin mid-stage testing later this year.

—Sosei Heptares of Tokyo and London reeled in $26 million upfront from Roche’s Genentech unit to hunt for drugs that target GPCR, a wide-ranging protein. The deal includes $1 billion in “biobucks.” Fierce Biotech has more.


—Wall Street welcomed Genmab (NASDAQ: GMAB), Mirum Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MIRM), and Fulcrum Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FULC), which raised a combined $653 million to finance clinical development of cancer and rare disease drugs.

—San Mateo, CA-based Kronos Bio closed a $105 million Series A round to continue preclinical development of drugs intended to hit “undruggable” disease targets.

—In a presentation Tuesday night, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled the details behind his new startup, Neuralink, which is developing microchips and “information strips” that would be implanted into peoples’ brains to help communicate with machines. Musk said Neuralink will be ready to test the technology in humans next year. Here’s more from the Financial Times and video from CNET.

—Life sciences real estate firm Breakthrough Properties launched, formed by the joint efforts of real estate developer Tishman Speyer and investment firm Bellco Capital. Breakthrough said its first property is a 250,000 square-foot site in Boston’s Seaport District.

Trefoil Therapeutics landed $28 million in Series A financing as it prepares to begin human testing of its experimental drug for eye diseases affecting the cornea.

—San Diego’s Illumina alumni network gave birth to Cradle Genomics, which has raised $17 million to develop prenatal blood tests.

—Notable Labs of San Francisco raised $40M in Series B funding to support its technology, which uses artificial intelligence to determine which drugs will be most effective for particular cancers.

—Crossover investor RA Capital Management closed a $300 million venture fund, RA Capital Nexus Fund, as the firm boosts its recent efforts to build biotechs from scratch and invest more money in them as they grow.

—European life sciences investment firm Medicxi closed a €400 million fund backed by Novartis, Johnson & Johnson and others to invest in early and late stage biopharma companies. The Financial Times has more.

—Backed by $22M in Series A funding, cancer immunotherapy startup Pyxis Oncology launched to develop new drugs based on new insights into the biology of tumors.


—Novartis tried to dispel the notion from recent reports that patients have struggled to get access to its pricey spinal muscular atrophy gene therapy Zolgensma due to restrictive payer policies. During the company’s presentation of second quarter financial results, CEO Vas Narasimhan said Zolgensma is on track for “one of the most successful launches from an access standpoint for rare diseases.” Novartis disclosed that 17 commercial plans have agreed to contract terms for Zolgensma. Here’s more from FiercePharma.

—The agency approved the Merck (NYSE: MRK) combination antibacterial Recarbrio for adults with either complicated urinary tract infections or complicated intra-abdominal infections and limited or no other treatment options.

Neon Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NTGN) provided the most significant look yet at clinical data generated by a neoantigen vaccine, a cutting edge immunotherapy technique. The results from the early stage study were good enough for Neon to move the vaccine into further tests, yet left many questions about its effectiveness unanswered.

—Niraparib (Zejula), the PARP inhibitor cancer drug GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) acquired when it bought Tesaro, succeeded in Phase 3 as a maintenance therapy for ovarian cancer patients after chemotherapy. Without providing details, GSK said patients benefitted “regardless of their biomarker status,” meaning the results may help expand the reach of PARP inhibitors. Only about 15 percent of women with ovarian cancer are eligible for them.


—With former vice president Joe Biden now out on the presidential campaign trail, the nonprofit Biden Cancer Initiative, run by Greg Simon, a veteran of Pfizer and the Clinton administration, announced it would suspend operations. The AP recently examined potential conflicts of interest that the initiative might pose.

—Biden unveiled his healthcare plan this week, including steps to rein in high drug costs.

—The Trump administration’s actions to reduce drug prices haven’t matched the president’s anti-pharma rhetoric, and Stat reports on how the drug industry flexes its lobbying muscle in the capital. As Xconomy reported in 2016, the industry has had its way in DC going back nearly two decades.


John McHutchison is leaving the chief scientific officer post at Gilead Sciences… Acadia Pharmaceuticals exeutive  Randy Owen jumped to Navitor Pharmaceuticals to become chief medical officer… Kymera Therapeutics announced CEO Laurent Audoly is leaving… Selecta Biosciences appointed Alison Schecter as chief medical officer… Mark Litton was named chief operating officer of Athira Pharma… Rahul Kakkar left Corvidia Therapeutics to become CEO of Pandion Therapeutics… and Robert Hayes was appointed chief scientific officer of Immusoft.

Ben Fidler and Alex Lash contributed to this report.

Photo by Depositphotos

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