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Bio Roundup: Ichnos Emerges, Beyond CAR-T, BridgeBio Bails & More

Xconomy National — 

New brand-name drugs typically grab the life science headlines. A venture capital firm will invest tens of millions to develop one and a pharmaceutical company hopes to recoup hundreds of millions by selling it. But a shortage of one particular chemotherapy is showing the crucial role generic drugs play in healthcare.

This week, The New York Times reported on a shortage of vincristine, a generic chemotherapy used to treat pediatric cancers. Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) became the drug’s sole supplier after Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE: TEVA) notified the FDA in July that it made the “business decision” to stop making the drug. Teva contends it is not the cause of the vincristine shortage. The generic drug maker told FiercePharma that its decision followed a review that found its share of the vincristine market was consistently low—too low, apparently, to keep making the product.

As margins for generic drugs get thinner, some generic drug companies are focusing on selling only the products that have strong market share. In other cases, generic drug makers are aiming to develop new medicines that come from their own labs. Xconomy took a look at one such effort this week. We also reported on a startup’s approach to the next generation of cell therapies and the proposed marriage of two rare disease drug developers. Let’s get to those stories and more in this week’s roundup.

CASH GRABS & NEW STARTS

Ichnos Sciences, based in Paramus, NJ, launched with plans to take forward a handful of experimental treatments for cancer, immune disorders, and pain management developed by its parent company, India-based generics maker Glenmark Pharmaceuticals.

ArsenalBio emerged with an $85 million Series A round to finance development of “programmable” cell therapies for cancer.

Cyteir Therapeutics expanded its Series B round by $40 million to support Phase 1/2 testing of a cancer drug that employs an approach called synthetic lethality.

—French cancer drug maker Innate Pharma (NASDAQ: IPHA) made its US public markets debut, raising $69 million.

—Healx, a Cambridge, UK-based biotech that uses artificial intelligence to discover rare disease drugs, raised $56 million in Series B financing.

—Mogrify, a Cambridge, UK-based company developing cell therapies, raised a $16 million Series A financing round to move ahead its in-house programs, out-license some of the technology it has developed around cell conversion, and increase its workforce to 60 people.

—German biotech Abalos Therapeutics launched with 12 million euros, or about $13.4 million, to develop new immuno-oncology therapeutics by using a specific arenavirus strain to activate patients’ immune systems and brought on Marcus Kostka as CEO and Jörg Vollmer as chief scientific officer to lead the effort.

—Azitra, a microbiome company in Framington, CT, developing treatments for serious skin conditions, raised a $14 million Series A financing. It plans to use the money to expand its management team and begin clinical testing of its experimental medical dermatology products.

DRUG DEVELOPMENTS

—Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLYwon FDA approval for migraine drug lasmiditan (Reyvow). The Lilly drug, a pill, is the first new FDA-approved treatment for acute migraine pain since triptans reached the market in the early 1990s.

—In other Lilly news, the company’s experimental drug pegilodecakin failed a Phase 3 test in pancreatic cancer. Lilly is continuing tests of the drug, which came as part of its $1.6 billion acquisition of Armo BioSciences last year, as a potential treatment for non-small cell lung cancer.

—The FDA pushed back the decision date for triamcinolone acetonid (Zilretta), a Flexion Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FLXN) drug candidate for osteoarthritis knee pain. According to the Burlington, MA-based company, the regulator expects to complete its review in coming weeks.

—Omaveloxolone, an experimental Reata Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RETA) drug for the rare neuromuscular disease Friedreich’s ataxia, achieved the main goals of a Phase 2 study. The Irving, TX-based company says it will file for approvals of the drug in the US and worldwide.

—Novartis (NYSE: NVS) subsidiary Sandoz is bowing out of an agreement to work with Pear Therapeutics to commercialize the startup’s FDA-cleared software for treating substance abuse and opioid abuse disorders. Sandoz attributed the decision to a change in leadership that changed how the unit is allocating its resources.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL

—Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN) is paying $930 million to acquire Achillion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ACHN), a biotech whose lead drug candidate complements its FDA-approved therapies for a rare blood disorder.

—Speech recognition technology company Nuance (NASDAQ: NUAN) unveiled a partnership with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) to develop machine-learning software that interprets doctor-patient conversations and inputs key information into an electronic medical record.

—BridgeBio (NASDAQ: BBIO) dropped its bid to buy the rest of the shares of Eidos Therapeutics (NASDAQ: EIDX) it does not already own after the rare disease drug developer turned down three of its offers.

—CRISPR Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CRSP) and KSQ Therapeutics struck a deal granting each other access to their respective gene-editing technologies for applications in cancer drugs. Financial terms were not disclosed.

—Editas Medicine (NASDAQ: EDIT) began a collaboration with Asklepios Biopharmaceutical to explore gene-editing medicines for neurological diseases. No financial terms were disclosed.

—As part of a continuing effort to cut its debt following its $62 billion acquisition of rare disease drug maker Shire, Takeda (NYSE: TAK) agreed to sell the rights to approximately 30 over-the-counter and prescription products in countries in the Near East, Middle East, and Africa to Swiss pharmaceutical company Acino for more than $200 million.

—Five drug makers and distributors reached a tentative $50 billion settlement to resolve the approximately 2,600 state and local government lawsuits claiming that they are responsible for the nationwide opioid crisis, Reuters reported.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

—Revance Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RVNC) CEO Dan Browne stepped down, and was succeeded by board member Mark Foley… Dana Washburn left Parexel to become chief medical officer of Lyra Therapeutics… Checkmate Pharmaceuticals appointed James Wooldridge chief medical officer…Matthew McClure left Second Genome to become chief medical officer of Aglios TherapeuticsAmy Peterson joined CytomX Therapeutics as chief development officer… Pyxis Oncology named Ronald Herbst chief scientific officer… and Jeb Ledell joined Enzvant as chief operating officer.

Sarah de Crescenzo contributed to this report.

Photo by Flickr user Ajay Suresh via a Creative Commons license