Bio Roundup: EQRx’s Ambitions, Nektar No Vote, New Frazier Fund & More

Xconomy National — 

Perhaps the most talked-about news at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference this week was a new startup that launched with $200 million and an ambitious claim that its first drug would be approved within five years, and 10 in total within as many years.

Cambridge, MA-based EQRx contends it will be able achieve its goals by re-engineering the way new drugs are created, tested, and commercialized—significantly accelerating the typical drug development timeline in ways others have been unable to do. CEO Alexis Borisy says the venture’s “market-based solution to rising drug costs” aims to develop medicines similar to, yet better, than existing drugs, and charge less for them—all while managing to steer clear of the patents protecting those drugs.

Jorge Conde, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, an EQRx investor, likened the startup’s approach to that of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), which used tech tools to build a new kind of retailer from scratch. But EQRx also has skeptics. Medicinal chemist and pharma industry blogger Derek Lowe wrote that the company is underplaying the scientific risk inherent in drug development. “Let’s get real: no matter how spiffy your data science integration is, discovery and development of a new drug—even one that copies an existing one as closely as possible but is still patentable—just takes longer than that,” he wrote. It will also take a lot of money.

While some of us were circling Union Square in suits, darting in and out of hotel rooms curiously bereft of mattresses, news outside Northern California continued apace this week. Let’s round it up.

DRUG DEVELOPMENTS

—Nektar Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NKTR) withdrew its drug application for an opioid designed to pose less of an addiction risk after an FDA advisory committee unanimously voted against recommending approval.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Ohio facility that has become a gene therapy research hub, is launching Andelyn Biosciences, a company that will manufacture gene therapies for biopharmaceutical firms. The Columbus Dispatch has more.

—AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) stopped a Phase 3 test of cardiovascular drug Epanova after an independent board concluded the study was unlikely to succeed. The experimental therapy was viewed as a potential competitor to Amarin (NASDAQ: AMRN) drug Vascepa, which is approved as an add-on therapy to statins to reduce the chance of cardiovascular events in certain at-risk patients.

THIS WEEK IN M&A

—Less than two months after announcing a corporate restructuring, Neon Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NTGN) is being acquired by BioNTech (NASDAQ: BNTX) in a $67 million stock deal.

—Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) agreed to pay $1.1 billion to acquire Dermira (NASDAQ: DERM), whose late-stage atopic dermatitis drug is viewed as a competitor to a product marketed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) and Sanofi (NYSE: SNY).

—Genetic testing company NeoGenomics (NASDAQ: NEO) acquired Human Longevity’s oncology division, bolstering its next-generation sequencing services and adding new capabilities in germ line testing as well as whole genome and exome panels.

CASH GRABS & NEW STARTS

Generation Bio closed a $110 million Series C round as it prepares to test its gene therapies in clinical trials while also looking ahead to a potential IPO.

Emendo Biotherapeutics raised $61 million in Series B financing to support development of its “next-generation” CRISPR technology.

—Drug discovery software firm Schrödinger unveiled plans for an IPO as it continues to advance its own pipeline of cancer drugs.

—Cell therapy company Kyverna Therapeutics closed a $25 million Series A round and inked a strategic collaboration and license agreement with Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD).

—San Francisco-based Aligos Therapeutics pocked $125 million in its Series B round to help advance targeted therapies for hepatologic diseases and viral infections.

—Tyra Biosciences is looking to discover and develop new small molecule cancer backed by its $50 million Series A financing.

—Frazier Healthcare Partners closed a life sciences fund that topped out at $617 million, two thirds of which is expected to be invested in seed and Series A rounds.

—I-Mab, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company based in Shanghai, China, went public in the US. The developer of drugs for cancer and autoimmune disorders priced its IPO at $14 per share, raising $104 million.

LET’S MAKE A DEAL

—Incyte (NASDAQ: INCY) agreed to pay MorphoSys $900 million in cash and stock for rights to a lymphoma drug that has been submitted to FDA for review.

Adaptive Phage Therapeutics inked a $10.2 million contract with the Department of Defense to advance its experimental phage therapy for the treatment of multidrug-resistant infections.

—Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) announced a research collaboration with Insilico Medicine to use machine-learning technology and other advanced analytics to accelerate drug target discovery.

Bayer gained an option to license an experimental contraceptive from women’s health company Daré Bioscience (NASDAQ: DARE). The San Diego biotech gets an undisclosed sum for granting the option, plus $20 million if Bayer exercises it.

—Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) is paying $75 million up front to acquire a clinical-stage Pfizer drug that has potential applications in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

—Springworks Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SWTX) and Allogene Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ALLO) agreed to test a combination of their experimental multiple myeloma drugs.

Roche paid $40 million up front for use of a proprietary Amunix Pharmaceuticals technology that the company says can extend the half-life of drugs with low associated immunogenicity.

—San Diego biopharma Neurocrine Biosciences (NASDAQ: NBIX] signed a deal with Idorsia, a Swiss biotech, giving Neurocrine the option to license its investigational treatment for a rare form of pediatric epilepsy.

—Astellas paid Adaptimmune $50 million to kick off a partnership developing stem cell-derived cancer cell therapies.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Adaptimmune (NASDAQ: ADAP) appointed Elliot Norry chief medical officerScott Holmes joined Disarm Therapeutics as chief financial officer… BioCryst Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: BCRX) promoted Charles Gayer to chief commercial officer… and Ipsen named Steven Hildemann its executive vice president, chief medical officer, and head of global medical affairs and pharmacovigilance.

Sarah de Crescenzo and Melissa Fassbender contributed to this report. 

Photo by Flickr user Prayitno via a Creative Commons license