Bio Roundup: Alnylam’s Billions, COVID-19 Vaccines, Moma Debuts & More

Xconomy National — 

The public markets are moving erratically, but Alnylam Pharmaceuticals showed this week that selling equity isn’t the only way for biotech companies to raise cash.

Late last year Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY) began exploring potential royalty deals for inclisiran, a drug that uses RNA interference to lower cholesterol. Alnylam had sold the drug’s development and commercialization rights seven years ago. Now in the hands of Novartis (NYSE: NVS), the potential blockbuster seller awaits an FDA decision. This week, Alnylam swung a deal for half of its inclisiran royalty rights, positioning itself to gain up to $2 billion total.

Biotech activity this week also included COVID-19 research. Two vaccine giants teamed up, a leading antiviral candidate flashed some early data, and a clinical-stage biotech landed a government commitment of millions to support manufacturing in case its experimental vaccine for the virus proves effective. Those stories, and more, in this week’s roundup. Let’s get to it.

DOLLARS & DEALS

—Private equity firm Blackstone (NYSE: BX) is paying $1 billion to acquire half of the royalty rights Alnylam is owed for cholesterol-lowering drug inclisiran. Under the deal, Blackstone is also providing the Cambridge, MA-based biotech up to $1 billion more to support its pipeline of RNA interference drugs.

PIC Therapeutics of Boston emerged with $5 million in seed funding to continue preclinical development of small molecule drugs intended to block the production of cancer-causing proteins.

—The venture capital arm of Google parent company Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Bill Gates joined with Foresite Capital to pump $45 million into Cerevance, a biotech focused on developing new treatments for brain diseases.

—MEI Pharma (NASDAQ: MEIP) received $100 million up front from Japanese biopharma Kyowa Kirin in an expansion of a previous collaboration that gives company development and commercialization rights to its lead cancer drugs candidate outside of the US.

—Eight months after emerging with $48 million in financing, TScan Therapeutics announced a partnership with Novartis focused on developing T cell receptor cancer therapies. Waltham, MA-based TScan receives $30 million up front and could earn hundreds of millions more in milestone payments.

—Moma Therapeutics, a startup backed by venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures, launched with $86 million in Series A financing and a strategy for developing drugs that target molecular machines, components of a cell that perform critical tasks.

DRUG DATA & DECISIONS

—AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) won FDA approval for selumetinib (Koselugo) as a treatment for neurofibromatosis type 1, a rare disease that leads to tumors on nerves. It’s the first FDA drug approval for the disorder.

–In other AstraZeneca news, the company announced a Phase 3 test of osimertinib (Tagrisso) in non-small cell lung cancer was stopped early at the recommendation of an independent committee, which concluded that the therapy showed “overwhelming efficacy.” The company says data will be presented at a future medical meeting and plans for a regulatory submission are underway.

—The FDA approved a UroGen (NASDAQ: URGN) drug, mitomycin gel (Jelmyto), to treat low-grade upper tract urothelial cancer. It’s the first drug approved for the indication.

—Results from real-world use of erenumab (Aimovig), a migraine-prevention drug co-marketed in the US by Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) and Novartis, were published in the journal Neurology. The data support the efficacy and safety demonstrated in clinical trials that tested the drug in both chronic and episodic migraine.

—San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ: VIR) reported encouraging interim data from an ongoing Phase 2 trial of patients receiving VIR-2218, its investigational treatment for chronic hepatitis B.

COVID-19 R&D

—GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) and Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) announced a collaboration that will combine their respective technologies in a COVID-19 vaccine expected to start clinical testing in the second half of this year.

—Messenger RNA drug developer Arcturus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ARCT) says its experimental COVID-19 vaccine will start human testing this summer in Singapore. The San Diego company, with the Singapore Health Sciences Authority, plans to enroll up to 76 healthy volunteers in the trial.

—Data for COVID-19 patients treated with Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) drug remdesivir were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of the 53 patients treated with the experimental antiviral drug showed improvement and there were no new safety problems, but the results were for those treated under compassionate use and there was no control group for comparison.

—In an uncontrolled remdesivir study in Chicago, early data showed rapid recovery in COVID-19 patients, according to STAT. Gilead said only that it looks forward to data from ongoing studies. Some of those studies don’t look as promising. In China, one Phase 3 clinical trial testing the antiviral was terminated and another late-stage study was suspended, according to updates posted to a National Institutes of Health database.

—Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) announced that its rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib (Olumiant) would be tested in one of the arms of an NIH clinical trial evaluating potential COVID-19 therapies. The drug, a so-called JAK inhibitor, blocks proteins associated with inflammation.

—Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) said the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority committed up to $483 million to accelerate development of its experimental messenger RNA vaccine candidate, currently in  Phase 1 trials against the novel coronavirus. The funding will support later-stage clinical development and the scale-up of manufacturing in case the vaccine works.

—Former GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) CEO Andrew Witty was tapped by the World Health Organization to head up its efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine. Witty is taking a leave of absence from his role as head of Optum, UnitedHealth Group’s health services unit.

—Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Partners HealthCare formed a consortium to build and share a COVID-19 biobank, gathering biological and medical data from Biogen employees who contracted and have recovered from COVID-19 and their close contacts. A number of employees were sickened by the new coronavirus at Biogen’s annual leadership meeting in February.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Five Prime Therapeutics (NASDAQ: FPRX) added Thomas Civik as its new CEO… Neil Graham joined Evelo Biosciences (NASDAQ: EVLO) as its chief development officer… Adaptive Biotechnologies (NASDAQ: ADPT) appointed Mark Adams as its chief technical officer… Daniella Beckman became permanent chief financial officer of Tango Therapeutics… Cellectis (NASDAQ: CLLS) appointed Carrie Brownstein as its chief medical officer… Edgardo Baracchini joined Imago Biosciences as chief business officer… and TearClear named Robert Dempsey as its CEO.

Frank Vinluan contributed to this report.

Image: iStock/Feverpitched