Biotech Roundup: BIO on Racism, AbbVie Antibodies, IPO Surge & More

Xconomy National — 

At the start of 2020 thousands of biotechies anticipated spending the second week of June in San Diego, hobnobbing at the annual conference hosted by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

Instead, attendees from 64 countries spanning 28 times zones convened online this week for the first-ever virtual BIO International Convention. There, topics once as unanticipated as the remote nature of the meeting shared top billing: COVID-19 and racism. Infectious disease experts opined on the industry’s response to the pandemic. And attendees heard from two Black biotech CEOs. Tony Coles of Cerevel Therapeutics and Ted Love of Global Blood Therapeutics (NASDAQ: GBT) spoke about their personal and professional experiences in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a police officer and the nationwide protests his death sparked.

Coles drew a poignant analogy between biotech research and the history of attempted societal fixes for the “dehumanization that was involved to consider someone else as less than a person,” which he described as having damaged our collective social DNA since the first enslaved people were brought to the US.

“We actually thought we had targeted therapies to treat this social DNA—this mutation in the mind—called the Voting Rights Act, or the Civil Rights Act, or the anti-lynching laws, all the laws that dismantled the Jim Crow South, when, in fact, what we really needed to do was CRISPR that mutation out of our social DNA,” he said. “So, we don’t need to be embarrassed. We need to be embarrassed if we don’t do anything now, now that we understand that we were wired—and white people in particular were wired—deep in the subconscious, in the social recess, in the social DNA that has made up America in the society that we know. … But what we should do, now that we understand this distinction—we should be embarrassed if we don’t fix it.”

Outside the conference’s digital doors, another biopharma giant signed a long-term oncology collaboration, COVID-19 vaccines pressed forward in clinical development, and a new crop of biotechs made their stock market debuts. All that, and more, in this week’s roundup.

DOLLARS & DEALS

—AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) and Genmab (NASDAQ: GMAB) inked one of the largest oncology partnership deals to date, with the pharma giant paying $750 million up front in an alliance that could encompass up to seven new antibody drugs.

—Novo Nordisk (NYSE: NVO) reached a $725 million deal to acquire Corvidia Therapeutics, a Waltham, MA-based AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN) spinout that is developing cardiometabolic drugs.

—Verve Therapeutics tacked on $63 million to its 2019 Series A round of funding, new cash that the biotech says will help it reach the clinic with a gene-editing therapy intended to reduce some of the biggest risk factors for a heart attack.

—Melinta Therapeutics is paying $39 million up front to acquire Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TTPH), a company that has one commercialized antibiotic.

—CereVasc unveiled a $44 million Series A round that the startup plans to use for clinical tests of an implanted medical device designed to treat hydrocephalus, a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid builds up in cavities in the brain.

—Reata Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RETAis set to receive $350 million from the life sciences division of the Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX), which agreed to a royalty and equity deal focused on the Plano, TX-based biotech’s investigational drug for a rare form of chronic kidney disease.

—Lycia Therapeutics emerged from stealth with a $50 million commitment from founding investor Versant Ventures. The San Francisco-area biotech plans to develop a new kind of protein degradation drug called lysosomal targeting chimeras, or LYTACs.

—San Diego-based Autobahn Therapeutics launched with a $76 million Series B financing round to advance remyelination drug programs for multiple sclerosis and other central nervous system disorders.

—Cancer immunotherapy developer Checkmate Pharmaceuticals closed an $85 million Series C financing. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech’s lead drug candidate, CMP-001, is an oligonucleotide packaged in a virus-like particle that is being developed as a potential melanoma treatment.

—Newark, CA-based Teneobio and CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing company Intellia Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NTLAare teaming up to develop cell therapies using Teneobio’s antibody discovery technology and Intellia’s approaches to T-cell engineering. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but Intellia has the option to license the antibodies for global development and commercialization.

COVID-19 R&D

—National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, in conversation with Biotechnology Innovation Organization president and CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath at the organization’s annual conference, said addressing COVID-19 will require the development of multiple vaccines and therapeutics.

—Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) revealed the clinical trial plan for the Phase 3 study evaluating its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273.

—Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) announced that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine candidate is expected to start a Phase 3 test in July—about two months earlier than it had previously projected.

—BioNTech (NASDAQ: BNTX) secured €100 million (about $112.9 million) in debt financing from the European Investment Bank. The Mainz, Germany-based biotech says the money will support development and manufacturing of its messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

DRUG DEVELOPMENTS & DATA

—Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) released new data from an ongoing study of an experimental gene therapy for a type of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. The Cambridge-based company acquired the program last year via a buyout of gene therapy startup Myonexus Therapeutics.

—Blockbuster Merck (NYSE: MRK) cancer drug pembrolizumab (Keytruda) failed a pivotal study intended to support expanding its approval to include first-line treatment of an aggressive form of bladder cancer.

—Abrocitinib, a Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) drug in development as an atopic dermatitis treatment, met the main goals of a Phase 3 study testing it in teenagers. The drug is viewed as a potential challenger to dupilumab (Dupixent), a blockbuster atopic dermatitis drug from partners Sanofi  (NYSE: SNY) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN).

—A microbiome therapy in development by Vedanta Biosciences as a potential treatment for inflammatory bowel disease is headed to Phase 2 after posting positive early-stage results. But partner Janssen Biotech, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that funded the Phase 1 test of the live biotherapeutic, VE202, is returning its rights to Vedanta.

—Roxadustat, a pill from from partners FibroGen (NASDAQ: FGEN) and Astellas Pharma in development for treating anemia in patients with moderate to severe chronic kidney disease not on dialysis, met a Phase 3 trial’s main goal  of being roughly comparable to an injectable anemia drug.

THIS WEEK IN BIOTECH IPOS

—Legend Biotech (NASDAQ: LEGN) raised $423.8 million from its upsized IPO, which the company plans to apply toward further clinical development and manufacturing of its experimental multiple myeloma cell therapy.

—Lantern Pharma (NASDAQ: LTRN) went public, raising $26.3 million to support R&D of cancer drugs “rescued” by its artificial intelligence technology.

—Boston-based Akouos, which is developing a gene therapy for an inherited form of hearing loss, filed to go public to raise cash for its plans to reach clinical trials.

—ArcherDX, a Boulder, CO-based maker of tests that help doctors make cancer treatment decisions, filed for an IPO targeting $100 million.

—San Diego-based Avidity Biosciences raised just shy of $260 million to advance a new class of oligonucleotide-based therapies designed to treat a type of myotonic dystrophy and other muscle disorders.

—Generation Bio, which is developing gene therapies that use lipid nanoparticles to deliver healthy genetic material to human cells, raised about $200 million in its IPO.

—China-based cancer diagnostics company Burning Rock Biotech made its US stock market debut, selling American depository shares above the firm’s targeted price range. Combined with a private placement, Burning Rock raised $247.8 million.

—Vaxcyte upsized its IPO and raised $250 million to advance its pneumococcal vaccine candidate to its first test in humans.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Dendreon Pharmaceuticals brought aboard Jason O’Neill as CEO… Iteos Therapeutics appointed Matthew Gall as its chief financial officer… Amplyx Pharmaceuticals added Chris LeMasters as chief operating officer… Justin Renz joined Ardelyx (NASDAQ: ARDX) as chief financial officer… Summit Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SMMT) added Michael Donaldson as chief financial officer… Jeffrey Humphrey joined Constellation Pharmaceuticals as chief medical officer… AMAG Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ticker:[[AMAG]]) appointed Brian Piekos as interim chief financial officer and Anthony (Tony) Casciano as chief operating officer, roles previously held by Edward (Ted) Myles, who has left the company… and RenovaCare appointed Jo Ellen Schweinle as its first chief medical officer.

Frank Vinluan contributed to this report.

Image: iStock/Alicia Marie Massie