Start your day with Bio Shots

Sorry for the long hiatus. Been travelling quite a bit and as you can see have not mustered up enough self-discipline to keep this blog regularly updated! However to make up for it, here is a list of some relevant biotech news from around the world collated here for your reading interest:

US 

Pfizer-Allergan merger: Pfizer has merged with Dublin-based, Allergan, the makers of Botox. The resulting company is valued at US$160 billion, forming the biggest pharma in world. The deal was primarily driven by Pfizer looking to escape paying US taxes (rated at 25% vs 15% in Ireland). The US government will likely impose laws to prevent such ginormous tax inversions from occurring in future despite Pfizer’s CEO, Ian Read’s argument that the high taxes are depleting funds that could be channeled into research and development of new drugs.

Roche’s anti-CD20 antibody outperforms in multiple sclerosis PIII trial: Roche is likely to seek FDA approval in the new year for their anti-CD20 antibody, ocrelizumab,  after its stellar performance in phase III trials for multiple sclerosis. CD20 is expressed on mature B cells and the trial demonstrates their role in the pathophysiology of autoimmune conditions such as MS, previously thought to be primarily driven by T helper cells. Current treatment for MS include other immunosuppressants such as IFN-beta drugs (Rebif,Merck), alpha4beta1 integrin inhibitor (Tysabri) and CD52 inhibitor (Lemtrada). Ocrelizumab significantly outperformed Rebif, reducing relapse rate by 47% and lesion formation by > 90%, putting it in good stead as a first line treatment for MS.

Martin Shkreli finally arrested: It’s all over the headlines, the bad boy of Pharma who bought a drug against toxoplasmosis and raised its price by 5000%, creating a hoo-hah in the US  has been arrested for fraud from his previous work at a hedge-fund.

Mediterranean diet officially shown to reduce risk of heart disease: A group in Ohio has published in Cell that targeting the gut microbiome with substances found enriched in the Mediterranean diet reduces their production of trimethylamine N-oxide, a substance that accelerates atherosclerosis.

Europe 

First immuno-oncology drug approved in EU by Amgen: Imlygic, Amgen’s first virus-based anti-cancer drug will be entering the EU markets. Imlygic is a modified strain of the herpes virus which invades cancer cells and replicates itself, triggering cell death while also stimulating the immune system to attack the cancer. It is currently marketed for melanoma but may be applicable towards other cancer types, especially in conjunction with PD-1 inhibitors.

Sanofi and Boehringer Ingelheim trade businesses: Sanofi is taking the plunge and exiting the animal health business, selling off Merial, it’s animal health unit to BI. In return, they get BI’s consumer health business (excludes China) and an additional cash payment amounting to a US$12.5 billion asset swap. This would make BI a leader in the swine health business and is a cost-cutting measure for Sanofi, allowing it to focus on human health.

Danish Nuevolution goes public: Danish biotech Nuevolution screens drugs using DNA tags and has numerous big pharma partners including Merck, Novartis and Boehringer Ingelheim. They have just gone public on Nasdaq First North Premier (a European growth market) after previously upping its IPO size to US$29.5 million. A couple of other Swedish companies have started the trend of going public which is increasing investor interest in the region.

Asia 

AstraZeneca goes big in China: AstraZeneca is investing more than US$800 million into China as it strengthens ties with CRO Wuxi Apptech to aid in their biologics manufacturing. It is also building a new R&D hub in and around Shanghai, hiring up to 50 scientists to work on biologics and small molecules. The deal establishes AstraZenaca’s presence in China and would facilitate progression of drug approval in China.

Samsung, the third largest biologics manufacturer: The heir to Samsung, Lee Jae-young, has taken the reins from his ailing father, and is driving Samsung into new unexplored territory. Over the past 4 years, Samsung has invested about US$2.74 billion in biologics manufacturing plants in South Korea. Mr Lee aims to cater to pharmaceuticals who outsource their drug manufacturing, although he has also invested US$1 billion into Samsung’s own R&D on biosimilars. Samsung now ranks third behind the Lonza Group (Swiss) and Boehringer Ingelheim (German) in terms of biologic drug manufacturing capacity.

Aslan Pharmaceuticals gets US$34 million: Aslan Pharmaceuticals headed by Dr Carl Firth, is a drug development company with a twist. Fundamentally, they in-license drugs that are no more than 6 months away from clinical trials, and put them through PI and PII trials in Asia. In-licensing basically involves reaching an agreement whereby both parties share the monetary risk of drug development, be it profit or loss. Its a less risky business model and probably a more efficient way of testing drugs that would never have made it to clinical trials.