#BIO2017 Day 2 roundup: A dearth of deals and Hung on Alzheimer's
There are currently 41,000 meetings happening here at San Diego at the BIO International Convention. The organization noted cancer companies and those with cardiometabolic interests are doing the most business, while those companies focused in lupus and renal disease are not as appealing to attendees this year.
More and more of these meetings are leading to earlier stage deals, but the industry organization remarked that a larger portion of this M&A has been partnerships as opposed to acquisitions, with platform companies seeing a dramatic drop in deals.
Even if no big deals are announced this week, the conference still highlights that there are plenty of interesting stories out there. Here’s a few from Tuesday:
From cancer to Alzheimer's
After his $14 billion exit from Medivation, David Hung has set a high bar for his new company Axovant Sciences. Yet, the CEO admits Alzheimer’s disease is a much riskier area of development than cancer. But he’s up to the challenge.
"Sometimes you have to incur risk yourself to reduce risk to patients," Hung told an audience during the second day of the BIO International Convention.
Axovant currently has a lead candidate in late-stage development for Alzheimer’s disease. Intepiridine is being evaluated in the Phase 3 MINDSET study in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s patients.
Despite the many failures in the space, Hung seemed undeterred, noting most of the recent high-profile setbacks like Eli Lilly’s solanezumab and Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson’s bapineuzumab were based on the beta amyloid hypothesis.
"I’m not sure there is any blame to be placed. This disease is incredibly complex and when you look at all the things that can lead to dementia. It’s incredibly complicated, multi-factorial disease. If you look at all of the recent failures, all those target beta-amyloid. It’s just one hypothesis. You have to look at all that data in totally and say maybe that’s not working," he said.
He believes Axovant could have a better shot than many of these competitors because intepiridine is an inhibitor of the 5HT6 receptor, which promotes the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
"I don’t think all Alzheimer’s disease drugs are in the same category of risk," said Hung, pointing to this difference.
But Hung is no stranger to failure. Before Medivation found success with the prostate cancer drug Xtandi, there was the Alzheimer’s drug Dimebon. While early studies showed a lot of success, Dimebon eventually failed. Hung said that failure was devastating to both him and the company. "But we made it through."
Some intentional dealmaking
The head of business development from some of the largest pharmas gathered on the stage at the BIO International Convention on Tuesday. None of them were particularly shocked that oncology is the hot space right now, but they all noted that dealmaking can have a profound impact on shaping therapeutic areas.
"Through innovative deal structures we can accelerate science," said Janssen’s Patrick Verheyen.
Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Paul Biondi admitted that dealmaking isn’t an easy venture and that’s its often easier to just outright acquire another company — even though it can be more fruitful to do a partnering deal.
"It’s not a one-size fits all model," said Pfizer’s Daniel Karp "We try to design deal structures for what is best to fit our partners needs."
All the business development honchos agreed dealmaking requires a constant level of portfolio reassessment. Karp noted Pfizer is constantly looking at its pipeline and deciding whether assets are best within Pfizer or sometimes even outside of big pharma.
While Biondi added that it requires a level of care as well — such as maintaining the value of the assets and the company when integrating these deals.
A discussion on deals would not be complete without the mention of drug pricing. Horizon Pharma’s Bob Carey said the impact of drug pricing has completely changed the way the company has done deals. "You have to be able to demand reimbursement" for a product, he said.
Karp and Verheyen felt differently, though. They both said their dealmaking strategies were being driven more by innovation and what the company needs than the pressure of pricing. Karp said Pfizer’s strategy hasn’t been impacted at all.
BIO at BIO
The meeting in San Diego isn’t just about the thousands of one-on-one partnering meetings going on, it’s also where the industry organization gets its members together for the BIO board meetings and other group-related business.
BIO board Chairman Ron Cohen, who is also the CEO of Acorda, passed the gavel to newly elected Chairman Joe Maraganore of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.
BIO board member and Allergan R&D Chief David Nicholson told BioPharma Dive that — just like everywhere else — there has been plenty of talk about drug pricing at the BIO board meetings.
"It’s all about drug pricing and what the President is saying about drug pricing," said Nicholson, who admits it’s an incredibly complex, but important issue.
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