A biotech's M&A invitation and Editas' next CRISPR step
SAN FRANCISCO — Pharma can't have an $8 billion deal every day. That was evident Wednesday, as the buzz within the Westin St. Francis tapered off for the first time since the 37th annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference began.
Still, plenty of news emerged as more companies presented their trajectories for the year ahead. On M&A, for instance, one biotech made clear it's available, while another rejected wholeheartedly the idea of getting bought out. AbbVie, meanwhile, indicated it's quite content with its dealmaking approach, even after disappointing results with a recent buy.
Below, BioPharma Dive recounts developments from the third day of JPM:
Two biotechs diverge in an M&A wood
With GlaxoSmithKline's acquisition of Tesaro, Clovis Oncology is the only remaining non-big pharma with an established PARP inhibitor. But the biotech isn't opposed to that changing.
"Everybody knows where to find me and every company in this industry is for sale," Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy said during a breakout session Tuesday. "It's all a question of when somebody shows up."
For Tesaro, it was the interest of an undisclosed large pharmaceutical company that spurred the company to explore strategic alternatives, a process that ultimately led to the GSK acquisition. GSK was the only company to put up an offer for Tesaro, yet the recent acquisitions of Celgene and Loxo Oncology have raised some confidence there's a buyer out there for Clovis.
Leerink analyst Andrew Berens proposed in a Jan. 7 that these recent deals could signal to investors that acquirers are shifting from a more passive stance to "actively pursuing assets, especially in oncology."
Mahaffy said his company is open to being acquired, but that such an outcome would have to come organically.
"I am not an empire builder. I don't have a dream of dying with my boots on at 107 years old with my Clovis hat on," he told investors.
The tone over at Galapagos, meanwhile, is quite different.
The Belgian biotech recently sold off its cystic fibrosis portfolio to AbbVie and is now wholly focused on immunology.
Its pipeline spans across five main immune-related diseases. Near-term readouts are expected in the first quarter for lead candidate filgotinib, a Janus kinase inhibitor it is co-developing with Gilead Sciences.
Though there were murmurs about a year ago that Gilead may prove a viable suitor for Galapagos, such a deal doesn't look likely — at least form the latter company's perspective.
"We want to remain independent as a company and develop into a fully integrated pharma," CEO Onno van de Stolpe said Wednesday. "We have everything thing in-house to become successful. We don't need a pharma partner to support us. So if everybody leaves us alone in that respect, we're happy."
AbbVie's buyout of Stemcentrx nearly three years ago was supposed to give the pharma a stronger foothold in developing treatments for solid tumors.
Two clinical setbacks and a $4 billion writedown later, that plan looks to have gone off the rails. Rova-T, the cancer drug at the heart of the multi-billion-dollar deal, is still alive but with sharply reduced prospects.
Yet, when asked whether Stemcentrx's fate has prompted changes in AbbVie's dealmaking, AbbVie President Michael Severino demurred.
"Stemcentrx doesn't really affect the way we do business development going forward," said Severino, speaking to investors in a breakout session Wednesday. "Obviously, the data from Stemcentrx so far has not turned out the way we would have hoped."
AbbVie execs said the company remains interested in dealmaking, but is more focused on smaller-sized transactions.
"When we've looked at the landscape recently, we've found a sweet spot in earlier-stage, pre proof-of-concept deals," Severino said. "Having said that, we're always interested in growing the business and we look at a wide range of opportunities. If we found something that was a strong strategic fit and delivers good value for our shareholders, we have the firepower."
The other CRISPR story
While the world focuses on the Chinese scientist who claimed to have used CRISPR genome editing in two babies born late last year, Editas Medicine is moving ahead with plans to begin a Phase 1/2 study of its lead in vivo CRISPR-based therapy.
The Food and Drug Administration has already accepted Editas and partner Allergan's Investigational New Drug application and the companies aim to start dosing patients in the second half of this year.
It would be the first in-human study anywhere in the world to use an in vivo gene editing approach, Editas said. (A trial started by CRISPR Therapeutics and Vertex last year in Europe uses ex vivo gene editing.)
In total, Editas and Allergan expect to enroll 10 to 20 patients in the U.S. and Europe with Leber congenital amaurosis 10, a certain type of the inherited retinal degenerative disorder.
So far, Editas CEO Katrine Bosley has come away from IND discussions with the Food and Drug Administration impressed, telling investors Wednesday the agency is "very sophisticated and up-to-speed" on gene editing.