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The A list? Checking out the latest pharma spending sprees
04-26-2016
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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So, a couple of A-list pharma players are trying to carry out their A-game…oh, OK, I’ll stop now. But, in fact, two A-named companies, AbbVie and Allergan, are a bit busy lately with making deals, with Gilead and Novartis among the other names moving money around in major ways—or likely planning to do so.
 
AbbVie’s dealmaking took on a burst of energy with a pair of deals over a couple days, the most recent and prominent of which is a $500-million collaborative drug development agreement designed to perk up and strengthen its oncology pipeline that was inked April 21 with CytomX Therapeutics Inc. The aim is to co-develop Probody drug conjugates against CD71, also known as transferrin receptor 1 (TfR1).
 
CD71 is highly expressed in a number of solid and hematologic cancers and has attractive molecular properties for efficient delivery of cytotoxic payloads to tumor cells. Probody therapeutics are designed to take advantage of unique conditions in the tumor microenvironment to enhance the tumor-targeting features of an antibody and reduce drug activity in healthy tissues.
 
“We believe that the Probody platform provides a differentiated opportunity to combine with our strength in antibody-drug conjugates,” said Dr. Steve Davidsen, vice president of oncology drug discovery at AbbVie. “We are encouraged by the promising preclinical data that CytomX has generated for their Probody drug conjugate programs to-date and look forward to working closely with their team. This collaboration will enable us to expand our innovative pipeline in antibody drug conjugates and leverage our strength in that area to previously unexplored targets.”
 
“This collaboration is another important step toward achieving CytomX’s vision of transforming lives with safer, more effective therapies and allows us to further advance our broad pipeline of Probody therapeutics,” stated Dr. Sean McCarthy, president and CEO at CytomX. “AbbVie has demonstrated leadership in developing antibody-drug conjugates and we look forward to collaborating with their team to realize the full potential of our CD71 Probody drug conjugate program and additional oncology targets.”
 
Probody therapeutics are designed to remain inactive until they are activated by proteases in the tumor microenvironment. As a result, Probody therapeutics bind selectively to tumors and avoid binding to healthy tissue, to minimize toxicity and potentially create safer, more effective therapies. CytomX has generated preclinical data that reportedly demonstrates that Probody drug conjugates can safely and effectively target tumor antigens, such as CD71, that are not addressable by conventional antibody-drug conjugates.
 
Under terms of the co-development deal, CytomX will lead preclinical and early-clinical development, with AbbVie taking over for mid- to late-stage development and possible commercialization—the upfront payment to CytomX is $30 million, with up to $470 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestones.
 
A day earlier, AbbVie struck a deal with Belgium-based drugmaker argenx on a preclinical immuno-oncology drug that targets GARP, a protein believed to contribute to immuno-suppressive effects of T cells. The drug is currently designated as ARGX-115 and is designed to selectively target tumor immune escape pathways in cancer patients. AbbVie also recently made a five-year deal with the University of Chicago to speed the pace of discovery and improve medical research in oncology.
 
As for our other A-list company (sorry, I can’t help myself), Allergan followed the collapse of its planned merger with Pfizer with some notable deals, driven in part by money burning a hole in its metaphorical pocket—the company gets a $150-million breakup fee from Pfizer and also a whopping $40 billion probably coming in June from the sale of its generics business to Israel-based Teva (unless there’s a last-minute scuttling by U.S. legislators, which seems unlikely).
 
On April 22, Allergan announced that it had acquired Boston-based Topokine Therapeutics, getting in the process XAF5, a first-in-class topical agent to treat bags under the eyes (technically known as steatoblepharon). Allergan paid $85 million up front in addition to the usual developmental and sales milestones for XAF5 included. Topokine launched its Phase 2b/3 clinical trial for the compound, said trial bearing the awkward name XOPH5-OINT-3, early this year.
 
“The acquisition of Topokine and its XAF5 technology adds an innovative technology to Allergan’s industry leading mid- to late-stage pipeline of more than 70 programs and bolsters our leadership in medical aesthetics,” said David Nicholson, Allergan’s executive vice president and president, global brands research and development. “XAF5 has the potential to be the first topical fat reduction product for the treatment of steatoblepharon, a condition with no current therapeutic options available for patients. We look forward to continuing the outstanding development work conducted by the Topokine team to bring this innovative medical aesthetic treatment to market.”
 
Immediately after the collapse of the Pfizer deal, Allergan had also penned an acquisition deal for Heptares Therapeutics, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sosei Group Corp, paying $125 million up front for exclusive global rights to a portfolio of novel subtype-selective muscarinic receptor agonists to treat various neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. That deal could be more than $3 billion total if all developmental and sales milestones are met.
 
Analysts are already speculating about other companies Allergan might acquire, including Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Synergy Pharmaceuticals, Revance Therapeutics, Anacor Pharma and Dermira.
 
And moving on to acquisitions and companies that don’t start with “A,” there are rumors flitting about that California-based Gilead Sciences might be in the market to grab up New York-based Intercept Pharma. Intercept is working on a compound Ocaliva, in Phase 3 trials for non-cirrhotic nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) with liver fibrosis. There are currently no approved treatments for NASH, although Gilead is studying Simtuzumab for the disease.
 
Gilead Sciences had already inked a deal to acquire a subsidiary of Nimbus Therapeutics for access to a pipeline program that includes lead candidate NDI-010976, an ACC inhibitor, and other preclinical ACC inhibitors for the treatment of NASH, as well as for the potential treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma and other diseases.
 
And, to round out our news of money movements and big pharma/biotech players, there is also talk that Novartis is discussing options with banks for selling its nearly $14-billion stake in rival Roche. The stake was built up originally as part of a potential merger between the companies that fell through, but selling off that stake could provide money for Novartis to do some serious dealmaking and possible other acquisitions.
 
Code: E04271601

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