In Q1, the gene therapy space saw one big acquisition (Roche/ Spark (ONCE)) and several smaller deals including Biogen/Nightstar (NITE), Pfizer/Vivet and J&J/MeiraGTx (MGTX). These deals demonstrate the industry’s appetite for gene therapies with an emphasis on liver and ophthalmology as validated domains. CNS (primarily AAV9) and muscle (primarily AAVrh74) are the two other popular domains
What I find interesting in these deals is the fact they weren’t done from a position of strength (as opposed to the Novartis/Avexis deal, for example). Spark was struggling with its HemA program and did not have near term catalysts with other programs. Nightstar was trading around its IPO price with initial XLRP data that were hard to interpret at higher doses. MeiraGTx’s stock also hasn’t performed well and the company was facing an imminent fundraising. Continue reading →
Endocyte – Surprise acquisition driven by scarcity value
Last week’s acquisition of Endocyte (ECYT) by Novartis (NVS) came as a surprise as Lu-PSMA-617 just started P3 and results are not expected until 2020. This is Novartis’ second radiopharmaceutical acquisition within a year, following the AAA acquisition, making Novartis the undisputed leader in targeted radiotherapy.
The decision to buy Endocyte was likely driven by the commercial performance of Lutahtera (originally developed by AAA), which generated Q3 sales of $56M compared to $24M in Q2. This trajectory in the first year of launch (approved January 2018) proves that radiopharmaceuticals can become meaningful products despite the logistic hurdles. Continue reading →
Last week’s approval of Alnylam’s (ALNY) Onpattro, the first FDA-approved siRNA drug, serves as a reminder for the bumpy road new technologies go through on their way to the market. From an investor perspective, siRNA has gone in and out of fashion over the years with dramatic shifts in market sentiment. It started with unrealistically high expectations, deteriorated to deep pessimism due to clinical setbacks, followed by gradual sentiment improvement in recent years (with some hiccups along the way). Continue reading →
To me, the main challenge in today’s biotech market is finding good quality assets with attractive valuations. There are definitely a lot of promising programs out there but valuations are often hard to justify as they reflect limited development risk and unrealistic commercial potential. From a risk/reward standpoint, it is hard to get excited about valuations of >$0.5B for companies before clinical proof of concept and $2-5B for clinically validated programs.
From that perspective, Xenon (XENE) is a market anomaly, with two promising clinical stage programs, a robust discovery platform and a market cap of just under $100M. Its two epilepsy programs, XEN1101 (Kv7 opener) and XEN901 (Nav1.6 inhibitor), are still in P1 but at the current levels the upside potential is too significant to ignore. Continue reading →
It is hard to overestimate the impact of the Novartis (NVS) /Avexis (AVXS) deal. So far, big biopharmas have had limited exposure to gene therapy and those that did get into the field focused on early-stage collaborations: Pfizer/Bamboo, Biogen/AGTC, Roche/ 4DMT, Abbvie/Voyager etc. This is understandable given the unique product profile gene therapies represent: One time irreversible treatment, lack of long term follow up and creative reimbursement models.
The $8.7B acquisition of Avexis, just three months after the deal with Spark (ONCE), makes Novartis the first pharma to embrace gene therapy as a commercial opportunity. The deals also make Novartis the undisputed gene therapy leader with (hopefully) two products on the market next year. Continue reading →
After being the industry’s graveyard for over 20 years, there is finally room for optimism in CNS (central nervous system) disorders. The void created in the field is now being filled by small companies which are using novel therapeutic (gene therapy, antisense, antibodies) and development (genetic validation in humans, biomarkers for patient selection) approaches. While clinical results are early and sparse they may represent the beginning of a new innovation cycle in CNS. Continue reading →
After a two-month break here is a recap of key highlights from the September/October time frame. On the menu today: PD-1 controversies at ESMO 2016, Exelixis’ (EXEL) launch in renal cancer, gene therapy data from Abeona (ABEO), long awaited update from Esperion (ESPR) and a positive surprise from Seattle Genetics (SGEN).
ESMO 2016 – Merck wins by a landslide (for now…)
While ESMO is typically secondary in importance to ASCO, this year’s meeting overshadowed its US counterpart (which was relatively quiet to begin with…), generating big headlines in the PD-1 arena. Continue reading →
Although this year’s ASCO contained a limited amount of groundbreaking data, it provided some interesting take-aways and signaled important trends in oncology drug development. Below is my take on a quiet but important meeting.
Immuno-oncology – PD-1 combinations at their infancy
As in previous years, the meeting was dominated by PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies. Now that PD-1 blockers have been tested on every tumor known to mankind (see below a great figure from Merck), focus is shifting to combination regimens with PD-1 as a backbone. Combination partners range from other immune checkpoints to chemotherapy, targeted therapy and radiation. Continue reading →
As if sentiment around Smid-cap biotechs wasn’t bad enough, Q1 provided a painful reminder of the high failure rate in biotech. The slew of disappointing results at ASH in December 2015 (which I discussed here) was followed by numerous clinical failures and regulatory setbacks. Most notable blowups came from Celldex (CLDX), Incyte (INCY), Alkermes (ALKS), Oncomed (OMED), Chimerix (CMRX), Atara (ATRA), PTC (PTCT) and Portola (PTLA). Continue reading →
The past six months have been quite frustrating for Exelixis (EXEL) investors (myself included). The company had a string of positive announcements for cabozantinib (cabo) and Roche-partnered cobimetinib (Cotellic) including positive overall survival readouts for both drugs. Since the July announcement on the METEOR study in renal cancer, the stock is up only 16% despite having a wholly owned drug with a blockbuster potential, imminent approval and significant label expansion potential. Continue reading →