One needs to look no further than today’s pharma industry to prove that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Acute challenges swamping the sector are forcing previously insular players to abandon their silo thinking and engage customers, employees, payers, providers, and even suppliers and competitors to make strategic leaps.
That seemingly inevitable evolution was the theme at the 5th INSEAD Healthcare Alumni Summit held in late October in Zurich, Switzerland. Participants discussed these kinds of disruptive collaborations, examining how co-operation can help overcome insularity in health care, and what structural and cultural factors characterize successful collaborations.
A keynote interview session put two pharma CEOs on the spot: to sustain healthy businesses, what approaches and deal-making strategies were they considering today that were unavailable or unappealing to them only a decade ago?
Roberto Gradnik, CEO of Stallergenes SA, is attempting to launch his France-based company – which develops treatments for allergy-related respiratory diseases – out of its regional European orbit and take it global. The group currently devotes around 20% of its annual gross sales – which in 2012 totaled €240 million ($323 million) – to R&D, a large proportion for a company Stallergenes’ size.
Gradnik told the INSEAD conference that it’s crucial to change a small-to-mid-sized company’s mindset to be successful at expansion – a process that’s clearly disruptive and necessitates big change on the inside and often demands untried approaches. “Sure, if I don’t go down this path then I would avoid a cultural clash – but I would also not be able to build a successful company,” he told the conference. “At the same time, we need to find new commercial and development models, and be increasingly creative in our partnering ideas,” he added.
Riccardo Braglia heads his family’s Swiss drug and device business, Helsinn Group, which began life in his grandfather’s garage in the late 1940s but today operates in 90 countries with 63 partners using a core business model of what he terms “integrated in-licensing” of late-stage pharmaceutical compounds, medical devices and nutritional supplement products. He told the conference that Helsinn’s business model is based on three pillars: in-licensing, developing products and obtaining marketing authorization on international markets, and out-licensing products through a network of partners worldwide. Its main business areas are cancer supportive care, pain and inflammation, and gastroenterology.
Braglia, who has been at the helm of Helsinn for a decade, recounted a recent cultural challenge he faced when Helsinn took over U.S. biotech Sapphire Therapeutics in 2009, to expand the group’s pipeline in therapeutic areas, notably in cancer care, and give it a foothold in the U.S. But the takeover quickly presented problems that he hadn’t foreseen and which took him more than two years to put right.
“We figured, ‘well, they speak English there so what’s the problem?’ But oh boy, it was a nightmare to implement our culture, that of a family-business, our strategy, our products, and reconciling their biotech culture within the pharma industry. It was really tough, partly because I didn’t want to have any expats running the show there, because I always want to work with local people, because the culture of a country is very important. So what I did was spend half of every month in the United States to make it work – and it eventually did.”
Braglia said his integrated in-licensing business model means his company is essentially a virtual corporate entity with limited infrastructure. “It also means that half of my 500 employees are not in the office but rather in airplanes on business trips.” He said that in the last decade, Helsinn was focused increasingly on licensing alliances, manufacturing alliances, scientific alliances and commercial alliances. An example is an injectable manufacturing joint venture using a plant owned by Pierre Fabre Group of France but paid for by Helsinn.
Gradnik’s company has just secured a U.S. partner – Greer Laboratories Inc. – for its key grass allergy vaccine Oralair, which he hopes to launch there in early 2014, pending FDA approval. Under the deal, announced Oct. 31, Greer will lead the sales and marketing of Oralair, a grass pollen sublingual immunotherapy tablet that includes five grasses -- sweet vernal grass, orchard grass, perennial rye grass, timothy grass, and Kentucky bluegrass -- while Stallergenes will be responsible for manufacturing and supply. Stallergenes will receive regulatory and commercial milestone payments totaling up to $120 million, plus royalties. Oralair will be reviewed by FDA’s Allergenic Products Advisory Committee Dec. 11.
Both Braglia and Gradnik said CEOs of small to mid-sized biopharma companies need to be involved in such collaborations.
“I need to know that the other CEO shares the same philosophy and vision,” Helsinn’s Braglia said.
Gradnik said it should also be the chief executive’s role to know when collaboration has gone sour and take remedial action. “It’s best to cut your losses and end it. I have one like that currently going but will refrain from saying who that’s with,” Stallergenes’ CEO told the conference.
Perhaps a topic for a future “No Deal of the Week.” Until then, enjoy our takes on the not-yet-sour ...
Helsinn/Chugai: In its latest partnership, Helsinn has chosen Chugai Pharmaceutical Co.'s U.K.-based European marketing subsidiary to help sell its ghrelin receptor agonist anamorelin in Europe.
Under the deal announced on Nov. 12, Chugai will get rights in certain major European markets to commercialize the oral drug for anorexia-cachexia syndrome related to advanced non-small lung cancer. Financial details were not disclosed. The pact follows Helsinn's agreement in January with Mexican pharmaceuticals company Especificos Stendhal SA de CV for anamorelin's development in selected Latin American markets. Anamorelin is a first-in-class, once-daily drug previously studied in around 500 patients, including four completed Phase II trials. It is currently being tested in two Phase III studies, ROMANA 1 and ROMANA 2, for the treatment of anorexia-cachexia syndrome in patients with advanced NSCLC.
Chugai will distribute and commercialize the product in Germany, France, the U.K., Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Chugai's European subsidiary already has direct operations in the U.K., France and Germany, marketing products there from Chugai or Swiss parent Roche. Helsinn retains responsibility for all product development activities including clinical trials and regulatory affairs and will supply the drug to Chugai, which will carry out all work related to commercialization. Phase II results of the drug presented to this year's European Cancer Congress in Amsterdam showed a significant rise in body weight from baseline in patients receiving the medicine compared with placebo, and a favorable overall safety/tolerability profile. Cancer-associated anorexia-cachexia is a muscle wasting and weight loss condition that occurs in around a third to half of cancer sufferers. There are as yet no approved therapies for the condition. Ghrelin, also known as the "hunger hormone", is secreted by the stomach and is targeted by anamorelin to stimulate multiple pathways involved in regulating body weight, appetite and metabolism. -- Sten Stovall
Roche/immatics: People have begun to sit up and take notice of immatics biotechnologies GMBH after the company announced on Nov. 13 a cancer vaccine collaboration with Roche that could lead to the German immunotherapeutics biotech receiving research and milestone payments of up to $1 billion, in addition to a relatively modest up-front payment of $17 million. The high “biobucks” figure takes into account the multiple products and indications likely to be explored in the collaboration, the second announced by Roche in the immunotherapy field in the past two months. Immatics, a Tubingen-based firm with strong backing from local German entrepreneurs and VCs, has developed a technology, XPRESIDENT, to identify cancer antigens recognized by T lymphocytes, and has a tumor-associated peptide (TUMAP)-based cancer vaccine targeting renal cell carcinoma, IMA910, already in a Phase III study. Roche is keen to evaluate preclinical TUMAP vaccines alone and combined with checkpoint inhibitors and other modulators of the immune response, specifically in the areas of gastric, prostate and non-small cell lung cancer. Immatics' Phase I-ready gastric cancer vaccine candidate, IMA942, is the most advanced product covered by the agreement, and Roche will be responsible for clinical development and commercialization of this and other immunotherapies generated in the research collaboration.-- John Davis
Oncodesign/UCB: French drug discovery and pharmacology services firm Oncodesign SA is to collaborate with European mid-sized biopharma UCB SA on identifying selective kinase inhibitors with potential in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, in a deal announced Nov. 13. Oncodesign’s Nanocyclix technology generates potent and highly selective kinase inhibitors based on macrocyclization of small molecules, and the two companies will collaborate on identifying such inhibitors that cross the blood-brain barrier and interact with a UCB-selected kinase target. UCB will have an exclusive option to license the joint program, with worldwide development and commercialization rights, upon successfully reaching certain discovery milestones. Oncodesign will, in turn, get research funding, and upon exercise of the license option, research, regulatory and commercial milestones involving the development of molecules in two or more indications, and tiered royalties on net sales. Dijon-based Oncodesign was set up in 1995 and has previously forged collaborations with several other pharmaceutical companies including Sanofi and Ipsen to apply its drug discovery technology in various therapeutic areas, including tissue repair and Parkinson’s. -- John Davis
Novartis/Immunogen: ImmunoGen Inc. announced on Nov. 11 that Novartis AG has taken its third license to use the biotech’s antibody-drug conjugate technology on an undisclosed cancer target. It is the fifth license around Immunogen’s ADC targeted antibody payload (TAP) technology this year by a major drug company.
The Novartis license dates back to a 2010 deal in which the Swiss Pharma licensed exclusive rights to use Immunogen’s TAP technology to develop antibodies against a predetermined number of oncology targets.
For each license, Immunogen receives an up-front payment and is entitled to receive milestone payments potentially totaling some $200 million plus royalties on the sales of any resulting products. Novartis is responsible for the development, manufacturing and marketing of any products resulting from the license. Immunogen’s pipeline consists of four wholly owned ADC programs and eight partnered ADCs in 10 different cancer indications. The best known partnered ADC is Roche’s Kadcyla (ado-trastuzumab emtansine), which was approved by FDA in February as a second-line option after Herceptin (trastuzumab) and a taxane, but labeling left a window for broader use in some first-line patients. A safety signal in a Phase II trial of the biotech’s lead asset, IMGN901 for NSCLC, was disclosed last April, followed by its discontinuation on Nov. 5 on the recommendation of the trial's independent Data Monitoring Committee. -- Mike Goodman
Merck KGaA/BeiGene: Big pharma is increasingly in-licensing compounds from Chinese companies, and the biopharma arm of Merck KGAA, Merck Serono SA, inked a second global licensing, co-development and commercialization deal with BeiGene (Beijing) Co. Ltd. for oncology compound BeiGene-290.
BeiGene-290 is in preclinical development and is expected to enter the clinic in 2014. Under terms of the agreement, announced Nov. 13, BeiGene will be responsible for developing and commercializing the poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor in China first and Merck will be responsible for the development and commercialization of the compound for the rest of the world. In return, BeiGene will receive an undisclosed up-front payment and is eligible to receive further payments of up to €170 million ($232 million) for clinical development milestones and potential commercial milestones in both China and globally, as well as royalties on net sales. Specific indications for the oncology compound were not disclosed. Both deals, while global, have been structured to ensure BeiGene leads development in China, which should enable the companies to take advantage of regulatory consultations with China FDA as part of the agency’s accelerated approval pathway. The new agreement signals a milestone for biotech innovation in China, said BeiGene Co-founder Xiaodong Wang during the signing ceremony in Beijing. Wang is also the director and architect of China’s National Institute of Biological Science. -- Brian Yang
Shire/ViroPharma: The big M&A news this week was London-listed Shire PLC’s agreed takeover of ViroPharma Inc. for an eye-watering price of $4.2 billion cash, which would give the Ireland-based specialty drug maker access to the U.S. target’s C1 esterase inhibitor Cinryze for treating Hereditary Angioedema, a genetic immune disorder. The proposed acquisition may attract anti-competition resistance from regulators, given Shire’s possession of HAE treatment Firazyr (icatibant injection), but the acquirer says it is confident that these two products are in two different marketplaces. If allowed to proceed, Shire expects the marriage to generate annual cost synergies of around $150 million by 2015, over and above the improved operating leverage already being driven by the ongoing One Shire reorganization.-- STS
Cell Therapeutics/Baxter International: Beleaguered oncology company Cell Therapeutics Inc. has inked a deal for its Phase III mylefibrosis asset pacritinib that it sees as a vote of confidence. CTI announced Nov. 15 that it has signed an agreement with Baxter International Inc. for full commercialization rights outside the U.S., as well as joint commercialization rights in the U.S. The $60 million up-front payment will include a $30 million equity investment in the Seattle-based biotech company, which may also receive clinical and regulatory milestones up to $112 million, including $40 million in clinical milestones that are expected in 2014 and another $27 million expected in 2015. Baxter will handle 75% of costs through submission. CTI acquired pacritinib, an oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor that acts on the JAK2 and FLT3 pathways, in April 2012 from Asia’s SBIO Pte. Ltd. CTI paid $30 million upfront and is on the hook for a total of $132 million in regulatory and sales milestones. Prior to CTI getting the rights to pacritinib, the drug was licensed to Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc., which opted not to development it in 2011. Pacritinib is CTI’s latest hope after two late-stage pipeline failures – first FDA shot-down non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment Pixuvri (pixantrone), followed by a clinical hold for the blood cancer drug tosedostat. -- Lisa LaMotta