Big compensation, mild mergers, a Kite in an updraft, and tightening the biotech belt
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Eagle + Acacia
About the Show
Life Science Today is your source for stories, insights, and trends across the life science industry. Expect weekly highlights about new technologies, pharmaceutical mergers and acquisitions, news about the moves of venture capital and private equity, and how the stock market responds to biotech IPOs. Life Science Today also explores trends around clinical research, including the evolving patterns that determine how drugs and therapies are developed and approved. It’s news, with a dash of perspective, focused on the life science industry.
Welcome to Life Science Today, your source for stories, insights, and trends across the life science industry. I’m your host, Dr. Noah Goodson. This week, big compensation, mild mergers, a Kite in an updraft, and tightening the biotech belt.
The views expressed on Life Science Today are those of the host and guests. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organizations with which they are affiliated.
Gingko Bioworks Continues to Be Interesting
One of the more notable biotech startups of last year was the super-SPAC super-star Ginkgo Bioworks who came out with a $15B valuation and ambitions that few would describe as moderate. Last year they were hard at work deploying that capital across a range of programs and even pulled in a $1.1B loan from the US government to focus on COVID related products. Their working across a massive pipeline to scale the way products can be manufactured. But this is basically the platform approach to cellular engineering. Now, based on my understanding of biology I suspect none of this is as perfectly automated as a website might suggest – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance to drive forward really efficient biology for a big investor payoff.
And speaking of investors, they just can’t stay out of the spotlight, earning big names like Bill Gates and raising $1.6B through their SPAC, but then getting into a kerfuffle with some folks trying to short their stocks and having some less-than-ideal press about the financials underpinning some of their associated organizations. Now they’ve decided to be totally low-key by giving some of the largest compensation payouts ever received in biotech. Last year the CEO and COO both received mo re than $364M each in stock compensation packages. If $1/3B (mostly in stock) can be called fair, there was a decade of work that went into getting Ginkgo where it is today so maybe some reasonable payoff was earned. And here’s the thing, there are some indications that Ginkgo could deliver or their promises and make a massive difference in bioengineering at scale. If that happens this’ll all fade to a historical fact. But if they fail to deliver you can bet some questions will be asked.
Eagle Pharma Acquires Acacia Pharma Group
Two smaller pharmaceutical companies are heading for a merger. Eagle Pharmaceuticals has announced the acquisition of Acacia Pharma Group in a deal just shy of $125M including $94M in cash and the remainder in Eagle stock. Acacia has two approved offerings, BARHEMSYS for post-operative vomiting and BYFAVO for brief sedations for procedures. Both fall into a category of small hospital specific offerings that compliment the rest of Eagles Portfolio allowing them to more effectively leverage commercial sales and delivery through their existing networks. Last year Eagle saw their total revenue decrease and realized a modest $8.6M loss, but this acquisition along with other positive pipeline news position them to gain some altitude in 2022. This appears to be a case of purchasing for the assets – I expect most of Acacia’s staff to be quickly integrated or dispersed as Eagle takes these products through their commercial rollout with the goal of profit around their therapeutic cluster by 2024.
Yescarta Earns Important Expanded Approval
Kite, owned by Gilead, has earned an important expanded approval for their CAR-T therapy Yescarta as a second-line treatment for Large B-Cell Lymphoma. This is the first significant approval for this indication in some time and comes on the back of a study showing a 2.5X increase in patients who were alive with no cancer progress after 2-years. Yescarta drove an 83% overall response rate, and a 63% complete response rate. That means the therapy worked for most people and completely in 2/3 people. Both of these numbers are nearly twice as good as the existing chemotherapy standard of care.
For Gilead this is another win through their Kite acquisition. Large B-Cell Lymphoma is the most prevalent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the United States with 18,000 new cases annually and 30-40% of these may be eligible for Yescarta under the approval. CAR T retains significant tradeoffs with therapy running much shorter and more successfully than typical chemo, but with dangerous serious adverse events including neurological issues possible. At a cost of roughly $373,000 per treatment and a relatively large population in the approved indication this also represents an economically meaningful expanded FDA approval.
Trimming the Pipeline 27%, 30%, 35%
In rich economic times biotechs are able to bloat out pipelines to explore. There can absolutely be waste in the mix, but more often then not it’s an attempt to get as many irons in the fire as possible. It’s exceedingly difficult to determine which promising potential therapeutic approach might blossom and these diversified efforts can be really helpful in mitigating risk. But when funding in the future begins to look a bit more sparse, the belts get synched up, and pipelines also tighten. In this current market we are seeing a spat of workforces getting trimmed. While this may be an economically sound model, it also sucks for those caught in the cut who have often dedicated enormous effort to building a new institution. In my experience, it’s rarely clear when you should cut your losses on a failure and when a great idea just get’s lost to the economics of risk. This week, we highlight three companies facing challenging decisions to trim.
First up, last Monday Taysha announced a cut of 35% of it’s workforce. Taysha has faced major challenges as a public company with stocks falling from the mid-20s last summer to just around $6/share when they revealed quarterly results. Their pipeline had become quite expansive with nearly 30 research programs listed across multiple indications, therapeutics areas, and at least 4 distinct therapeutic approaches, all in the challenging gene-therapy market. Along with the staff trims they are focused in on more niche therapeutic areas for their most promising therapies in GAN and Rett syndrome. The hope is that this extends their cash runway long enough for positive results to lead to additional funding. The updated strategy pushes them to mid-2023 on current stockpiles.
Orchard Therapeutics announced last Wednesday a similar 30% cut of the workforce. With their stocks down ~90% since this same time last year they are in no place to raise much capital. They have one approval in the EU, but it’s for a rare lipid based neurological disorder and unlikely to fund their entire pipeline. They’ve opted to focused exclusively on the successful platform in other neurological disorders. The language of their announcement suggests to me they’re looking for commercial development partners. To gain traction here Orchard may need some compelling data on a more commercially promising target. They’re cash now runs to 2024.
In March of 2021, Silverback Bio shares sat at just over $60/share. Today they closed at $3.24. Last Friday they announced the closing of all oncology programs and the cut of 27% of their workforce. In clinical efforts last year they found that their two early phase oncology candidates SBT6050 and SBT6290 basically didn’t work that great. This is disappointing for Silverback who will refocus on their existing portfolio with cash out to 2026. But I want to remind folks, that through all the capital and funding and business cycles. This is why we do clinical trials. Because sometimes a great idea just doesn’t work the way we hoped it would. So we stop. And we try something else. That’s called science.
Thanks for joining me for Life Science Today, your source for stories, insights, and trends across the life science industry. Learn more at LifeScienceTodayPodcast.com. If you like what you hear, please tell a friend. Once again, I’m Dr. Noah Goodson, I’ll see you next week.