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Product Development

Crucible of COVID, ahoy 2021 & cancer deal trends: a BioCentury podcast

Jan 5, 2021 | 3:26 AM GMT

The New Year kicks off with the new — a new U.S. president readying to enter the White House with a new take on drug pricing, and investors eyeing new modalities — and too much of the same old — COVID, COVID, COVID. On the latest episode of the BioCentury This Week podcast, BioCentury editors discuss what industry buysiders are looking for in 2021, and what trends in cancer dealmaking mean for pharmas and small companies. They also discuss the key takeaways from conversations with a trio of R&D leaders — Paul Stoffels, Andrew Plump and Brett Haumann —  who are among the leaders in the battle to create countermeasures against COVID-19.

Associate Editor Stephen Hansen, who is putting the final touches on BioCentury’s 2021 Financial Preview, said specialists expect industry to continue its torrid pace in financings, seeing few red flags ahead as they home in on companies developing therapies with new modalities.

Washington Editor Steve Usdin cautioned against expecting the incoming Biden administration to hold off on implementing new drug pricing policies because the pandemic is ongoing. “There’s a great deal of interest in Medicare drug prices,” he said. “And there are a lot of things that they can do using the powers of CMS — what’s called the CMMI [Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation] at CMS — to impose drug price controls.”

Hansen, who covers Europe and the U.K., said the Brexit deal gives biopharmas operating in the U.S. and on the Continent more regulatory certainty for the first time in four years, a topic he delved into in a report late last month.

BioCentury Editor in Chief C. Simone Fishburn asked whether the U.K.’s MHRA could now establish itself as an “agency of choice.”

“That ecosystem there has really gone gangbusters,” Fishburn said. “I think we can all agree that last year the U.K. put itself on the map with the RECOVERY [COVID-19 master protocol] trial and with the Oxford vaccine. And so now the question is, can the regulators also continue that momentum there and create an agency of choice with their ability to do some things faster than the EU, the EMA?”

Fishburn also delivered the key takeaways from BioCentury’s recently published analysis of the 138 partnering deals and 35 M&A events in oncology between January 2017 and September 2020.

She said that there is “a huge amount of activity in really early discovery and preclinical” that matches both the valuations and the volume of deals for late-stage assets. “Across the board pharmas are paying top of the range. The highest valuation deals involve pharmas. And the top of the range — like discovery deals — can be commanding as much money as deals for Phase III assets or even approved assets.”

She also said the analysis found that targeted therapies command nearly half of the deals and large valuations for late-stage deals, whereas immuno-oncology deals often skew earlier.

Fishburn recapped her conversation with Plump and Haumann of the COVID R&D Alliance, who believe the group has work left to do in this fight and to prepare for future pandemics.

Plump is president of R&D of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (Tokyo:4502; NYSE:TAK) and Haumann is CMO of Theravance Biopharma Inc. (NASDAQ:TBPH).

Usdin recounted how Stoffels, CSO of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), and his colleagues designed the pharma’s vaccine to have characteristics that set it apart from others and have maximum impact on outcomes.

Usdin also discussed his Editor’s Commentary on how the tools created to defeat SARS-CoV2 will reshape the post-COVID-19 world.

The world has focused “tremendous scientific talent, industrial resources and finance on attacking what’s an existential threat,” he said. “And just like in the Second World War that resulted both in tremendous new inventions and in the acceleration of things that would have taken much longer in the absence of that kind of focused attention.”

He cites mRNA vaccines, remote clinical trial technologies and master protocols as examples of technologies and processes that have been in place but had been moving ahead very slowly.

“Things are going to be different going forward as a result of the advances that have been made in the last 10 months,” said Usdin. 

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