6:37 PM
Jun 27, 2019
 |  BC Innovations  |  Product Development

How Array stayed alive long enough to grow up

Array's strategic toggle between R and D enabled the platform company's 21 year lifespan and $11.4 billion takeout.

Array’s 21-year journey as an independent platform company, culminating in an $11.4 billion buyout, required shifting focus from research to development and back again. The acquisition sends a message that developing focused expertise and sticking with it long term can pay off, even as other technologies and modalities go from zero to sixty in record time and get paid handsomely for it.

At least six biotech acquisitions in the last three years have seen companies bought for amounts ranging from $4.8 billion to $11.9 billion, within eight years of being founded to develop CAR T cell or gene therapies, or to capitalize on the new biology around tissue-agnostic drug development and synthetic lethality.

The June 17 announcement that Pfizer Inc. will buy Array BioPharma Inc. for its small molecule kinase inhibitor program bucks that model (see “Array Takeout Buoys Biotechs”).

Kinase inhibitors have been a focus in drug development for decades, having moved to “workhorse” rather than “cutting-edge” status.

But Array’s takeout was based partly on the versatile potential of kinase inhibitors to synergize with products capturing the newer biology. It rewards management decisions that kept the company both afloat and focused as it toggled between investing in its own pipeline and partnering its assets.

Array’s platform yielded compounds that are now on the market or in late-phase development, where commercial and clinical activities are directed by partners.

In a conference call earlier this month, Pfizer Global President of Oncology Andy Schmeltz said three factors spurred the acquisition: Array’s marketed drug combo, its royalty streams from partnered compounds and the preclinical portfolio generated from its platform.

“That specifically made Array very attractive, the fact that it didn’t just develop one or two medicines, but rather a whole platform of chemistry capability.”

Chris Boshoff, Pfizer

“That specifically made Array very attractive, the fact that it didn’t just develop one or two medicines, but rather a whole platform of chemistry capability,” Pfizer Chief Development Officer Chris Boshoff told BioCentury.

“Many companies, once they see a line of sight to their own products, will jettison research, they will shut it down. That was something that we just didn’t want to do,” said Array CEO Ron Squarer. “The partnerships were designed to allow us to keep our research platform while maintaining what we would call ‘near cost-neutrality.’”

In 2016, following positive Phase III readouts for its cancer combo Braftovi encorafenib/Mektovi binimetinib, the company stopped forming new partnerships and restored internal discovery to the front burner with a “shift to research for Array, by Array,” said Squarer.

The resulting preclinical pipeline is expected to yield its first IND in 2H19 and at least one IND per year. Squarer...

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