2024-01-09| JPM 2024Trending

JPM 2024: Biotech Companies Mapping Out Their Future, and a New Round of M&A Spree Begins

by Richard Chau
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With JP Morgan’s 42nd annual Healthcare Conference (JPM 2024) underway in San Francisco, biopharma companies worldwide are jumping at the opportunity to announce acquisition plans and business updates. GeneOnline’s editorial team has compiled the key industry announcements and major deals from the first day of the conference to deliver insights and highlights from the first biotech main event of 2024.

Biogen Gains Momentum in the Field of Rare Diseases Following Reata Acquisition

Biogen and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) have both announced or completed major acquisitions over the past year. During the first day of JPM 2024, both companies coincidentally illustrated their plans to leverage the acquired assets to expand their businesses and drive future growth. 

After completing the $7.3 billion buyout of Reata Pharmaceuticals in late September 2023, Biogen added Skyclarys (omaveloxolone), a groundbreaking therapy for Friedreich’s ataxia (FRDA), to its rare disease pipeline. Christopher Viehbacher, President and CEO of Biogen, praised the “tremendous launch” of Skyclarys, noting that it is “outperforming” other rare-disease launch analogues, including Biogen’s own spinal muscular atrophy launch Spinraza. In spite of a delayed launch due to the discovery of a manufacturing impurity, there had been hundreds of patients eager to start using the therapy.

With Skyclarys being approved in the U.S. and Europe, Biogen is working to maximize its potential. In light of the fact that Skyclarys is currently approved for treatment of FRDA in adults and adolescents over 16 years of age, Viehbacher said that the next step would be to conduct a pediatric study of the therapy to explore the possibility of extending its use to younger patients as there are a large number of FRDA patients diagnosed before the age of 16.

Related article: Reata’s Groundbreaking Therapy for an Ultra-rare Neuromuscular Disease Secures FDA Approval

CEO of BMS Illustrate Future Ambitions in JPM 2024 Following Recent Major Acquisitions

BMS spent over $18 billion in acquiring Karuna Therapeutics and RayzeBio over a single week in late December, with the aim of strengthening its neuroscience and oncology pipelines. Dr. Christopher Boerner, BMS’ newly-appointed CEO, used a significant part of his presentation to address these big moves, highlighting an optimistic outlook that BMS’ pipelines could deliver more than 16 new products through 2030 and support the company’s growth in the back half of 2020s.

For BMS, this period will be a tough one since its three blockbuster drugs Revlimid, Eliquis, and Opdivo, which accounted for 65% of the company’s revenue in 2022, will face the challenge of patent expiration and drug price negotiations under the Inflation Reduction Act. (For example, Revlimid’s patent has already expired and this multiple myeloma medication is current facing the competition from several generic drug products, while Eliquis was selected in August 2023 as one of the first 10 drugs to be involved in the first round of Medicare price negotiations.)

The $14 billion buyout of Karuna Therapeutics is the second-largest biopharma M&A deal announced in 2023, adding KarXT, Karuna’s M1/M4 muscarinic receptor agonist, to the BMS’ neuroscience portfolio. With possible FDA approval to be announced by September 26, 2024, KarXT “has the potential to transform the treatment of schizophrenia and has a number of subsequent indications with significant, we believe, multi-billion dollar potential,” said Dr. Boerner. Meanwhile, the $4.1 billion purchase of RayzeBio brings BMS multiple early-stage actinium-based radiopharmaceutical therapeutics candidates targeting various types of solid tumors, which may later prove to be valuable.

Related article: Bristol Myers Squibb Acquires Karuna Therapeutics to Enhance Neuroscience Portfolio

J&J as the Latest Drugmaker to Bet on ADCs Through the $2 Billion Purchase of Ambrx Biopharma

On the first day of JPM 2024, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) announced its plan of paying $2 billion to acquire Ambrx Biopharma, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company with a proprietary synthetic biology technology platform to design and develop next-generation antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), becoming the latest player to join the hot competition of the multi-billion ADC market. 

ADCs combine the ability of small molecule anticancer drugs to kill tumor cells and the high specificity of monoclonal antibodies to target the surface antigens of specific tumor cells, achieving the remarkable effect of precise attack on tumor lesions, hence earning the reputation as the “magic bullet” in the field of cancer treatment. The California-based pharma is currently pursuing R&D endeavors for proprietary ADCs for multiple cancer indications, including ARX517 targeting prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC), ARX788 targeting human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) for metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer, and ARX305 targeting CD-70 protein for renal cell carcinoma.

Under the terms of the agreement, J&J will acquire all of the outstanding shares of Ambrx’s common stock for $28.00 per share in cash through a merger of Ambrx with a J&J’s subsidiary. The purchase price represents an approximately 105% premium to Ambrx’s closing stock price on January 5, 2024, for a total equity value of approximately $2.0 billion. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2024. Regarding research collaborations, J&J’s scientists intend to work with Ambrx researchers, accelerating the Phase 1/2 APEX-01 study (NCT04662580) of ARX517 in treating advanced prostate cancer.

Related article: Merck Joins Forces with Daiichi Sankyo in $5.5 Billion Deal to Develop Cancer Drugs 

Boston Scientific Acquires Axonics for $3.7 Billion to Revolutionize Urinary and Bowel Dysfunction Treatment 

Another billion-dollar M&A deal announced during the first day of JPM 2024 comes with the purchase of Axonics, Inc., a Southern California-based maker of neurostimulation devices, by medical technology giant Boston Scientific. This acquisition, valued at approximately $3.7 billion ($71 in cash per share), marks a significant stride of Boston Scientific in the treatment of urinary and bowel dysfunction. 

The prevalence of overactive bladder and fecal incontinence among adults in the U.S. is a staggering concern, affecting nearly 30 million and 19 million individuals aged 40 and above, respectively. These conditions may lead to significant predicaments in patients’ mental health, productivity, and social engagement. 

Axonics, which went public in 2018, offers both rechargeable and recharge-free implants for sacral neuromodulation (SNM) — a minimally invasive procedure that treats overactive bladder and bowel incontinence. In this type of therapy, mild electrical pulses are delivered to the sacral nerves that control the bladder, bowels, and pelvic floor muscles, restoring communication between the brain and the bladder and hence bringing about meaningful improvement in patients’ quality of life. In particular, Axonics won FDA approval in January 2023 for its fourth-generation neurostimulator. With a battery life of 20 years or more, this rechargeable SNM device offers an innovative solution for patients. Moreover, the company’s portfolio includes the Bulkamid Urethral Bulking System catering to female stress urinary incontinence.

Under the terms of the transaction, Boston Scientific anticipates finalizing this transformative acquisition in the first half of 2024, pending customary closing conditions. Axonics projects net revenue of approximately $366 million in 2023, marking a 34% surge from the previous fiscal year.

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