JPM 2024: GSK Buys Aiolos Bio for $1.4 Billion, Cytokinetics Acquisition Sparks Three-way Contest

by Richard Chau
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As the second day of JP Morgan’s 42nd Annual Healthcare Conference (JPM 2024) unfolds, biopharma companies continue to look for M&A or partnership opportunities to strengthen their portfolios and differentiate themselves from fierce market competition. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), for example, announced a $1.4 billion deal to buy asthma drugmaker Aiolos Bio. On top of that, Cytokinetics’ potential multi-billion dollar acquisition has attracted at least three pharma giants to join the race, creating an exciting situation that is worth anticipating. 

Aiolos Won GSK’s Favor in Less Than 3 Months After Launch 

Launched in October 2023 with an oversubscribed $245 million Series A investment, Aiolos Bio is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on addressing the unmet treatment needs of patients with respiratory and inflammatory conditions. Its flagship product AIO-001 is a novel monoclonal antibody drug targeting the human thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) ligand, which has a key role in driving inflammation, including in asthma.

AIO-001 is ready to enter a Phase 2 clinical trial for treating adult patients with asthma. It does not only have the potential for longer dosing intervals (such as every 6 months), possibly bringing a longer-acting relief to 315 million asthma patients worldwide, but also have other possible indications including chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps.

Under the terms of the transaction, GSK will pay $1 billion in an upfront payment, with a further $400 million tied to success-based regulatory-milestone payments. Besides, given the fact that Aiolos Bio acquired exclusive rights for global development and commercialization of AIO-101 outside of Greater China from Jiangsu Hengrui Pharmaceuticals (Hengrui) in August 2023, The British pharma will also be responsible for success-based milestone payments and tiered royalties owed to Hengrui. 

After winning the recognition of the world’s first approved RSV vaccine for older adults in May 2023, the purchase of Aiolos Bio is another big stride for GSK to strengthen its foothold in the field of respiratory medicine. “Adding AIO-001, a potentially best-in-class medicine targeting the TSLP pathway, could expand the reach of our current respiratory biologics portfolio,” said Tony Wood, GSK’s Chief Scientific Officer.

Related article: GSK Wins Approval For World’s First RSV Vaccine 

Caris Life Sciences Announces Two New AI Collaborations in JPM 2024 

Leveraging comprehensive molecular profiling (Whole Exome and Whole Transcriptome Sequencing) and advanced machine learning and AI algorithms, Caris Life Sciences has developed the large-scale, clinico-genomic database and computing capabilities necessary to facilitate early detection of diseases and drug development. During the first two days of JPM 2024, the Texas-based TechBio company announced two newly-signed partnerships to propel R&D endeavors in oncology. 

On January 8, Caris announced collaboration with Flatiron Health, an independent affiliate of the Roche Group, to create a multimodal real-world data offering. Combining Caris’ database that contains over 50 petabytes of oncology-specific genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and imaging data and Flatiron’s oncology-specific expertise and a rich set of real-world patient data, the duo aspire to establish a powerful data union that allows better understanding of patient journey and facilitate the development of novel and personalized cancer drugs.

Entering the second day of JPM 2024, Caris unveiled another multi-year collaboration with ConcertAI, an AI-powered SaaS data company in healthcare, to offer up their databases to support AbbVie’s precision medicine-driven R&D efforts and clinical trial optimization in oncology. Coincidentally, Caris announced a broad partnership with the Cambridge-based AI company in the previous edition of the JPM Healthcare Conference. The deal combined Caris’ clinico-genomic database with ConcertAI’s huge collection of oncology data to offer a more comprehensive resource to biopharma clients who intend to develop new biomarker-specific cancer therapeutics.

Exactly a year later, the duo manages to further their existing partnership and team up with the world’s fourth-largest pharma company (by market cap, as of October 2023). According to the announcement, AbbVie can make use of the databases, clinical networks, AI tools and other clinical resources of its new partners to expedite cancer drug development and improve the patient enrollment as well as the overall process of clinical trials. Tom Hudson, SVP and Chief Scientific Officer, Global Research at AbbVie, describes the three-way partnership as “a union of cutting-edge technology and pioneering science, leveraging the power of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to propel our efforts in the fight against cancer.”

Cytokinetics Multi-Billion Acquisition Sparks Three-way Contest, with Novartis Taking the Lead

Novartis began 2024 with a dealmaking spree. The Swiss pharma giant signed three deals in a row from January 7 to 8, partnering with AI drug discovery specialist Isomorphic Labs for $1.2 billion, acquiring Calypso Biotech, a spin-out from Merck KGaA, and its IL-15 inhibitor for autoimmune diseases for $425 million, and striking a research partnership deal with Shanghai Argo Biopharmaceuticals that covers two RNAi interference (RNAi) therapies in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases area. 

Yet, the rumor that Novartis is in advanced talks to acquire Cytokinetics has attracted even more attention in the industry. Sources indicated that the two companies are very likely to announce the acquisition during JPM 2024, and the total value of the deal could reach up to $10 billion. 

About two weeks ago, the San Francisco-based biotech company, announced positive results from SEQUOIA-HCM, a pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial of Aficamten in patients with symptomatic obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an inherited chronic heart disease that can cause cardiac arrest. According to the released results, the treatment with Aficamten could bring about clinically meaningful and statistically significant improvement in patients’ exercise capacity compared to placebo. If Aficamten ultimately receives FDA approval, it will not only provide a new treatment option for heart failure patients, but will also end the company’s 25-year wait for a drug to be approved.

Interestingly, shortly after the initial rumor, other sources revealed that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson had also submitted bids for buying Cytokinetics. While Novartis seems to be taking the lead in the acquisition battle for Cytokinetics, it remains to be decided who will emerge victorious and reach the multi-billion deal.

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