Biogen Taps Exelixis’ Scangos–Updated
Jun30

Biogen Taps Exelixis’ Scangos–Updated

Reuters and several other news outlets are reporting that Exelixis CEO George Scangos is being tapped as the next leader of Biogen Idec. It’s a curious choice, to say the least. Scangos heads up a small molecule, oncology-focused biotech that has yet to commercialize a product, and Biogen Idec has several biologic drugs on the market and multi-billion dollar sales. So why Scangos? My only thought is that Biogen has been wanting for years to up its presence in the small molecule space, and Scangos certainly has experience on that front. Only it was a different ball of wax at Exelixis: all those small molecules in the pipeline, successful or not, were home grown. Biogen, on the other hand, has pretty much bought all the small molecules in its pipeline (see its 2006 acquisitions of Conforma Therapeutics, which brought a series of Hsp90 inhibitors for cancer, and Fumapharm, which brought the dimethyl fumarate BG-12, now in Phase III trials in multiple sclerosis). The other small molecule in its pipeline, the Parkinson’s drug vipadenant, was discovered at Vernalis. Do they think Scangos can lead them in the right direction? It’s also worth noting that rogue investor Carl Icahn had just two months ago been pushing for a plan to split Biogen Idec into two companies: one focused on oncology, and the other on neurology. Most folks thought the idea was nuts; it would mean putting the majority of the big assets in one basket and creating an oncology company with one product on the market and an otherwise sparse pipeline. Bringing in someone who helped to build an oncology company from scratch might help matters. Well, readers, I leave it to you. Is there any sense in this choice? Or has April Fools’ Day come early? What does it mean for the future of Biogen? Despite a resurgence of sales in its multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, many believe its pipeline could use some work. Not to mention Exelixis—the company has hit a rough patch, losing two consecutive partners for its lead drug candidate, and laying off 40% of  its staff earlier this year. Can either ship be righted with fresh leadership? Update: Well, it's official. Biogen announced the appointment of Scangos, and Exelixis said its former head of R&D Michael Morrissey, a PhD chemist, will become CEO as of July 15. Some small take aways from the brief conference call Scangos held with analysts this afternoon: Biogen made a point of underscoring Scangos' experience with biologics at Bayer, where he worked for a decade before his 14 years at Exelixis. The call clearly seemed crafted to quell any concerns that...

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BMS Bails on Exelixis
Jun21

BMS Bails on Exelixis

Exelixis has lost a second big pharma partner for its most advanced compound in development. Bristol-Myers Squibb is giving back the rights to XL184, a MET inhibitor in several Phase II and III trials in cancer, less than two years after buying into the program for $195 million. GlaxoSmithKline had already given up rights to the drug in October 2008. As part of the termination agreement, BMS will shell out $17 million, a figure that would have covered its financial contribution to the drug's development over the next three months. The South San Francisco-based biotech said in a conference call this morning that despite the loss of about $20 million in expected revenues this year from the collaboration, it will still end the year with a higher cash balance than in 2009. However, that healthier balance sheet has more to do with cost-cutting than milestone payments from partners. In March, the company underwent a major restructuring in order to help support the development of the drug candidate, cutting 40% of staff, or 270 jobs. The move was meant to save the company $90 million through 2011, and help fund the development of XL 184, arguably the most critical compound in the Exelixis pipeline. XL184 blocks three protein kinases, MET, VEGFR2, and RET, and is being studied to treat thyroid cancer, glioblastoma, and a variety of other cancers. If an ongoing Phase III trial in thyroid cancer yields positive results, Exelixis expects to ask FDA for approval in 2011. The  biotech also plans a Phase III in glioblastoma towards the end of this year. “We could not agree with BMS on the prioritization of XL184, the speed, the scope of the program,” George Scangos said this morning. So what's next for Exelixis and XL 184? The biotech firm is clearly on the lookout for partner number three. Scangos told analysts he expected even more suitors at the company’s doorstep, as the data for the compound is more robust than when it was negotiating with BMS in 2008. XL 184 was being watched as one of several drugs in development that block MET, a protein implicated in cancer metastasis. ArQule is developing ARQ197, which recently offered up solid Phase II data in lung cancer. Pfizer’s Crizotinib, which blocks MET and ALK, is also in Phase III trials in lung cancer. GlaxoSmithKline, Exelixis’ previous partner for XL 184, continues to develop XL880, which blocks MET and...

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