The BIO International Convention 2018 in Boston and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago, two of the important events in the biotech sector's annual calendar, are almost upon us. With that in mind, BioWorld Insight kicks off a BIO 2018 two-part feature diving into the business of financial aspects of cancer. There is no doubt that transformative cancer therapies have attracted the attention of everyone, particularly investors, since they first burst on the scene a few years ago. The excitement for the prospects of those new therapies has certainly influenced the share prices of companies in the space.

That is reflected by the 10.5 percent jump in the value of the BioWorld Cancer Index so far this month, outpacing the general markets, with the Nasdaq Composite up just half that amount at 5 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting a 3 percent increase. (See BioWorld Cancer Index, below.)

ASCO abstracts

Helping to move the needle of public biopharmaceutical companies developing cancer therapies in the index group was the much-anticipated release of abstracts for the ASCO meeting earlier this month. (See BioWorld, May 18, 2018.)

Shares of Agios Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:AGIO), for example, are up almost 6 percent in May and a whopping 55 percent year to date. The company will be reporting new data from its isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) programs at the event including details of a phase I study of AG-881, an inhibitor of mutant IDH1/IDH2, in patients with advanced IDH-mutant solid tumors, including glioma. The small molecule has shown in preclinical studies to fully penetrate the blood-brain barrier and inhibit IDH1 and IDH2 mutant cancer models.

Stamford, Conn.-based Loxo Oncology Inc. will be presenting interim data from its ongoing phase I trial for Loxo-292, the company's highly selective RET inhibitor in clinical development for the treatment of patients with cancers that harbor abnormalities in the rearranged during transfection (RET) kinase. Both RET fusion and select RET-mutated cancers, the company said, are primarily dependent on that single activated kinase for their proliferation and survival. That dependency, often referred to as "oncogene addiction," renders such tumors highly susceptible to small-molecule inhibitors targeting RET.

The company's share value (NASDAQ:LOXO) has soared 33 percent this month and almost doubled year to date. A steady news flow has also supported strong interest from investors. Last month, it said it will be working with Illumina Inc. to develop and commercially launch a multigene panel companion diagnostic (Cdx) for broad tumor profiling. The next-generation sequencing (NGS) diagnostic would carry a pan-cancer indication. The companies plan to pursue an approval for a variation of Illumina's Trusight Tumor 170 along with Loxo Oncology's therapies, larotrectinib and Loxo-292. (See BioWorld, April 11, 2018.)

Not all companies have enjoyed upticks in their share prices. Puma Biotechnology Inc.'s shares (NASDAQ:PBYI) have fallen 19 percent this month. Its product, Nerlynx (neratinib), which won FDA approval in July last year as the first treatment designated as an extended adjuvant therapy in patients with early stage, HER2-positive breast cancer, recorded first-quarter sales of $36 million, which were in line with the Street's estimates. However, investors appear to be concerned about the future sales performance of the drug.

Cash flows

From a BioWorld analysis of investments flowing into the coffers of public and private biopharmaceutical companies so far this year it appears that majority of it is being directed toward those involved in cancer – more than $14 billion, in fact. (See Value of biopharma financings, below).

That amount represents approximately 48 percent of the massive $30 billion that global companies have raised. Deal volume in this period shows that 168 cancer-focused companies (66 private and 102 public) successfully completed transactions. (See Number of biopharma financings, below).

Private companies collectively raised almost $3.5 billion and among the notable deals was Cambridge, Mass.-based TCR2 Therapeutics Inc., which snagged $125 million in an oversubscribed series B financing to advance programs using its T-Cell Receptor Fusion Construct (TRuC) platform. (See BioWorld, March 22, 2018.)

The immuno-oncology company is developing a novel class of T-cell receptor-based cellular therapies for solid tumors and blood cancers. It will deploy the funds to advance two TRuC-T cell programs through human proof of concept, including its lead solid tumor program, TC-210, targeting mesothelin.

It is not just U.S. companies that are attracting capital. Suzhou, China-based Cstone Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd. recorded the largest series B financing for a Chinese biotech to date raising $260 million in venture capital financing. (See BioWorld, May 16, 2018.)

The immuno-oncology-focused biopharma's lead candidate is CS-1001, a fully human and full-length PD-L1 that is nearing the end of its dosing study and about to move to registration and combination trials in China.

That financing contributed to the $2.2 billion that companies based in the Australia/Asia region have generated to date, with European companies raising $3.3 billion. (See Number and Value of biopharma financings by region, below.)

A Guinness Record?

Following last year's BIO International Convention in San Diego, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) revealed that a staggering 41,400 partnering meetings were held, which represented a 16 percent increase over the BIO 2016 numbers. BIO said it hopes to beat last year's number and in so doing establish a Guinness World Record for the largest business partnering event.

Since 2015, BIO has reported that scheduled partnering meetings at the convention have increased by more than 40 percent, At BIO 2018, the organization is expecting more than 45,000 BIO One-on-One Partnering meetings involving more than 6,000 delegates from 3,600 companies.

There is no doubt that oncology will be front and center among may of those meetings. According to Willie Reaves, director, partnering products & services at BIO, cancer is the top therapeutic area of interest of companies who have registered on the One-on-One Partnering system.

The outcomes from the BIO partnering meetings will become apparent in future months and will certainly add to the growing number of deals that are being entered into and the volume and value of investments.

Programs

Delegates attending BIO 2018 will also be able to attend a number of cancer-focused sessions, including: What Was Hot at ASCO'18? for all those who were not attending the event; and The Future of Cancer: "Real-Time" Oncology, which will delve into the effective application of big data and advanced analytics and how those will impact the clinical development of cancer therapies going forward.

Editor's note: In the second part of this feature, the progress of the biopharmaceutical industry since BIO 2017 will be examined.

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