GSK: Billions in, billions out

British pharmaceutical giant GSK had a pretty crazy news day on Monday, announcing two massive deals. First, the money going out: GSK will acquire the oncology biopharma company Tesaro for $5.1B. This deal adds Tesaro’s Zejula to the GSK portfolio, which will give it a foothold to fight AstraZeneca, Merck and Clovis Oncology in the PARP inhibitor market. That probably gives Clovis a big ol’ target on its back saying “Acquire me!” GSK should have enough cash to cover the deal after its other big Monday announcement where the company announced it will be divesting its healthcare nutrition business to Unilever for a cool $4B. GSK and its nutrition products had a good run, but sounds like someone didn’t drink their Horlicks and their relationship got tired.

Natural (Born) Killer cells

From the “this is really cool” department comes a research study where scientists discovered immune cells called Natural Killer cells. These cells accumulate in tumors and release chemicals that attract specialized dendritic cells (cDC1)—white blood cells known for triggering anti-cancer immune responses—to the tumor. Researchers are hoping these molecular ‘magnets’ can improve cancer immunotherapy. Know what they’re not hoping for? To run into these two at a local diner. According to the authors, “Genes associated with Natural Killer cells and cDC1 correlated with cancer patient survival in a dataset of over 2,500 patients with skin, breast, neck and lung cancers. A similar correlation was seen in an independent group of breast cancer patients, with a particularly positive outcome for women with triple negative breast cancer, which typically has a poor prognosis.” BTW, AstraZeneca has a pretty good site for learning more about immunotherapy.

Merck receives go-ahead with lung cancer treatment

The FDA has approved the “chemo combo” of Merck & Co.’s Keytruda with Eli Lilly’s Alimta for treatment for patients with non-squamos non-small cell lung cancer who have not been previously treated. That’s great news for the patients, but not the best news for Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca who have their own combo and are attempting to get it approved. The announcement brings “the first true endorsement of the general ‘chemo combo’ approach,” according to Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson. Anderson says it is “not yet clear” how BMS and AZ’s product will perform. What is clear? Merck is trying to pull far, far away from the competition.

Out with the old, in with the…still old?

Ever looking for something to wear and end up deciding that pair of jeans at the bottom of the hamper is your best option, even though you’d previously deemed them too stained/stinky/crusty to wear? (Uh, yeah, us neither… Awkward.) Anyway…AstraZeneca is doing the same thing. But with drugs. Its “Emerging Innovations Unit” oversees a number of drugs that AZ had shelved and molecules that never progressed to human testing. The unit licenses shelved drugs to other companies and also partners with university scientists to continue research.  AZ says the new strategy has led to substantial improvements in its research output.  Maybe, just maybe, those dirty jeans are worth taking for another spin around the block.

4. Britain, Brexit, and the pharma fallout

If demographic stereotypes hold, drug company employees in the UK probably voted to remain in the EU. Makes sense. Conventional wisdom holds that remaining would have been better for business. Now that the vote has gone the other way, a task force of drug company CEOs and government officials has been put together to combat problems such as uncertainty, added complexity and potential drug approval delays. Several large-scale concerns are on the table.  Will British patients have to go to the back of the line, behind the EU, for new medicines? Will Britain need to recreate its own regulatory body for the approval and regulation of medicines? Only (a long) time will tell.

2. AZ all over the alphabet

Things are busy at AstraZeneca (AZN) these days. That happens when your mega-billion dollar blockbuster drug, Crestor, hits the patent cliff. Que (Q) the changes. AZN plans to cut $1.5B in costs and double down on cancer. Lay-off numbers were undisclosed. AZN is not standing still, making several recent acquisitions, including ZS Pharma (ZSPH). Their BACE inhibitor-based Alzheimer’s compound passed a recent safety analysis by an independent DSMB. AZN has also said “no comment” to rumors they will bid on Medivation (MDVN). AZ plans to “leverage information from up to 2 million genome sequences, including over 500,000 from our own clinical trials, to drive drug discovery and development across all our therapeutic areas.” TBD on more oncology product in-license news from AZ.