Welcome to new (Bio) Haven: CEO hopes to strike gold twice with remaining R&D crew after Pfizer deal

Five years ago to the day, Biohaven tied a bow around its IPO and launched onto Wall Street equipped with almost $200 million and the ambition of its founders to bust open the migraine market. Fast-forward to 2022 and by all counts, consider it mission accomplished. 

On Tuesday, Biohaven announced the sale of the migraine program—headlined by potential blockbuster Nurtec ODT—to Pfizer for $11.6 billion, nearly 60 times the amount of that 2017 IPO. The deal also included zavegepant, a nasal spray meant to act even quicker to treat migraines that was submitted to the FDA earlier this year. 

The juxtaposition of the two May 11 events was not lost on CEO Vlad Coric, who in an interview with Fierce Biotech said the sale speaks to the hard work of Biohaven’s team. But after handing off its prized assets, Biohaven is facing an arguably more daunting task than finding success: replicating it. 

“Neuroscience is not an area you can dabble in and go in and out of,” he said. “So the R&D team, I think, is the great engine in the value here.” 

When asked whether he had the option to join Pfizer as a part of the deal, Coric wouldn’t directly answer, but said the fact that the company partially spun out is an acknowledgment that “there's still work to be done.” 

“I think from that you can reasonably infer there was an acknowledgment that this team wants to do it again,” he said. 

Vlad Coric, biohaven CEO
Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

And that's exactly what the remaining team will try to do: create a valuable asset—or two—and maybe sell it off. Coric wouldn’t wade into specifics, but said that while there may be some team members that join Pfizer, “the majority of [Biohaven’s] R&D engine that started the company is going to persist onward.”

While the bulk of the deal rested on Nurtec and zavegepant, Biohaven threw five pre-clinical calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonist receptor assets to Pfizer, which divested from neuroscience development in 2018. 

Still, Biohaven’s immediate future is in limbo as it awaits data from two phase 3 studies. As critical as they were before the sale, solid read outs are now even more paramount. Up first is troriluzole in Spinocerebellar Ataxia, a genetic disorder that deteriorates movement, which has a read out expected in the coming weeks. The med is also being developed for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The other looming readout is for verdiperstat, currently being developed as an ALS treatment. 

Should one or either of those drugs succeed, Coric disclosed that Biohaven is open to once again selling them off, or building up its own commercial infrastructure. If they fail, it’s back to the drawing board. 

Coric is bullish on the company’s younger Kv7 platform bought off Channel Biosciences in February. The lead asset from that program, BHV-7000, is expected to enter the clinic as a treatment for focal epilepsy later this year. 

Wall Street’s reaction to Biohaven’s new form is unknown. Analysts from Mizuho wrote Tuesday that they were not yet assigning value to the non-CGRP assets. In an updated note, the firm said the upcoming readouts for verdiperstat and troriluzole “should go a long way” to clarifying Biohaven’s new value but that expectations for the upcoming readouts are “low”.