Alexion scraps Moderna pact as new CEO cleans house

Alexion Pharmaceuticals’ Lud­wig Hantson has become the latest recently installed CEO to can a swathe of R&D programs. The rejig sees Alexion scrapping deals with Moderna Therapeutics, Blueprint Medicines and Arbutus Biopharma as it seeks to focus R&D on its core strengths.

Former Baxalta CEO Hantson is focusing investment on Alexion’s strength in complement biology in four core therapeutic areas: hematology, nephrology, neurology and metabolic disorders. That means mRNA is no longer in vogue at Alexion. As such, Alexion is walking away from the $100 million upfront it paid Moderna in 2014 and returning the rights to develop up to 10 candidates to its partner. 

Blueprint and Arbutus were also affected by the revamp. Alexion paid Blueprint $15 million up front in 2015 and penned a $82.5 million pact with Arbutus earlier this year. Both have fallen victim to Hantson’s desire to cut away at programs outside of Alexion’s core areas of focus.

The R&D reshuffle has also affected some internal programs. Alexion is putting ALXN1101 and ALXN6000 on the back burner and seeking to outlicense the assets. 

Collectively, the actions deprive Alexion of pipeline prospects once seen as supporting the growth of the company in the years to come. Shorn of these programs, Alexion may return to the deal table to bring in assets more in line with Hantson’s vision for the company. 

“Our strategy for the next phase of growth will focus on our strengths to deliver sustainable long-term performance and increased value for shareholders. We will achieve this by growing our rare disease business, leveraging our expertise in complement, pursuing disciplined business development to expand the pipeline and taking steps to optimize our infrastructure and operating model,” Hantson said in a statement. 

In swiftly axing a sizable part of Alexion’s pipeline, Hantson has followed the path trod by fellow recently installed CEOs, including Eli Lilly’s Dave Ricks and GlaxoSmithKline’s Emma Walmsley. Each of the CEOs has taken a sour view of the pipelines they have inherited and moved decisively to shed perceived dead wood.  

That puts a lot of preclinical and clinical programs in play for biopharma companies that want to add to their pipelines. For Moderna, the effect of Alexion’s decision is immediate. In a statement commenting on Alexion’s decision, the deep-pocketed biotech painted itself as better able to advance rare disease programs internally than it was at the time of the deal in 2014.