EuroBiotech Report: Novartis-TxCell, AbbVie rejects Ablynx, Merck KGaA, Medicxi’s Parkinson’s startup and Ascendis

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Welcome to the latest edition of our weekly EuroBiotech Report. We start this week in France, where TxCell celebrated hiring a former Novartis researcher to oversee its CAR-Treg programs. The researcher, Li Zhou, spent more than six years working on CAR-T at Novartis before jumping ship earlier this year. Across the border in Belgium, Ablynx had less to celebrate. The antibody specialist received the not-unexpected news that AbbVie won’t pick up its Phase III-ready rheumatoid arthritis drug. Ablynx plans to start making preparations for a Phase III trial while looking for a new partner. Fellow Belgian biotech Apitope faces a similar situation. Merck KGaA decided to hand back the rights to a multiple sclerosis drug just as a Phase IIa readout loomed into view. Medicxi returned to France to set up its second biotech in as many weeks. The latest startup, Mavalon Therapeutics, has secured up to €9 million ($10 million) to take a Parkinson's disease program into the clinic. Ascendis Pharma lined up a $112 million offering. And more. Nick Taylor

1. Ex-Novartis CAR-T researcher joins TxCell to lead CAR-Treg research program

TxCell (EPA:TXCL) has put a former Novartis ($NVS) researcher in charge of its CAR-Treg programs. Li Zhou spent more than six years working on CAR-T therapies at Novartis before jumping ship shortly before news of the upheaval at the Big Pharma’s cell and gene therapy unit came to light.

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2. AbbVie rejects Ablynx RA drug on cusp of PhIII

AbbVie ($ABBV) has turned down a chance to license Ablynx’s (EBR:ABLX) Phase III-ready anti-IL-6R antibody vobarilizumab. The Big Pharma had an option to pick up the rheumatoid arthritis drug for $75 million (€68 million), but the Phase II data package put together by Ablynx has failed to convince it to pay up.

3. Merck KGaA returns PhII multiple sclerosis drug to Apitope

Merck KGaA has returned a Phase II multiple sclerosis drug to Apitope. The German drugmaker picked up the rights to the peptide-based therapeutic in 2009 and advanced it to the cusp of a Phase IIa readout, but has now decided to relinquish its claim on the drug.

4. Medicxi founds Parkinson’s startup, commits €9M

Medicxi has unveiled its second new co in as many weeks. The VC shop returned to France to source the underlying science, teaming with former Merck Serono partner Domain Therapeutics to access a drug intended to induce production of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF).

5. Ascendis nets $112M for PhIII growth hormone trial

Ascendis Pharma ($ASND) is aiming to raise at least $112 million (€102 million) to move its long-acting growth hormone through a late-phase trial. The offering is intended to give Ascendis the means to carry out a Phase III growth hormone deficiency study while advancing other candidates that have yet to enter the clinic.

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