JPM, Day 1: Sanofi grabs a British biotech, Regeneron hopes for FDA hold lift and more

San Francisco
JPM is a lot closer to home this year (Photo credit: bluejayphoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

We’re used to formal clothing expensive hotels and meeting venues that solitary confinement cells look spacious, with the offer of $20 coffees (if spending a minimum of $100), but this year, things are very different.

We are not in San Francisco, but all watching from our desks, remembering how this time last year a strange pneumonia-like illness appeared to be taking hold in China, but that it was likely largely under control. How wrong we were.

The show must go on, virtually however, and whilst the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference has become a little more muted for major deals and collabs in recent years, we did kick off the 2021 event with a deal.  

Here's your need to know, from Sanofi buying up biotech Kymab to Boehringer becoming the first pharma to work with Google’s Quantum AI unit.

Want more? Catch the latest news from Fierce Biotech and follow Fierce Pharma's coverage here. And check out tomorrow's Day 2 roundup covering the on-the-ground skinny from Tuesday's action.

Monday 4:20 p.m. ET

Following a year of unceasing demand for COVID-19 testing, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s chairman, president and CEO Marc Casper described 2020 as the strongest year in the company’s history—driven not only by diagnostic sales, but also by its lab products for developers of coronavirus therapies and vaccines. Since last March, the company has increased test kit manufacturing capacity to 20 million per week, while also supporting at least 250 COVID-19-related R&D projects.

And what are they going to do with some of that new cash? “From an M&A perspective, we’re very busy; our pipeline is full,” Casper said at the annual J.P. Morgan healthcare conference. “I’m looking forward to fulfilling that in 2021.. It’s going to be a year of pulling forward items on our long-term roadmap.” Thermo Fisher’s full 2020 earnings report is expected Feb. 1.

Monday 2:30 p.m. ET

Komodo Health has moved to acquire Mavens, a developer of cloud-based software for specialty biopharma companies. The financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal follows a previously unpublicized series D round from mid-2020 that netted Komodo $44 million. Though its announcement was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fundraising was led by ICONIQ Capital, alongside additional backers including Andreessen Horowitz, Oak HC/FT, IA Ventures, Felicis Ventures and McKesson Ventures. Story

Monday 11:00 a.m. ET

Microsoft is signing on as an equal partner in Terra, the open-source biomedical research platform developed by Verily and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The computing giant plans to lend its machine learning expertise to Terra’s efforts, while also driving its adoption among its global AI and cloud services customer network, which includes over 168,000 healthcare organizations worldwide. Terra will work as a multi-cloud research platform, with Microsoft’s Azure services as well as offerings from Verily’s corporate sibling, Google. Story

Monday 10:40 a.m. ET

Al Sandrock, head of Biogen’s R&D, saw a positive read-through for its Alzheimer’s hopeful aducanumab from Lilly’s data for donanemab, which in a topline peek posted today showed a “significant slowing of decline in a composite measure of cognition and daily function in patients with early symptomatic Alzheimer's disease compared to placebo.”

“I think it’s very, very exciting for patients and an additional reason to hope for a disease modifying-therapy for this terrible disease,” said Sandrock. “Also great for our field in general. The Lilly antibody has a lot of similarities to aducanumab—seems to target a form of amyloid in the plaque.” This comes despite an AdComm rejection for the drug late last year, though Biogen’s C-suite remains bullish it will be approved by March. Story

Monday 10:30 a.m. ET

Alnylam’s ambitious new strategic plan will land it among the top five biotechs by market cap. The five-year plan unveiled by the rare disease drugmaker includes an aggressive push for several new product approvals, loading up patients and 20 clinical programs with at least 10 in late stage. Its current four-therapy portfolio includes Onpattro and Gilvaari with 2020 sales of $306 and $55 million, respectively.

Monday 10:00 a.m. ET

Grail’s yearslong quest to deliver a simple blood test that can screen for dozens of cancers at once is nearing its goal: the company confirmed its plans to launch its Galleri diagnostic in the U.S. during the second quarter of this year, and in the U.K. at some point in 2021. Grail said it has completed enrollment of its final clinical study evaluating the laboratory-developed test in real-world practice, after recruiting more than 134,000 participants for its research to date and over $2 billion in venture capital funding. Originally spun out from Illumina over five years ago, the DNA sequencing giant announced it would re-acquire the company last September in an $8 billion deal.

Monday 9:00 a.m. ET

Speaking to Fierce Biotech, Novartis’ head of global drug development and CMO John Tsai said there were two sides to the coin when it comes to a virtual JPM and deal-making.

Tsai: “I would say that I think the virtual ways of dealmaking have accelerated deals; no longer are you captive on a plane where you are limited while being in the air being able to make those phone calls. You can actually have many more discussions with various partners and not feel the effects of jet lag, which for me is a nine or 10 hour time difference while having to make presentations and sitting in a room.

“But maybe what has not been so fruitful is, when you do go to JPM, you do get to see a number of partners and a number of smaller biotechs that maybe you wouldn’t be on the phone with and share new and novel ideas. Maybe we will have less of those interactions because maybe smaller companies don’t have the reach; that’s for me the two sides of the coin [for a virtual event].”

Monday 8:20 a.m. ET

Regeneron CSO George Yancopoulos said of the FDA partial hold slapped on its blood cancer hopeful odronextamab last month: “We have responded to the FDA with an approach that we hope will fulfill their need, and that will allow us to go back to actively treating patients in this very important program.” Story

Monday 4 a.m. ET

German pharma Boehringer Ingelheim was also in the early morning act, penning a collab with Google Quantum AI, which will focus on implementing cutting-edge use cases for quantum computing in its R&D, specifically including molecular dynamics simulations. BI is the first pharma ever to join forces with Google in quantum computing. The partnership is designed for three years and is co-led by the newly established Quantum Lab of Boehringer Ingelheim. Neither released financial terms. Story

Monday 3 a.m. ET

French Big Pharma Sanofi bursts out of the gates with a $1.1 billion upfront deal for immunology biotech Kymab and its antibody pipeline. The deal, which also comes with an extra $350 million in biobucks, sees Sanofi nab the midstage asset KY1005, a fully human monoclonal antibody that binds to the OX40-Ligand. Story