Life Science Today

Vertex + ViaCyte, Theravance, Merck + Orion, Pliant, Qiming

July 19, 2022 Noah Goodson, PhD Season 3 Episode 107
Life Science Today
Vertex + ViaCyte, Theravance, Merck + Orion, Pliant, Qiming
Show Notes Transcript

Cell therapy acquisition, royalties sold, biobucks-like deal, successful raise, and Chinese Venture Capital

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Story References
Vertex + ViaCyte
Theravance Biopharma
Merck + Orion
Pliant Therapeutics

About the Show
Life Science Today is your source for stories, insights, and trends across the life science industry. Expect weekly highlights about new technologies, pharmaceutical mergers and acquisitions, news about the moves of venture capital and private equity, and how the stock market responds to biotech IPOs. Life Science Today also explores trends around clinical research, including the evolving patterns that determine how drugs and therapies are developed and approved. It’s news, with a dash of perspective, focused on the life science industry. 


Welcome to Life Science Today, your source for stories, insights, and trends across the life science industry. I’m your host, Dr. Noah Goodson. This week, cell therapy acquisition, royalties sold, biobucks like deal, successful raise, and Chinese Venture Capital



The views expressed on Life Science Today are those of the host and guests. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organizations with which they are affiliated. 

Vertex to Acquired ViaCyte for $320M

Vertex, made famous through the Cystic Fibrosis therapeutic sold as Trikafta, has announced plans to move into diabetes with the $320M cash acquisition of ViaCyte. Vertex current developmental portfolio includes later-stage collaborations with CRISPR therapeutics for Beta Thalassemia and Sickle Cell disease. ViaCyte will be fully acquired in a cash deal. The key therapeutic asset is a treatment for Type I diabetes using cell therapy to deliver insulin-producing islet cells to a patient. A phase I study showed proof-of-concept and Vertex will be looking to move the product forward. But there is more to the deal than that. Vertex already shares co-development deals as above with CRISPR Therapeutics and ViaCyte is engaged in co-work with the same organization. So there are some obvious organizational synergies here. 

Behind the core development therapies there are key developmental biology processes like directed stem cell differentiation. It’s a bit more than we cover on the show to get into the details here, but the precise order of events required to drive a multipotent stem cell into a given therapeutically relevant cell type and then do this repeatably, reliably, and at scale requires significant basic science insights. ViaCyte has done this work for Islet cells and they also have their own stable STEM-cell line. These fundamental cell-engineering assets are potentially very valuable for a sustainable long-term cell therapy model. Vertex has got a long way to go to move a range of assets and developmental potential into a fully-fledged approved therapeutic, but they seem to be maintaining the long-view as they build their pipeline. 

Theravance Raised $1.3B on Royalties

Mechanisms of cash generation continue to be iterated across the biopharma space. Theravance and Innovia have sold off their 85% and 15% (respectively) stakes in the COPD and Asthma medication Trelegy to Royality Pharma for $1.31B upfront and $300M in milestones. The inhaler combination medication sold by GSK brought in $1.5B in sales in 2022 and the royalty streams from the drug-device combo are likely to continue forward. Theravance plans to leverage the cash infusion to pay off their debts, return cash to investors, and then sit with a respectable $430M in the bank. While seemingly good news, Theravance has faced challenging times with the failure last year of the Phase II COVID19 treatment, a phase II ulcerative colitis treatment, and critically their phase III cardiac therapeutic. Probably the best analogy is that of a failing farm that sells off some land for cash with the hope for bumper crop from their now smaller plot of land in the future. It’s also worth noting that Theravance cut something like 75% of their workforce last year and with a leaner pipeline their burn-rate should be down to a manageable runway for future asset development. 

Merck + Orion Make $290M Deal

In a $290M deal, Merck (MSD outside the US) has licensed for co-development and co-commercialization Orion’s oncology therapeutic ODM-208. The oral non-steroidal CYP11A1 inhibitor is currently in Phase II metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC). These forms of prostate cancer continue even when the body has very low levels of testosterone and impact 10-20% of prostate cancer patients. Both companies have the option down the line to convert the deal from co-development and co-commercialization into an exclusive license for Merck. While the milestones were not disclosed within the press-release this holds the basic structure of a typical biobucks deal. So, I guess biobucks are not dead in 2022. 

Pliant Therapeutics Raises $200M 

Pliant Therapeutics managed to defy the odds and raise $200M in an oversubscribed common stock offering. Shares had fallen steadily since last year and were sitting below $9, till the offering opened at $18.50 when they rose to close to over $20/share on Monday. The ability to raise capital like this to advance their developmental pipeline in this bearish market is relatively surprising to me. It’s basically a direct offer of common stock at double the trading value on a pipeline that is no more notably strong or weak than numerous other organizations. They have reasonable early phase II data on an oral fibrosis therapeutic and these funds will continue to advance that pipeline. 

Qiming Raises $3.2B

The Chinese tech and healthcare Venture Capital organization Qiming has raised $3.2B in an oversubscribed series VIII. This brings the total capital to $9.4B  raised across all funds. This latest investment should seed further technology as well as health-related companies in China. While much of this fund may be directed at broader tech investments, I expect more digital health and consumer health for life science investments than any heavy biotech investment. However, it is good to note that there is likely to continue to be some capital investment in  China as they look to reposition in an evolving global market. 


Closing Credits                                          

Thanks for joining me for Life Science Today, your source for stories, insights, and trends across the life science industry. Learn more at If you like what you hear, please tell a friend. Once again, I’m Dr. Noah Goodson, I’ll see you next week.