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Celgene execs shell out $92M cash for a pair of R&D deals that will fit perfectly in their new home

John Carroll – Editor & Founder


With Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s Cel­gene buy­out all but com­plete, the BD teams are work­ing in per­fect syn­chrony now. The Cel­gene side is go­ing back to Sky­hawk, a dar­ling of the crowd that set out to drug RNA, and they’re adding a suite of new pro­grams that mesh per­fect­ly with the new regime in charge.


Cel­gene is shelling out $80 mil­lion in a cash up­front to add on­col­o­gy, im­muno-on­col­o­gy and au­toim­mune dis­eases to the ini­tial roundup of neu­ro­log­i­cal tar­gets mapped ear­ly in Sky­hawk’s ex­is­tence.


Sky­hawk CEO Bill Haney tends to keep large seg­ments of the fi­nan­cials in his pre­clin­i­cal deals un­der wraps — stan­dard for the big bio­phar­mas he’s been work­ing with. But he’s hap­py to con­firm my own back-of-the-en­ve­lope math that he’s now gar­nered $350 mil­lion to $400 mil­lion in up­front pay­ments to build the com­pa­ny — a sig­nif­i­cant sum for a com­pa­ny that has yet to try a drug on a hu­man.


Mile­stones now lie some­where north of $15 bil­lion. And by any ac­count, the ros­ter of pacts he’s inked in the last 2 years put him at the top of the list of the most ac­tive deal­mak­ers in the in­dus­try. That’s im­pres­sive for a doc­u­men­tary mak­er, en­tre­pre­neur and CEO of 2 biotechs — both of which have some land­mark news to re­port to­day.


Haney’s oth­er job is run­ning Drag­on­fly, and to­day they’re mak­ing their first for­ay in­to hu­man stud­ies, with the launch of a Phase I study for their lead drug DF1001 in HER2 ex­press­ing sol­id tu­mors. This is the first of their TriN­KET plat­form drugs to go in­to hu­mans, and Vessey stepped up with $12 mil­lion for Cel­gene’s third op­tion from Drag­on­fly.


So why was the biotech new­com­er able to jump out in front on deal­mak­ing?


“There aren’t that many gen­uine­ly nov­el plat­forms,” Haney says about Sky­hawk. His sci­en­tist friends and as­so­ciates — a group that in­cludes Tyler Jacks at MIT’s Koch In­sti­tute — haven’t hurt. And he likes to keep the val­ues sim­ple: Stay fo­cused on pa­tients, stay hum­ble, don’t get ahead of your­self or the or­ga­ni­za­tion — with 55 staffers and around 100 FTEs around the world — in rolling out al­liances.


Tech­ni­cal­ly, both Bris­tol-My­ers and Cel­gene have to con­tin­ue to op­er­ate as in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ties. But this deal fell in­to Ru­pert Vessey’s do­main, who will make the tran­si­tion from Cel­gene to head of ear­ly- and mid-stage R&D at Bris­tol-My­ers, where on­col­o­gy, I-O and au­toim­mune dis­eases are core fields.


“We see Sky­hawk’s plat­form as a key dis­rup­tive tech­nol­o­gy that will sup­port the au­toim­mune, on­col­o­gy and im­muno-on­col­o­gy pipelines of the com­pa­ny we are to­day, and the com­pa­ny we are plan­ning to be,” said Vessey, in a pre­pared state­ment that makes the seam­less na­ture of the al­liance ap­par­ent.

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Maura McCarthy


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