By Sy Mukherjee
January 7, 2019

Good morning, welcome back, and greetings from San Francisco, readers. I’m at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, the veritable Burning Man of biopharma, where tens of thousands of drug company executives, investors, and the who’s who of the life sciences congregate every January (and when hotels hike room rates to a level that would make even the most shameless drug price gougers blush). I’ll be moderating a panel today on digital health investment and the real-world use of such technologies – much more on that later.

“JPM Week” brings with it dozens of company announcements and serves as the origin point for even more future deals. Case in point: On Monday morning, Patrick Soon-Shiong – a physician-turned-biotech executive who also happens to be the richest man in Los Angeles and the new owner of the Los Angeles Times – announced the latest investment in his biopharma federation. The privately-held cancer immunotherapy firm NantCell, which Soon-Shiong founded, has secured an additional $30 million in funding from Celgene, bringing the biotech giant’s investment in NantCell to $105 million at a $4 billion valuation. Readers are likely aware that, just last week, U.S. pharma mainstay and cancer drug leader Bristol-Myers Squibb announced a mega-blockbuster deal to acquire Celgene.

Soon-Shiong describes NantCell as part of a three-legged stool of sorts alongside his other cancer-focused companies, NantHealth and NantKwest. The ambitious goal of this triumverate? To develop a cancer vaccine that could theoretically combat multiple kinds of tumors using the body’s immune system without the need for toxic chemotherapy.

It would be a massive understatement to say that drug makers have pounced on the immuno-oncology field. Merck, Roche, Bristol-Myers, and many other companies have invested heavily in such treatments. And Celgene has a specific history with Soon-Shiong, as the biotech’s CEO noted in a statement. “We have partnered with Dr. Soon-Shiong and his mission to change the course of cancer from the very beginning,” said Celgene chief executive Mark Alles. “From his invention of Abraxane, to acquiring his company in 2010.”

Soon-Shiong and Alles point to the scope of NantCell’s clinical pipeline, which now encompasses 15 different cancer indications.

Read on for the day’s news, and plenty of more dispatches from JPM to come.

Sy Mukherjee


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