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Bayer nabs new dealmaker – but after Monsanto, is there enough cash?

September 3, 2019
Life sciences

Bayer has hired Johnson & Johnson’s former business development chief Marianne De Backer PhD as its new head of business development and licensing of its pharma division.

In short De Backer, who will be based in California, is charged with helping the German pharma make deals. Or, as the pharma puts it: “lead Bayer’s external pharmaceutical growth strategy and activities globally in all key areas of pharmaceutical innovation and alliance management.”

Bayer has had an interesting few years with its R&D, pending a series of deals whilst also make cuts and reorganizations across its research. Late last year, Bayer comprehensively restructured its pharmaceutical R&D and consumer health operations, aimed it said at refocusing assets to its core life science businesses over the coming years.

This included the loss of about 900 of its 8,000 R&D positions, out of a total reduction of 12,000 jobs across the company.

That’s in addition to 350 employees connected to Bayer’s factor VIII facility in Wuppertal, Germany, which it is closing due to increasing competition in the hemophilia treatment market. Instead, the company will move all its recombinant factor VIII production to a facility in Berkeley, California (where, coincidentally, De Backer will be based).

In April this year, the company announced its intention to boost its R&D presence in the life science hub Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts from its current 20 employees to an extra 150 within three years.

Bayer has only had a small presence in what has become the spiritual home of life science R&D in the U.S. But over the years, the company has penned deals and joint ventures with small startups, including its 2016 Casebia Therapeutics, formed by Bayer and CRISPR Therapeutics, which aims to cure blood disorders, blindness and congenital heart disease. It has a base at Kendall Square.

The move comes as Bayer looks more to the U.S. and outside its native Germany for R&D work, with De Backer seemingly also part of this strategy.

Bayer’s pipeline currently includes early work on a follow-up to its and Loxo Oncology’s work on a “tissue agnostic” cancer drug, which gained U.S. approval last year, with positive data out at the AACR cancer conference last month.

Its later-stage oncology efforts include a PI3K inhibitor in blood cancer and darolutamide for prostate cancer. It’s also targeting kidney disease and uterine fibroids, as well as working on expanding its Xarelto heart drug brand, in phase 3 tests. Most of its cancer pipeline is in phase 1.

Bayer initiated the overhaul amid investor concerns that the animal health franchise is pulling back its stock valuation. In addition, the gigantic $63 billion Monsanto acquisition also means it doesn’t have enough resources to grow an unexciting pharma pipeline, as it is also cutting thousands of other jobs across its workforce to save cash.

But Bayer has not been shy of deals as it has been trying to liven up its R&D with external pacts: Just last month it spent $240 million on cell therapy biotech BlueRock after a research pact with protein-degrading biotech Arvinas signed in June, although these have not been head-turning when it comes to numbers, meaning De Backer might not have cash much to play with.

By Ben Adams

Source: Fierce Biotech

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