Saturday, February 11, 2012

More on Warp Drive Bio

I analyzed the Warp Drive Bio (WDB) launch here (Warp Drive launched with a stunning $125M in financing.)

Even better,  BioIT World has more detail on Warp Drive Bio, including an interview with the CEO.

Interesting to see that the 'put' of WDB to Sanofi is actually formally agreed to - hit certain milestones, and Sanofi has to pay a pre-determined price, so there's more risk on Sanofi's part that I assumed was being carried by the VCs.

Either directly or indirectly, this results in reduced risk for Sanofi, the VCs, and WDB company management - a win all-around - pretty smart. Consider:

-WDB & company management doesn't have as much financing risk as most biotech's - they can concentrate on discovery productivity, instead of chasing next round financing.

-VCs get a liquidity put. There's even less downside, as VC's are providing less than 100% of the start-up capital. (Assuming more than the VC's $75M was required to launch.)

-Sanofi gets exclusive (I assume) access to a novel technology platform, gets R&D expenses off of their income statement, and locks in discovery productivity and the cost of acquiring WDB technology at 2012 prices. As long as SNY's R&D agenda is matched by WDB's, and the value of leads does not go down, this is great.

I think most VCs and company executives would LOVE to do this sort of deal, especially at company founding, but pharma's aversion to risk prohibits most deals of this sort. Big Pharma's usual game plan is to wait to see more data, as they would rather trade potential financial upside for reduced product or program risk. Let's hope that this deal represents Big Pharma's willingness to take a little more risk, especially when a company at start-up has such a great pedigree.

Besides the novel Sanofi partnership, WDB has a very traditional lead discovery value proposition  - their expectation is that their technology platform will generate novel lead compounds quicker/better/or more efficiently.

I'm in no positon to evaluate the technology, but from a business strategy perspective, it is another example of over-valuing lead discovery. (That is, if you believe as I do that preclinical leads are over-valued.)

Consider the typical drug discovery & development timeline, as put forth in Nature:

WDB's value proposition affects only the first two years of the timeline (up to lead selection.) Presumably WDB is more efficient (either in time or cost) during the early stage. Let's say they're 25% more efficient in terms of time, which equates to 6 less months of development over 8 years, assuming that the drugs have the same downstream risks of other R&D programs. (i.e. a WDB-sourced lead is just as likely to succeed in Phase II as any other pharma lead.)

The net effect is WDB's entire discovery advantage is in 1/16th of the total effort required to produce a drug, and does not seem to impact the probability of success. Sure, there's financial value in getting a product to market 6 months earlier, but bringing $250M in revenue forward by six months 7.5 years from now is only worth $31M in present value (25% WACC, 30% OPM).

The same $31M in NPV could be generated just by increasing the probability of a programs success by a small amount. (In other words, quality over quantity.)

For this reason, I'm a fan of investing not in more early leads, but rather any IND leads or technologies, especially if I'm a risk-averse pharma.

Thoughts? Reactions?

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