Kendall Squared brings you dispatches from the world’s epicenter for biotechnology and drug discovery.
It’s been a big year for Baxalta. The biopharmaceutical company officially spun out from Baxter International over the summer, hired hundreds of employees, grew a nascent oncology division, and had a new drug approved. To cap it off, the company is celebrating the official opening of its main R&D center in Kendall Square this week.
But for the past few months, those milestones occurred under the shadow of an attempted takeover. In August, Dublin-based Shire moved to acquire Baxalta in a deal worth $30 billion. Baxalta’s board spurned the offer, but last month Reuters reported that Shire was readying another bid.
So how’d the initial news land among the team in Cambridge?
“It surprised everyone and I think it took a couple days to digest the information,” said Dr. John Orloff, Baxalta’s chief scientific officer.
Even with a possible offer looming, the show for Baxalta has gone on. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved its drug Adynovate for patients with hemophilia A, a bleeding disorder. The company, which has its corporate headquarters in Illinois, has also pushed ahead with an oncology division that was created as the spinout was being planned.
Orloff said moving to cancer was a natural extension for the company: Their existing work in hematology and immunology was just a short step away from exploring blood-based cancers and immuno-oncology.
The company is being choosy about its targets, Orloff said, focusing on areas within cancer at which other companies are not aiming.
“It’s not our goal to be going head-to-head with the big players in oncology at this time,” he said. “We want to play in our own sandbox.”
Baxalta isn’t starting from scratch, either. It has acquired therapies from other companies or joined other companies to advance their cancer treatments.
It partnered with Cambridge, Mass.-based Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, for example, to commercialize its recently approved pancreatic cancer drug, Onivyde, globally. Baxalta and another partner, Seattle-based CTI BioPharma, are close to applying for approval for a drug that would treat myelofibrosis, a blood cancer.
The team in Cambridge, meanwhile, is expected to reach 500 people by the end of the year, about half of whom came from Baxter offices and half of whom are new hires. For the roughly 150 people on the cancer team, part of finding candidates included spreading the word that Baxalta had started the division.
“It wasn’t easy,” said David Meek, president of oncology. “People were saying, ‘Who was Baxalta? I didn’t know you were in oncology.’ ”
For those who joined the burgeoning company, word about the Shire offer may have provided an early shock. But Orloff said it did not take long for the team to refocus.
“These are things that are part of doing business I think,” he said.