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Bio Roundup: Blackstone’s Billions, Biogen Finishes Filing, Novavax at “Warp Speed” & More

Fri, 07/10/2020 - 05:15

Cash flowed throughout the life sciences ecosystem this week as Blackstone (NYSE: BX) raised a record-setting life sciences fund, companies of all stages announced new financings, and money continued to find its way to those working on efforts to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Financiers poured $100 million or more into at least three biotechs, a trio of financings complemented by smaller rounds raised despite the disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic. Not to be outdone, the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed effort splashed out its largest award yet on a company developing one of the front-runner vaccine candidates against the... Read more »

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Sanofi Pays Kymera $150M to Kick Off Protein Degrader Partnership

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 13:38

Kymera Therapeutics has signed a deal with French biopharma Sanofi to advance two potential treatments for immune-inflammatory diseases that leverage the Cambridge, MA-based company’s research into protein degradation, the natural mechanism cells use to get rid of unwanted proteins.

Drug developers are eager to leverage that cellular recycling system to create new treatments because it is viewed as a way to potentially get rid of disease-causing proteins that have up until now been considered “undruggable.”

Paris-based Sanofi (NASDAQ: SNY) agreed to pay Kymera $150 million upfront for the rights to develop a small molecule drug candidate the biotech has designed... Read more »

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NFlection Looks to Erase NF1 Tumors With Drug That Only Goes Skin Deep

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 03:00

The first drug for neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is available to patients following the FDA’s approval of the AstraZeneca treatment earlier this year. Biotech startup NFlection Therapeutics is vying to be runner-up, but its founders say they can eventually win out with a drug that takes a different approach than the commercialized pill while also offering a safer and more effective way of addressing the tumors and skin bumps caused by the rare disease.

NFlection is developing its drug as a topical gel. CEO Christopher Powala says that unlike oral drugs that travel throughout the body and spark a range of... Read more »

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Cend Therapeutics Names Viracta’s David Slack As Its New President & CEO

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 22:02

Cancer drug developer Cend Therapeutics has appointed one of its board members, David Slack, to succeed Erkki Ruoslahti as its president and CEO. Slack, who joined the Cend board last year, was most recently chief business officer at Viracta Therapeutics. His previous experience includes serving as co-founding CEO at Kinagen and vice president for business development at Ionis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IONS).

Ruoslahti, a Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute professor and co-founding CEO of Cend, will retain his role as executive chairman and serve as a senior advisor to the company. The La Jolla, CA-based company, formerly known as DrugCendR,... Read more »

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Kinnate Adds WuXi NextCODE’s Richard Williams as Chief Medical Officer

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 21:42

Kinnate Biopharma appointed Richard Williams as its chief medical officer. Williams was most recently CMO and global head of oncology programs at WuXi NextCODE. His prior experience includes roles with cancer detection company Grail, Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), and Puma Biotechnology (NASDAQ: PBYI).

San Diego-based Kinnate is developing kinase inhibitors to treat genetically defined cancers.

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VelosBio Tacks on $137M to Advance Its ROR1-Targeting Cancer Antibody Drugs

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 21:32

Dave Johnson has known UC San Diego physician and cancer reseacher Thomas Kipps for nearly 20 years. Now Johnson, CEO of San Diego-based cancer drug developer VelosBio, has secured $137 million to accelerate the company’s goal of developing targeted therapies based on an antibody program developed by Kipps that homes in on tumors with a specific genetic signature.

Johnson said it was Kipps’ work, which identified ROR1 as a promising cancer protein to target and developed a drug candidate that appeared to find cancer cells that expressed it without harming healthy cells, that “compelled” him to take the role at VelosBio.... Read more »

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Biogen Alzheimer’s Drug in FDA’s Court Following Completion of Filing

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 15:51

By early September Biogen—plus the many scientists, patients, and investors following the saga of its controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanamab—should know whether the FDA plans to review the Cambridge, MA biotech’s experimental brain disease treatment.

The company announced Wednesday that its submission to the FDA, pieces of which it has been submitting on a rolling basis, was complete. The Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) submission includes data from two Phase 3 trials and a Phase 1b study. Biogen’s announcement comes after it delayed the filing, which it in 2019 said would be complete in “early” 2020, to the third quarter.

Now the... Read more »

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Foghorn Therapeutics Inks Chromatin-Targeting Cancer Deal with Merck

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 04:01

Foghorn Therapeutics could receive up to $425 million in the development deal with Merck, its first partnership with a major biopharma.

One way that a cell regulates which genes in its DNA are expressed and when is by altering the structure of the fibers that are formed by the genetic material and associated proteins, packaging that’s referred to as chromatin.

Foghorn Therapeutics, which emerged in 2018 with plans to discover and develop new cancer drugs by targeting the chromatin regulatory system, announced its first major deal on Wednesday.

The Cambridge, MA-based biotech will work with Merck—known as MSD outside North America—to... Read more »

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Novavax Gets $1.6B in Operation Warp Speed Funding for COVID-19 Vaccine

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 14:15

The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed has made its biggest financing award yet, promising $1.6 billion to a Maryland biotech to help advance its investigational COVID-19 vaccine and ready millions of doses in preparation for its possible success.

Gaithersburg, MD-based Novavax, which has never before brought a product to market, announced the federal award Tuesday. The money is the latest allocation made out of the funds allocated to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a multiagency effort to assist companies in readying effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Previously Novavax secured commitments from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Department of Defense of up... Read more »

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Cyteir Adds Chief Scientific Officer & Chief Business Officer to C-Suite

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 10:03

Cyteir Therapeutics, a developer of “synthetically lethal” drugs that tap into genetic interactions that lead to the death of cancer cells, has brought aboard two more top executives.

The Lexington, MA-based company, which spun out of The Jackson Laboratory in 2012, added Paul Secrist as its chief scientific officer. Most recently Secrist was the senior vice president of discovery research at Lifemine Therapeutics; prior, he held roles at companies including OSI Pharmaceuticals, Aton Pharma, Merck, and AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN).

Cyteir, which raised $40 million last October, also announced the appointment of Andrew Gengos as chief business officer. Gengos... Read more »

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Vor Nabs $110M to Spare Healthy Cells From Targeted Cancer Drugs

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 04:00

Targeted therapies for treating cancer are designed to attack one or more proteins known to be on the surface of cancerous cells—but they don’t discriminate when they come across healthy cells expressing those same proteins.

Vor Biopharma, an oncology company launched by Boston startup creator PureTech Health in 2016, has raised $110 million in private financing to test in humans an approach that uses gene editing to facilitate these therapies’ destruction of cancer cells while sparing healthy ones.

The Cambridge, MA-based company says it plans to engineer hematopoietic stem cells so that they don’t have a particular protein that cancer... Read more »

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PacBio CEO, CFO Plan Retirements and More People on the Move

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 03:00

Here’s a look back at some of the life science industry’s executive appointments, departures, and retirements from recent weeks:

—Pacific Biosciences (NASDAQ: PACBCEO Michael Hunkapiller and Chief Financial Officer Susan Barnes are retiring.

—Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA) appointed Ray Jordan as chief corporate affairs officer.

—Aridis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARDS) appointed Hasan Jafri its chief medical officer.

Christopher Dinsmore joined Kronos Bio as chief scientific officer.

—Sensei Biotherapeutics appointed Marie-Louise Fjällskog its chief medical officer.

—Jim Malone joined Bigfoot Biomedical as chief medical officer.

— Frank Sanders was appointed president of Zealand Pharma... Read more »

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On Heels of $100M Financing, Annexon Bio Aims to Tack On More Via IPO

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 10:11

The same week Annexon Biosciences announced it had raised $100 million in private financing to advance its research of antibody drugs to treat neurodegeneration, the company filed paperwork with regulators indicating its intention to tap the public markets, too.

The South San Francisco-based company has two clinical-stage product candidates, both of which are designed to inhibit a protein known as Cq1, which plays a key role in an immune system called the classical complement cascade. Its most advanced, ANX005, is being studied as a potential treatment for the autoimmune disease Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a disorder called warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia in... Read more »

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Bristol Myers Pays Dragonfly $55M to Bring NK Cells to Neuro Diseases

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 06:59

Bristol Myers Squibb likes what it sees from the immune cell research of Dragonfly Therapeutics so far—enough to pay $55 million to add multiple sclerosis and neuroinflammation to their ongoing partnership.

The alliance came to the New York -based Bristol (NYSE: BMY) via its acquisition of Celgene last year. The original 2017 deal covered the development of up to four blood cancer drugs. It was expanded the following year to add four more drug targets to the deal. As of last November, Celgene had opted to exercise rights to three of the Waltham, MA-based biotech’s drug candidates.

The latest... Read more »

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MEI Pharma, Helsinn Scuttle Cancer Drug Trial After Miss on Efficacy

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 14:34

MEI Pharma and its Swiss partner Helsinn are ending a Phase 3 study of an investigational cancer drug for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) after an interim analysis indicated it was unlikely to meet the trial’s main goal of helping patients live longer.

San Diego-based MEI (NASDAQ: MEIP), licensed the compound, pracinostat, from a Singaporean biotech company in 2013. In August 2016 MEI signed an alliance with Helsinn to advance the experimental drug for patients newly diagnosed with AML who are unable to receive intensive chemotherapy due to advanced age—75 years or older—or other health reasons.

Under the deal... Read more »

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Moderna: Speed of COVID 19 Vaccine Hinges On Enrolling Right Patients

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 09:54

Fast enrollment of the right patient populations will be critical to quickly conducting Phase III trials of COVID-19 vaccines and this will likely mean taking concerted steps to reach out to populations that can be harder to recruit for clinical trials, drug industry leaders said on a recent New York Academy of Sciences webinar.

Moderna Inc.’s Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks said concern around whether his company’s COVID-19 clinical trial can reach “the right population that should benefit the most,” is keeping him up at night. “It is not the concern of is it going to be safe; it is not... Read more »

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Data Quantity, Complexity Drives Use of AI in Drug Discovery and Testing

Thu, 07/02/2020 - 07:41

The quantity of data about medicines, diseases, and biology is growing. So too, are the number of companies that employ artificial intelligence in drug discovery. Most of the low-hanging fruit in drug research has already been picked, and the industry is clamoring to make sense of the new data, according to Jeffrey Lu, CEO and co-founder of Engine Biosciences.

“There’s only one way to do that—use machines to process the complexity,” Lu said.

Lu was one of the speakers featured last week during Xconomy’s Xcelerating Life Sciences San Francisco event. His startup’s technology platform uses AI to uncover gene interactions underlying... Read more »

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Annexon Adds On $100M to Advance Antibodies to Treat Neurodegeneration

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 17:00

Annexon Biosciences, a biotech founded in late 2014 by former Elan Pharmaceuticals executives, has added $100 million to its coffers to move its two clinical-stage programs along and to continue advancing its preclinical pipeline.

The South San Francisco-based company is developing drugs for patients with autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders that are caused by an abnormal accumulation of the protein C1q. Typically the protein plays a key role in what’s known as the classical complement pathway, a part of the immune system. But when C1q builds up it can trigger a reaction that destroys synapses, leading to neurodegeneration.

Annexon’s C1q inhibitors are... Read more »

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BioNTech’s mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Shows Early Signs of Sparking Immunity

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 14:33

A BioNTech messenger RNA vaccine candidate for COVID-19 has shown in a small study that it can elicit an immune response to the novel coronavirus.

The 45-patient US study tested three doses of the experimental mRNA vaccine, BN162b1, along with a placebo. Early results now available show higher levels of the antibodies hoped to neutralize the virus compared to what has been observed in patients who recovered from COVID-19. No serious safety problems were reported in the Phase 1/2 clinical trial results announced Wednesday, which were also published in a preprint, a research paper that has not yet been peer reviewed.... Read more »

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Amylyx Adds $30M to Press On With Neuro Drug for ALS, Alzheimer’s

Wed, 07/01/2020 - 08:11

Amylyx Pharmaceuticals’ two-pronged approach to neurodegenerative diseases has shown promise in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) testing and the company now has $30 million to complete a separate clinical trial in Alzheimer’s disease.

The Series B round of financing announced Wednesday was led by Morningside Ventures, a firm that had previously invested in the Cambridge, MA-based biotech.

Amylyx’s experimental therapy, AMX0035, combines two currently available drugs, sodium phenylbutyrate and tauroursodeoxycholic acid. The Amylyx compound is intended to block cell death pathways that start in two components of a cell, the mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum.

In an email, Amylyx Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey... Read more »

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