30-year Gilead R&D vet Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er is start­ing over as staffer #5 at an up­start biotech — and he’s lov­ing it

Af­ter spend­ing the past 30 years be­fore the R&D mast at Gilead, ex-re­search chief Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er is start­ing over from scratch. 

This morn­ing, just a few weeks af­ter his for­mal de­par­ture from the head job at one of the world’s top 15 drug re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions, Bischof­berg­er is jump­ing on board at an up­start biotech with just 4 full time staffers. 

An­gela Koehler

He’s chipped in to an $18 mil­lion seed round — rough­ly 1/200th the size of this year’s R&D bud­get at Gilead — to launch Kro­nos Bio. The biotech in-li­censed a plat­form tech­nol­o­gy out of the lab of MIT pro­fes­sor An­gela Koehler fo­cused on mod­u­lat­ing tran­scrip­tion fac­tors in can­cer,  with two pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams fo­cused on MYC and the red hot an­dro­gen re­cep­tor tar­get. And they’re tak­ing a shot at break­ing new ground in can­cer R&D.

This isn’t a spur of the mo­ment de­ci­sion, Bischof­berg­er tells me. He start­ed ac­tive­ly hunt­ing around for a new biotech start­up idea in Jan­u­ary. And when Kite founder, biotech en­tre­pre­neur and ven­ture in­vestor Arie Bellde­grun was talk­ing over his plans for Kro­nos with Gilead chair­man John Mar­tin, Mar­tin point­ed him in Bischof­berg­er’s di­rec­tion, know­ing that he had be­gun to hunt for the right start­up.

“I want­ed to start my own com­pa­ny,” says Bischof­berg­er, “but it was a very vague idea, think­ing about AI and health­care.” In Jan­u­ary, he at­tend­ed a con­fer­ence on AI to ex­plore it more and came to the re­al­iza­tion that “every­body and their moth­er is do­ing AI. Then along came Arie.”

Arie Bellde­grun

With his back­ground and these kinds of con­nec­tions, Bischof­berg­er could just as eas­i­ly have raised $100 mil­lion-plus. But he’s in­tent on tak­ing a mea­sured ap­proach ear­ly on, hap­py to have in­vest­ed a chunk of his own mon­ey in the start­up to re­serve sub­stan­tial eq­ui­ty. And in ad­di­tion to the FTEs on board, em­ploy­ee #5 at Kro­nos al­so can tap 15 to 20 staffers un­der con­tract in In­dia.

Ex­cit­ed much?

 “I want to do it again,” says a cheer­ful Bischof­berg­er, “I’m 62, I feel like 42 and be­have like I’m 22… I’ve done it and seen it all, now I want to ap­ply it to my own ideas.”

John Mar­tin

Bischof­berg­er’s de­par­ture may have been a sur­prise to many, but these days ex­pe­ri­enced bio­phar­ma ex­ecs can prac­ti­cal­ly write their own tick­ets in biotech. George Scan­gos left Bio­gen to start Vir and David Meek­er left the helm at Gen­zyme to launch KSQ. Bellde­grun him­self went from the $12 bil­lion sale of Kite to Gilead straight in­to a start­up of his own, com­plete with an am­bi­tious li­cens­ing pact in place with Pfiz­er. An ex­o­dus of Big Phar­ma ex­ecs, mean­while, is pop­u­lat­ing the start­up world, in­ter­est­ed in grow­ing big new com­pa­nies on the back of promis­ing new tech­nolo­gies.

Why do it? In Bischof­berg­er’s view, it’s a chance to drop the myr­i­ad de­mands of a large or­ga­ni­za­tion, dom­i­nat­ed by HR is­sues and more, and get back in­to fo­cused drug de­vel­op­ment work.

Re­bec­ka Bellde­grun

Bischof­berg­er plans to stay on the West Coast, even though Kro­nos is in Cam­bridge, MA, and will be grow­ing the staff on the East Coast hub. But he counts his flight time as one of his most pro­duc­tive times, able to sep­a­rate from his sur­round­ings and con­cen­trate on the men­tal tasks at hand. So he doesn’t see com­mut­ing as a waste of time.

John Mar­tin likes it all. He vol­un­teered to jump in on the seed round for the Two Rivers port­fo­lio com­pa­ny. Oth­er in­vestors in­clude Omega Funds, Bell­Co Cap­i­tal and Vi­da Ven­tures, LLC. As part of the fi­nanc­ing Bischof­berg­er and Mar­tin, as well as Re­bec­ka Bellde­grun — physi­cian and wife of Kite founder Arie Belde­grun — and Otel­lo Stam­pac­chia joined the com­pa­ny’s board of di­rec­tors.


Im­age: Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er. KRO­NOS

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Overview
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck

#ASH19: Here’s why Mer­ck is pay­ing $2.7B to­day to grab Ar­Qule and its next-gen BTK drug, lin­ing up Eli Lil­ly ri­val­ry

Just a few months after making a splash at the European Hematology Association scientific confab with an early snapshot of positive data for their BTK inhibitor ARQ 531, ArQule has won a $2.7 billion buyout deal from Merck.

Merck is scooping up a next-gen BTK drug — which is making a splash at ASH today — from ArQule in an M&A pact set at $20 a share $ARQL. That’s more than twice Friday’s $9.66 close. And Merck R&D chief Roger Perlmutter heralded a deal that nets “multiple clinical-stage oral kinase inhibitors.”

This is the second biotech buyout pact today, marking a brisk tempo of M&A deals in the lead-up to the big JP Morgan gathering in mid-January. It’s no surprise the acquisitions are both for cancer drugs, where Sanofi will try to make its mark while Merck beefs up a stellar oncology franchise. And bolt-ons are all the rage at the major pharma players, which you could also see in Novartis’ recent $9.7 billion MedCo buyout.

ArQule — which comes out on top after their original lead drug foundered in Phase III — highlighted early data on ‘531 at EHA from a group of 6 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients who got the 65 mg dose. Four of them experienced a partial response — a big advance for a company that failed with earlier attempts.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

Paul Hud­son promis­es a bright new fu­ture at Sanofi, kick­ing loose me-too drugs and fo­cus­ing on land­mark ad­vances. But can he de­liv­er?

Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Left top to right: Mark Timney, Alex Denner, Vas Narasimhan. (The Medicines Company, Getty, AP/Endpoints News)

In a play-by-play of the $9.7B Med­Co buy­out, No­var­tis ad­mits it over­paid while of­fer­ing a huge wind­fall to ex­ecs

A month into his tenure at The Medicines Company, new CEO Mark Timney reached out to then-Novartis pharma chief Paul Hudson: Any interest in a partnership?

No, Hudson told him. Not now, at least.

Ten months later, Hudson had left to run Sanofi and Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan was paying $9.7 billion for the one-drug biotech – the largest in the string of acquisitions Narasimhan has signed since his 2017 appointment.

The deal was the product of an activist investor and his controversial partner working through nearly a year of cat-and-mouse negotiations to secure a deal with Big Pharma’s most expansionist executive. It represented a huge bet in a cardiovascular field that already saw two major busts in recent years and brought massive returns for two of the industry’s most eye-raising names.

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Am­gen puts its foot down in shiny new South San Fran­cis­co hub as it re­or­ga­nizes R&D ops

Amgen has signed up to be AbbVie’s neighbor in South San Francisco as it moves into a nine-story R&D facility in the booming biotech hub.

The arrangement gives Amgen 240,000 square feet of space on the Gateway of Pacific Campus, just a few minutes drive from its current digs at Oyster Point. The new hub will open in 2022 and house the big biotech’s Bay Area employees working on cardiometabolic, inflammation and oncology research.

Ab­b­Vie, Scripps ex­pand part­ner­ship, for­ti­fy fo­cus on can­cer drugs

Scripps and AbbVie go way back. Research conducted in the lab of Scripps scientist Richard Lerner led to the discovery of Humira. The antibody, approved by the FDA in 2002 and sold by AbbVie, went on to become the world’s bestselling treatment. In 2018, the drugmaker and the non-profit organization signed a pact focused on developing cancer treatments — and now, the scope of that partnership has broadened to encompass a range of diseases, including immunological and neurological conditions.

South Ko­rea jails 3 Sam­sung ex­ecs for de­stroy­ing ev­i­dence in Bi­o­Log­ics probe

Three Samsung executives in Korea are going to jail.

The convictions came in what prosecutors had billed as “biggest crime of evidence destruction in the history of South Korea”: a case of alleged corporate intrigue that was thrown open when investigators found what was hidden beneath the floor of a Samsung BioLogics plant. Eight employees in total were found guilty of evidence tampering and the three executives were each sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Nick Plugis, Avak Kahvejian, Cristina Rondinone, Milind Kamkolkar and Chad Nusbaum. (Cellarity)

Cel­lar­i­ty, Flag­ship's $50M bet on net­work bi­ol­o­gy, mar­ries ma­chine learn­ing and sin­gle-cell tech for drug dis­cov­ery

Cellarity started with a simple — but far from easy — idea that Avak Kahvejian and his team were floating around at Flagship Pioneering: to digitally encode a cell.

As he and his senior associate Nick Plugis dug deeper into the concept, they found that most of the models others have developed take a bottom-up approach, where they assemble the molecules inside cells and the connections between them from scratch. What if they opt for a top-down approach, aided by single-cell transcriptomics and machine learning, to gauge the behavior of the entire cellular network?