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

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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Mer­ck wins a third FDA nod for an­tibi­ot­ic; Mereo tack­les TIG­IT with $70M raise in hand

Merck — one of the last big pharma bastions in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Friday said the FDA had signed off on using its combination drug, Recarbrio, with hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia. The drug could come handy for use in hospitalized patients who are afflicted with Covid-19, who carry a higher risk of contracting secondary bacterial infections. Once SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind Covid-19, infects the airways, it engages the immune system, giving other pathogens free rein to pillage and plunder as they please — the issue is particularly pertinent in patients on ventilators, which in any case are breeding grounds for infectious bacteria.