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

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

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Hal Barron (GSK via YouTube)

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron jumps ship to run a $3B biotech start­up, Tony Wood tapped to re­place him

In a stunning switch, GlaxoSmithKline put out word early Wednesday that R&D chief Hal Barron is exiting the company after 4 years — a relatively brief run for the man chosen by CEO Emma Walmsley in late 2017 to turn around the slow-footed pharma giant.

Barron is being replaced by Tony Wood, a close associate of Barron’s who’s taking one of the top jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He’ll be closer to home, though, for GSK. Barron has been running a UK and Philadelphia-based research organization from his perch in San Francisco.

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FDA+ roundup: FDA's neu­ro­science deputy de­parts amid on­go­ing Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tions; Califf on the ropes?

Amid increased scrutiny into the close ties between FDA and Biogen prior to the controversial accelerated approval of Aduhelm, the deputy director of the FDA’s office of neuroscience has called it quits after more than two decades at the agency.

Eric Bastings will now take over as VP of development strategy at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the company said Wednesday, where he will provide senior clinical and regulatory leadership in support of Ionis’ pipeline.

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Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

Chamath Palihapitiya and Pablo Legorreta

Bil­lion­aires Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya and Pablo Legor­re­ta hatch an $825M SPAC for cell ther­a­py biotech

Three years after Royalty Pharma chief Pablo Legorreta led a group of investors to buy up a pair of biotechs and create a new startup called ProKidney, the biotech is jumping straight into an $825 million public shell created by SPAC king and tech billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya.

ProKidney was founded 6 years ago but really got going at the beginning of 2019 with the $62 million acquisition of inRegen, which was working on an autologous — from the patient — cell therapy for kidney disease. After extracting kidney cells from patients, researchers expand the cells in the lab and then inject them back into patients, aiming to restore the kidneys of patients suffering from CKD.

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CBO: Medicare ne­go­ti­a­tions will ham­per drug de­vel­op­ment more than pre­vi­ous­ly thought

As President Biden’s Build Back Better Act — and, with it, potentially the Democrats’ last shot at major drug pricing reforms in the foreseeable future — remains on life support, the Congressional Budget Office isn’t helping their case.

The CBO last week released a new slide deck, outlining an update to its model on how Medicare negotiations might take a bite out of new drugs making it to market. The new model estimates a 10% long-term reduction in the number of new drugs, whereas a previous CBO report from August estimated that 8% fewer new drugs will enter the market over 30 years.

Joshua Brumm, Dyne Therapeutics CEO

FDA or­ders DMD tri­al halt, rais­ing ques­tions about a whole class of promis­ing drugs

Dyne Therapeutics’ stock took a nasty hit this morning after the biotech put out word that the FDA had slapped a clinical hold on their top program for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. And now speculation is bouncing around Biotwitter that there could be a class effect at work here that would implicate other drug developers in the freeze.

Dyne execs didn’t have a whole lot to say about why the FDA sidelined their IND for DYNE-251 in DMD while “requesting additional clinical and non-clinical information for” the drug.

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Martin Shkreli (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Mar­tin Shkre­li re­ceives life­time in­dus­try ban, forced to re­turn al­most $65M in prof­its af­ter an­ti­com­pet­i­tive scheme

Martin Shkreli will have to find a new nickname.

A federal judge banned the former biotech CEO and “Pharma Bro” from the drug industry on Friday, ordering him to pay nearly $65 million in illicit profits. Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud in 2017 and is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence, though he originally gained notoriety for raising the price of the antiparasitic drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 in 2015.