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

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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The fu­ture of mR­NA, J&J's vac­cine ad­comm, Mer­ck­'s $1.85B au­toim­mune bet and more

Welcome to the third installment of Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If this report was helpful in recapping it all for you, please do share it with your colleagues.

Get ready for FDA’s third Covid-19 vaccine

On the heels of a ringing endorsement from FDA reviewers earlier in the week, J&J‘s single-dose vaccine — which proved 66% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and 85% effective at stopping severe disease 28 days after administration — the advisory committee convened by the agency voted unanimously to recommend its emergency use authorization. It was “a relatively easy call,” according to one of the committee members — although that doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. Jason Mast has the highlights from the discussion, including new information from the company, on this live blog.

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With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO (glen photo/Shutterstock)

Japan's Soft­Bank plots bil­lions in biotech in­vest­ments in move that could keep the val­u­a­tion flood ris­ing — re­port

The valuation crazy train in biotech continues to roll into the new year with more than a dozen companies taking a chance on Nasdaq and money flowing in from all sides. Now, a Japanese institutional investor is reportedly weighing an entry into the market in a big way — will it keep the bitcoin-esque flood rising?

Already a part-time investor in biotech, SoftBank could drop billions of dollars into the industry as part of helmsman Masayoshi Son’s plan to spend around $80 billion of the firm’s own assets, according to a report from Bloomberg citing people familiar with the plan.

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