The 50 most ac­tive biotech VC funds in 2017

With mon­ey flow­ing fast in­to the cof­fers of biotech ven­ture funds, it’s easy for cash-hun­gry com­pa­nies to imag­ine VCs are al­ways on the prowl for promis­ing bets. But new da­ta sug­gest some in­vestors are far more like­ly to gam­ble on new­com­ers than oth­ers.

Jonathan Nor­ris

Jonathan Nor­ris, the guy who puts to­geth­er Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank’s bi-an­nu­al and an­nu­al VC re­ports, no­ticed our own list of 100 VCs in bio­phar­ma didn’t tell the whole sto­ry. While VCs are mak­ing sev­er­al in­vest­ments per year, lots of those funds are chip­ping in ad­di­tion­al cash to their port­fo­lio com­pa­ny’s fol­low-on rounds. They’re dou­bling down on ex­ist­ing bets rather than seek­ing new deals. So Nor­ris looked at his own da­ta from 2017, took out all fol­low-on in­vest­ments, and just looked at deals in which VCs were mak­ing first-time in­vest­ments in com­pa­nies.

“Most every­one in­vest­ing in the sec­tor is say­ing they’re in­ter­est­ed in hear­ing from en­tre­pre­neur­ial com­pa­nies, but I think its hard to know which ones are ac­tu­al­ly mak­ing new in­vest­ments,” Nor­ris tells me. “Folks may be ac­tive­ly in­vest­ing, but maybe they’re on­ly mak­ing one in­vest­ment per year. Are you go­ing to be that in­vest­ment?”

You won’t be sur­prised to find Or­biMed, No­vo, and ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners at the top, but Nor­ris did note a few in­ter­est­ing find­ings. GV (for­mer­ly Google Ven­tures) sur­prised him by land­ing at num­ber 7 out of 50 of this year’s most ac­tive in­vestors.

“I thought (GV) was do­ing more on the tools side with big da­ta, AI, and an­a­lyt­ics – and that makes a lot of sense,” Nor­ris said. “But we’ve seen them jump on­to the scene on the ther­a­peu­tics side, and I think that’s fas­ci­nat­ing.”

This da­ta al­so shows the dom­i­nant role cor­po­rate funds played in 2017, mak­ing up 22% of our list of most ac­tive in­vestors. Nor­ris said cor­po­rate mon­ey has seen a sig­nif­i­cant rise since 2013, rank­ing “high­er and high­er” on his list each year. As large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies in­creas­ing­ly de­pend on small­er ven­tures to fill their R&D pipelines, these deep-pock­et­ed in­vestors are not to be ig­nored.

“A lot of peo­ple dis­count the cor­po­rates,” Nor­ris said. “But these folks are ag­gres­sive in the mar­ket and they’re not just do­ing fol­low-ons. A lot of these folks will do deals on their own. They’re at­trac­tive sources of cap­i­tal, and I think peo­ple for­get that some­times. You’d be re­miss if you’re not en­gag­ing with them.”

One group of in­vestors that ap­pear to be slow­ing their in­ter­est in bio­phar­ma are the crossover in­vestors, Nor­ris said. Since the peak of their in­ter­est in Q3 2015, these in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors (who large­ly play in the pub­lic mar­kets) have seem­ing­ly cooled to­wards life sci­ences.

Asthi­ka Goonewar­dene

Bloomberg In­tel­li­gence (Bloomberg’s re­search arm) does in-depth analy­sis of com­pa­nies and in­dus­tries, and se­nior biotech an­a­lyst Asthi­ka Goonewar­dene said his team has al­so no­ticed this trend.

“We’ve heard that one as well on crossover side,” Goonewar­dene said. “I wouldn’t say it’s dry­ing up, but in­ter­est does seem to have di­min­ished quite a bit.”

Nor­ris and Goonewar­dene both shared more in­ter­est­ing da­ta on in­vest­ing trends through­out 2017, and what they ex­pect to see next year — but we couldn’t squeeze it all in­to one re­port. You’ll be see­ing at least one more End­points re­port from these find­ings down the road.

I’m sure we’ll al­so be chat­ting about these trends at this year’s Biotech Show­case dur­ing JPM week (Jan­u­ary 8-10, 2018), where I’ll be join­ing a pan­el of biotech jour­nal­ists to dis­cuss what we’ve heard around the square. We’ll be chat­ting fi­nance trends and more on the last day, Jan­u­ary 10, at the Hilton San Fran­cis­co Union Square at 4:30 pm. See you there.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Eu­ro­pean study finds that Gilead­'s Covid-19 an­tivi­ral remde­sivir shows no clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Gilead’s remdesivir — or Veklury, as it’s marketed in the US — raked in around $2.8 billion last year as the only FDA-approved antiviral to treat Covid-19. But new data from a European study suggest the drug, which has been given to about half of hospitalized Covid patients in the country, has no actual benefit.

The open-label DisCoVeRy trial enrolled Covid-19 patients across 48 sites in Europe to test a handful of treatments, including remdesivir, lopinavir–ritonavir, lopinavir–ritonavir and interferon beta-1a, and hydroxychloroquine. To participate, patients had to show symptoms for seven days and require oxygen support. A total of 429 patients were randomized to receive remdesivir plus standard of care, while 428 were assigned to standard of care alone.

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Gri­fols drops $1B on Ger­man hold­ing com­pa­ny in con­tin­ued plas­ma push

One Spanish biotech is beefing up its plasma therapy operations, and on Friday, it announced that it’s doing so in a billion-dollar deal.

Grifols is now the largest shareholder of Biotest, a company valued at more than $1.8 billion. By teaming up, the two will try to increase the number of plasma therapies available and increase patient access around the world, Grifols said in a press release.

The company did so by acquiring holding company Tiancheng Pharmaceutical, the Germany-based owner of nearly 90% of Biotest shares, for nearly $1.27 billion. Grifols now owns nearly 90% of Biotest voting rights and almost 45% of the total share capital of Biotest.

Amgen VP of R&D David Reese

Am­gen rolls out da­ta for KRAS in­hibitor com­bo study in col­orec­tal can­cer, hop­ing to move on from ug­ly ear­ly re­sults

With the first win for its KRAS inhibitor sotorasib in hand, Amgen is pushing ahead with an aggressive clinical plan to capitalize on its first-to-market standing. The drugmaker thinks combinations — in-house or otherwise — could offer a path forward, and one early readout from that strategy is bearing fruit.

A combination of Amgen’s sotorasib and its EGFR inhibitor Vectibix posted an overall response rate of 27% in 26 patients with advanced colorectal cancer (CRC) with the KRAS-G12C mutation, according to data from the larger Phase Ib/II CODEBREAK 101 study set to present at this weekend’s virtual ESMO Congress.

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Covid-19 roundup: FDA re­veals boost­er ad­comm ques­tion; Eli Lil­ly's an­ti­body cock­tail cleared for pre­ven­tion

The FDA released briefing documents this week from the agency and Pfizer each outlining their arguments for today’s Covid-19 booster shot adcomm, but one thing conspicuously missing was the question on which panel members would be voting. But late Thursday night, regulators published that question.

Adcomm members will be asked whether or not the safety and efficacy data from Pfizer/BioNTech’s original Phase III study “support approval” of a booster shot at least six months after the second dose in individuals older than 16. The question notably excludes the real-world data from Israel and other analyses that Pfizer and the Biden administration had said would be a centerpiece of their arguments for boosters.

A Pfiz­er part­ner wel­comes ex-ADC Ther­a­peu­tics CMO Jay Fein­gold to the team; Amid tough sled­ding, Im­muno­vant choos­es Eli Lil­ly alum as CFO

→ Last week we told you about the CMO revolving door at ADC Therapeutics, as Joseph Camardo replaced the departing Jay Feingold. The next opportunity for Feingold in the CMO slot has opened up at antibody-drug conjugate and mAb developer Pyxis Oncology, which has added several new execs and scientific advisory board members in recent months, including ex-Immunovant CFO Pamela Yanchik Connealy. Before his tenure at ADC, Feingold was Daiichi Sankyo’s VP of US medical affairs and chairman of the Global Medical Affairs Oversight Committee. Within weeks in March, Pyxis struck a licensing deal with Pfizer for two of its ADCs and raked in $152 million from a Series B round.

Wen Wang, IASO CEO

Chi­nese CAR-T play­er books a megaround to dri­ve bustling cell ther­a­py port­fo­lio through the clin­ic

China has quickly emerged as a major driver of oncology R&D in recent years, particularly in cell therapies where the potential for cheaper development has investors drooling. Now, one player, with a handful of early data, is swimming in a new round of investor cash.

IASO Bio has closed a $108 million Series C that the Chinese and California-based biotech said it will use to advance its slate of cell therapy lead programs, while also propping up a roster of next-gen allogeneic cell therapies for the future, according to a release.

Multiple antibiotic resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterium

A new way to in­fil­trate (and de­stroy) some of the dead­liest drug-re­sis­tant bugs

About four years ago, Ruben Tommasi, the gregarious scientific chief of antibiotics startup Entasis, walked into a meeting with his top chemist and top biologist to chew over another batch of unchanging results.

“It felt like we were running the same experiment over and over,” Tommasi told Endpoints News. “We had all sort of come to that point in time where we felt like we were banging our heads against the wall.”

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