A biotech fledg­ling cross-bred in France and Switzer­land launch­es to take on liv­er prob­lems of glob­al di­men­sions

Drug de­vel­op­ment is a glob­al busi­ness, but when it comes to rais­ing ven­ture cash, star­tups in Eu­rope and the US are of­ten op­er­at­ing on com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent scales.

Con­sid­er Alen­tis Ther­a­peu­tics, a biotech in­cu­bat­ed in Basel, Switzer­land that says it has found the “mas­ter switch” for a num­ber of ad­vanced liv­er dis­eases, from fi­bro­sis due to NASH to he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma. The Se­ries A grant to­tal: $13.2 mil­lion (CHF 13.5 mil­lion).

Thomas Baumert

Founder Thomas Baumert was in Boston a few days be­fore the an­nounce­ment. With this kind of pro­file, he re­calls peo­ple telling him, “we prob­a­bly could eas­i­ly get 50 mil­lion in the Unit­ed States.”

But Baumert, whose decade-long re­search at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Stras­bourg formed the foun­da­tion of Alen­tis, is hap­py where he is. Be­tween his sci­en­tif­ic base in the French city and Basel, his small team of 4 have “the best of both worlds,” with ac­cess to both cut­ting edge trans­la­tion­al sci­ence and “fan­tas­tic in­fra­struc­ture” for run­ning a biotech busi­ness. Not to men­tion the cal­iber of the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers and ser­vice providers they reg­u­lar­ly work with, many of whom are No­var­tis or Roche alums.

Markus Ew­ert

CEO Markus Ew­ert — ex-No­var­tis staffer and for­mer CBO of Abl­ynx — adds that the cur­rent funds should last a cou­ple of years, tak­ing Alen­tis’s lead mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body through CMC de­vel­op­ment and some tox stud­ies.

Af­ter that, though, they will like­ly need $30 mil­lion to $35 mil­lion more in or­der to car­ry out sol­id clin­i­cal stud­ies. Part­ners with deep­er pock­ets are wel­come to pick up the tab af­ter proof-of-con­cept.

All the while, Alen­tis will con­tin­ue op­ti­miz­ing some oth­er com­pounds dis­cov­ered on its plat­form — a spe­cial cell cul­ture mod­el that cap­tures the cell cir­cuits and gene ex­pres­sion of pa­tients with late-stage liv­er dis­ease in a way that oth­ers haven’t been able to, ac­cord­ing to Bau­rmert — to beef up the pipeline. They are al­so in talks with big­ger play­ers who are in­ter­est­ed in uti­liz­ing the plat­form tech on their own projects, Ew­ert says.

He plans to dou­ble the head­count at the com­pa­ny, but in­tends to keep the full-time team rel­a­tive­ly small.

Bio­Med­Part­ners and BB Pure­os Bioven­tures — both Swiss VC funds — co-led the round and each sends a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the board. They were joined by BPI France (al­so join­ing the board), Schroder Ad­veq and the Ger­man High-Tech Grün­der­fonds.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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