Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cel­lu­lar equiv­a­lent of open­ing your car door and find­ing an ac­tive, roar­ing en­gine in the dri­ver seat.

Paul Mis­chel

Sci­en­tists learned strands of DNA could oc­ca­sion­al­ly ap­pear out­side of its tra­di­tion­al home in the nu­cle­us in the 1970s, when they ap­peared as lit­tle, in­nocu­ous cir­cles on mi­cro­scopes; in­ex­plic­a­ble but ap­par­ent­ly in­nate. But not un­til UC San Diego’s Paul Mis­chel pub­lished his first study in Sci­ence in 2014 did re­searchers re­al­ize these cir­cles were not on­ly ac­tive but po­ten­tial­ly over­ac­tive and dri­ving some can­cer tu­mors’ su­per­hu­man growth.

That in­sight and the en­su­ing five years of re­search will now get $46 mil­lion cash and com­pa­ny in­fra­struc­ture to ramp in­to tar­get­ed ther­a­pies as Bound­less Bio emerges from stealth mode with back­ing from ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners and City Hill. Ques­tions abound, from what pre­cise­ly a drug would look like to what even gives rise to these wild DNA, but CEO Zachary Horn­by isn’t bit­ing his tongue on the po­ten­tial.

“We’re think­ing about this as a fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies,” Horn­by, who was most re­cent­ly COO of Igny­ta, told End­points News. The first three rev­o­lu­tions, by Horn­by’s count, are chemother­a­py in the 1940s, the first tar­get­ed ther­a­pies at the end of the 20th cen­tu­ry, and the re­cent rise of im­munother­a­py.

The road to such a rev­o­lu­tion would be long, but the em­bat­tled on­col­o­gy field may be in need of new di­rec­tion. A study re­leased in April found 97% of can­cer drugs test­ed in clin­i­cal tri­als failed to make it to mar­ket, and this month re­searchers found sys­temic tar­get­ing prob­lems plagued two decades of can­cer re­search.

The con­nec­tion be­tween this loose DNA, of­fi­cial­ly called ex­tra­chro­mo­so­mal DNA or ecD­NA, and can­cer cen­ters around a baf­fling and dead­ly fact about some tu­mors: While nor­mal cells in a high­er-or­der species like hu­mans don’t evolve with­in a gen­er­a­tion, some can­cer cells can evolve rapid­ly, en­sur­ing their sur­vival against at­tempt­ed treat­ments. Why? How? Mis­chel’s map­ping of can­cer genome points to ecD­NA.

Freed from a cell’s chro­mo­somes, the DNA can repli­cate rapid­ly. That doesn’t hurt if they code for noth­ing or some­thing be­nign, but if they code for some­thing that gives the cell an ad­van­tage, such as EGFR (a growth fac­tor), the cells will grow rapid­ly as in any clas­si­cal nat­ur­al se­lec­tion mod­el. This, Horn­by said, ap­pears in over 25% of can­cers, in­clud­ing no­to­ri­ous­ly hard to treat MET can­cers.

EGFR in­hibitors al­ready ex­ist to com­bat can­cer cells that have al­ready evolved (or been “am­pli­fied”), but Bound­less Bio plans to use Mis­chel’s in­sights to de­stroy ecD­NA in its ear­ly stages. Rather than at­tack­ing tu­mors af­ter the cells have al­ready am­pli­fied, the com­pa­ny would jam the process that gives rise to the evo­lu­tion in the first place.

“It opens a whole new av­enue of can­cer tar­gets, in­clud­ing al­low­ing us to pur­sue pa­tient pop­u­la­tions that to this point have been un­drug­gable,” Horn­by said, point­ing to MET and Myc. “That’s just a re­al­ly dif­fer­ent ap­proach than your typ­i­cal tar­get­ed ther­a­pies.”

But how they would do this is still cloudy.

Horn­by said the most promis­ing method was jam­ming the “en­zy­mat­ic ma­chin­ery” — the mol­e­c­u­lar tools and parts that al­low DNA to repli­cate and code pro­teins — as their re­search has shown the ma­chin­ery is slight­ly dif­fer­ent in ecD­NA than typ­i­cal DNA. An­oth­er method they’re ex­plor­ing is to in­hib­it the meta­bol­ic path­ways ecD­NA can use to ful­fill the de­mands caused by its high repli­ca­tion rate; in oth­er words, grow­ing DNA that are hun­gry and de­priv­ing them of food could neu­tral­ize them.

Among the most no­table things about Bound­less’ po­ten­tial ther­a­pies is that they may be ap­proved for tu­mor type, rather than can­cer type, i.e. like the new drug from Horn­by’s old com­pa­ny Igny­ta, it could treat a wide range of can­cers if the pa­tient showed ecD­NA was am­pli­fy­ing in the tu­mor.

The com­pa­ny will al­so in­vest in re­search to dis­cov­er the un­der­ly­ing mech­a­nism giv­ing rise to ecD­NA.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 119,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.