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.

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.

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.

Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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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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Michael Rome (Foresite)

In search of 'house­hold health­care brands of the fu­ture,' Fore­site Cap­i­tal rais­es $969M to sa­ti­ate a tech-heavy ap­petite

Back in April 2018, just before Foresite Capital unveiled its $668 million Fund IV and a strategy to focus on tech-driven life science bets, one of its portfolio companies quietly made an announcement.

Fount Therapeutics, a drug discovery outfit backed by Foresite and Eshelman Ventures, had raised $22 million in Series A cash to hatch several fledgling spinouts. “The first ‘NewCo,’ Kinnate, will be focused on developing precision oncology treatments,” read a press release.

S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

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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CEO Fabrice Chouraqui (Cellarity)

Flag­ship up­start Cel­lar­i­ty gath­ers $123M to fi­nance its ex­plo­ration of cell be­hav­ior, blaz­ing a new path to build­ing a broad pipeline

Right from the start, the discovery plan at Flagship-spawned Cellarity was to take their cues from cell biology and follow them to new drugs. Rather than start with a target and develop a drug to hit it, they’d use new technology to digitally map cell behavior and then develop new drugs from what they learned.

“Over the past decades it has always been about finding a target, about reducing a disease to a single molecular target,” says Fabrice Chouraqui, the Novartis vet who was recruited to run the operation about 9 months ago. “And that approach has produced thousands of life-saving medicines. Yet, this approach has limitations. A molecular target approach is fine when you talk about a simple disease, but for very complex diseases like neurodegeneration, like metabolic disease, like cancer, you hope to really harness the complexity of human biology.

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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