Anirvan Ghosh, Unity Biotechnology CEO

A month af­ter los­ing its lead pro­gram, Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy cuts 30% of staff in re­struc­tur­ing

Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy’s lead an­ti-ag­ing pro­gram faced the chop­ping block last month fol­low­ing a ma­jor Phase II flop. And now, 30% of its staff are next, as the com­pa­ny re­struc­tures to fo­cus on oph­thal­mol­o­gy and neu­rol­o­gy.

The staff re­duc­tion will leave San Fran­cis­co-based Uni­ty $UBX with 75 full-time em­ploy­ees by the end of the year. It’s yet an­oth­er blow to the celebri­ty-fund­ed biotech, which has been laser-fo­cused on clear­ing senes­cent cells to po­ten­tial­ly re­duce the symp­toms of ag­ing.

In the last 10 years, Uni­ty has at­tract­ed in­vestors like Jeff Be­zos, Pe­ter Thiel and Arch Ven­ture Part­ners’ Bob Nelsen — rak­ing in more than $200 mil­lion in fund­ing. But last month, it missed the mark in a 183-per­son Phase II study test­ing UBX0101 for os­teoarthri­tis of the knee. Pa­tients on the treat­ment arms showed vir­tu­al­ly no dif­fer­ence com­pared to pa­tients on the place­bo arm, and as a re­sult of the news, the biotech’s mar­ket val­ue plunged 60%.

De­spite the set­back, CEO Anir­van Ghosh re­mained con­fi­dent in Uni­ty’s pre­clin­i­cal pipeline. “Our con­fi­dence in senes­cent cells dri­ving dis­ease bi­ol­o­gy re­mains strong,” he told in­vestors last month. “Not on­ly be­cause of work we’ve done in­ter­nal­ly, but al­so be­cause of the wealth of da­ta from labs that con­tin­ue to in­di­cate both that senes­cent cells ac­cu­mu­late dur­ing dis­eases of ag­ing and that elim­i­nat­ing them with tar­get­ed mech­a­nisms can pro­vide ben­e­fit.”

The biotech is hop­ing to send its di­a­bet­ic mac­u­lar ede­ma can­di­date, UBX1325, in­to Phase I by the end of the year. It’s de­signed to tar­get Bcl-xL, thus elim­i­nat­ing senes­cent cells to po­ten­tial­ly treat age-re­lat­ed eye dis­eases. Plus, the biotech is keep­ing UBX1967 in its pock­et — a “mol­e­c­u­lar­ly dis­tinct back­up to UBX1325.”

If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, Uni­ty ex­pects to dose the first pa­tients in a Phase I study of UBX1325 lat­er this year.

“Uni­ty is a pi­o­neer in the de­vel­op­ment of ther­a­peu­tics tar­get­ing senes­cent cells at the crux of many age-re­lat­ed dis­eases, and we will con­tin­ue to build on this sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tion as we ad­vance our pipeline,” Ghosh said in a state­ment.

The com­pa­ny says the staff re­duc­tion will ex­tend its cash run­way through mid-2022, and it’s go­ing to keep push­ing its pipeline to­ward the clin­ic.

“Mov­ing for­ward we will have a lean­er and more ag­ile team, which is well-re­sourced to ad­vance our pipeline pro­grams to key mile­stones,” Ghosh added lat­er.

The top 100 bio­phar­ma VCs, Bob Brad­way places $2B bet in can­cer, gene edit­ing pi­o­neer's new big idea, 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.

Before diving in, we had some news to share: Endpoints is launching a premium weekly report focusing on all things regulatory. Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan, who joins us from POLITICO. Arsalan Arif has more details in his Publisher’s Note.

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Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO (Jazz Pharmaceuticals)

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd cam­paigned for 6 months to buy GW Phar­ma. A 90% pre­mi­um sealed the deal — along with $17.6M in ‘re­ten­tion’ in­cen­tives

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd didn’t beat around the bush.

In his first video meeting with GW Pharma chief Justin Gover last July 8, he offered to pay $172 a share to get the company, which had beaten the odds in getting its remarkable cannabinoid drug Epidiolex across the regulatory finish line for epilepsy. GW’s stock closed at $129 that day.

Cozadd had already done his homework on the financing to make sure he could swing it the way he wanted. He just needed to do some due diligence before making the non-binding bid firm.

UP­DAT­ED: Not 3 weeks af­ter tak­ing Hu­ma­cyte pub­lic, Ra­jiv Shuk­la launch­es an­oth­er blank check com­pa­ny

One of biotech’s earliest SPAC investors is back with another blank-check company, less than a month after his last effort announced its intent to merge.

Rajiv Shukla is intending to take a third lucky winner public with Alpha Healthcare Acquisition III, filing to go public Thursday with a $150 million raise penciled in. The move comes just a couple of weeks after Shukla’s second SPAC said it would jump to Nasdaq in tandem with Laura Niklason’s Humacyte in a $255 million new investment.

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Paul Hudson, Getty Images

How does Paul Hud­son's $13.5M comp pack­age stack up against oth­er CEOs? He's in the 'first quar­tile'

Paul Hudson arrived at Sanofi like a hurricane, chopping off duds in the pipeline, shaking up the C-suite, striking big M&A deals and jumping into the Covid-19 vaccine race — all in an attempt to reboot a pharma giant notorious for its setbacks.

Now, we’re getting a look at what the CEO brought home in his first year on the job.

When all is said and done, Hudson will have made about $6.7 million in 2020, about $2.5 million of which has already been paid. The bigger figure includes a $2.3 million bonus that’s subject to approval at an April meeting, and another $1.8 million in variable compensation that has yet to be paid.

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CMO Levi Garraway (Genentech)

Fo­cus­ing on the bright side, FDA OKs Roche's Actem­ra for rare lung dis­ease de­spite PhI­II flop

Actemra’s failure to hit the primary endpoint in a Phase III study didn’t stop the FDA from granting Roche priority review. And it’s certainly not standing in the way of a sixth approval for Roche’s IL-6 drug.

Regulators have cleared Actemra, or tocilizumab, for systemic sclerosis-associated interstitial lung disease in adult patients. Roche’s big Genentech subsidiary notes that it is the first biologic approved for this rare disease.

Af­ter three years of courtship (and turn­downs), Mer­ck pounced on the first glance of clin­i­cal da­ta in $1.85B Pan­dion takeover

It’s almost become cliché for biotech executives to talk about the importance of keeping your options open and being prepared to go all the way. But when it comes to negotiating with a giant like Merck, a little patience can indeed go a long way.

Just ask Pandion Therapeutics.

Days ago we already learned that Merck is shelling out $1.85 billion to pick up the biotech and its slate of autoimmune hopefuls. What we didn’t know until the SEC disclosure dropped Thursday is that the deal comes after Pandion turned down two other proposals from Merck over the past three years and held out until the last minute for a sweetened deal.

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