Paul Wotton, Obsidian CEO

A new clutch of biotech blue-chip­pers joins Ob­sid­i­an's quest to craft next-gen drugs with an 'on' switch

The brain­child of se­r­i­al biotech en­tre­pre­neur Michael Gilman, Ob­sid­i­an is hop­ing to bring some­thing new to the par­ty with “on-switch” tech­nol­o­gy for a range of po­ten­tial drug ap­pli­ca­tions. Ob­sid­i­an now has a new trea­sure chest to play with — and an IPO feels on­ly a fin­ger­tip away.

Ob­sid­i­an closed a $115 mil­lion Se­ries B with a new group of biotech blue-blood in­vestors join­ing the Cam­bridge, MA biotech’s al­ready stacked syn­di­cate of back­ers, the com­pa­ny said Thurs­day.

New in­vestors in­clude round leader The Col­umn Group Crossover Fund with par­tic­i­pa­tion from Pe­ter Kolchin­sky’s RA Cap­i­tal, Sur­vey Cap­i­tal, Cowen Health­care In­vest­ments, Deep Track Cap­i­tal, Lo­gos Cap­i­tal, Piv­otal BioVen­ture Part­ners, Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal and Soleus Cap­i­tal. That mur­der­er’s row joins ex­ist­ing in­vestors At­las Ven­ture, Ver­tex Ven­tures HC,  Am­gen Ven­tures, and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb on board once again.

Ver­tex, who re­cent­ly signed a deal with Ob­sid­i­an to fold the biotech’s tech­nol­o­gy in­to reg­u­lat­ed gene edit­ing drugs, al­so joined in on the round.

On top of part­ner­ships with Ver­tex and Bris­tol My­ers, Ob­sid­i­an is ad­vanc­ing a lead tu­mor in­fil­trat­ing lym­pho­cyte (TIL) drug that has its eyes set on first-in-hu­man tri­als in metasta­t­ic melanoma af­ter an IND sched­uled for mid-2022. The drug, dubbed cy­toTIL15, is en­gi­neered to con­tain a mem­brane-bound IL-15 cy­tokine, mit­i­gat­ing the need for con­cur­rent sys­temic IL-2 ther­a­py, and what the biotech calls a drug-re­spon­sive do­main (DRD) that reg­u­lates its ac­tiv­i­ty.

The DRD acts as an ef­fec­tive “on switch” for the drug, with sci­en­tists able to mod­u­late ac­tiv­i­ty with FDA-ap­proved small mol­e­cules act­ing as the fin­ger on the switch. It’s a tech­nol­o­gy that CEO Paul Wot­ton said can cut the risk of tox­ic side ef­fects while of­fer­ing physi­cians a de­gree of per­son­al­ized con­trol over a pa­tient’s care.

That tech is promis­ing enough that both Bris­tol My­ers and Ver­tex have tak­en fly­ers on the biotech’s pipeline, hop­ing to add an on-switch for their cell and gene ther­a­pies. In Sep­tem­ber 2020, Bris­tol My­ers opt­ed in on one of Ob­sid­i­an’s can­di­date, an an­ti-CD40L cell ther­a­py, that is cur­rent­ly in pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies — “right be­hind” cy­toTIL15, Wot­ton told End­points News. The part­ners’ col­lab­o­ra­tion dates back to Jan­u­ary 2019.

For Ver­tex, the cys­tic fi­bro­sis gi­ant inked a deal with Ob­sid­i­an in April for $75 mil­lion up­front and re­search mile­stones and $1.3 bil­lion in biobucks to part­ner up on con­trolled CRISPR gene edit­ing drugs, part of Ver­tex’s mis­sion to ex­pand its flag­ship fran­chise in­to next-gen meds.

The drug cy­toTIL15 is a prod­uct of Ob­sid­i­an’s rel­a­tive­ly new col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter in Hous­ton. The part­ners teamed up in No­vem­ber to de­vel­op that can­di­date and less than a year lat­er the drug is ap­proach­ing its mo­ment in the sun. While metasta­t­ic melanoma is the first tar­get, Wot­ton sees promise for cy­toTIL15 in oth­er sol­id tu­mors, in­clud­ing head and neck and cer­vi­cal can­cers to name a cou­ple.

“We elect­ed to go af­ter metasta­t­ic melanoma first be­cause it’s well char­ac­ter­ized, but I think the op­por­tu­ni­ty set for us a com­pa­ny goes well be­yond that,” he said.

It’s a busy slate for Ob­sid­i­an as it ad­vances its own in­ter­nal can­di­date while meet­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of its big-name part­ners, but Wot­ton said the com­pa­ny is ready to keep its foot on the gas ped­al with a se­ri­ous crossover syn­di­cate back­ing up its ef­forts. And on that syn­di­cate, by the way, Wot­ton isn’t shy: Ob­sid­i­an will spend the next year — like­ly much short­er — scout­ing an IPO and clear­ly in­tends the com­pa­ny’s cur­rent back­ers to be big play­ers in that of­fer­ing.

“We want­ed to fo­cus specif­i­cal­ly on in­vestors who want­ed to par­tic­i­pate in a crossover,” Wot­ton said. “All of the funds that are in this trans­ac­tion were able to fund this as well as par­tic­i­pate heav­i­ly in an IPO process.”

As the clock ticks there, Ob­sid­i­an’s team ex­pects to ex­pand from its cur­rent work­force of 70 to more than 100 by the end of 2022. The com­pa­ny will al­so grow out of its cur­rent man­u­fac­tur­ing site — a 60,000 square-foot fa­cil­i­ty in Hous­ton — that will pro­duce ear­ly clin­i­cal ma­te­r­i­al in­to a fa­cil­i­ty in Bed­ford, MA, that will act as Ob­sid­i­an’s TIL home base through Phase II and be­yond.

That site will be up and run­ning in Q4 and will have 15 to 25 em­ploy­ees, Wot­ton said.

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.

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?

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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.

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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

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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.

Rahul Singhvi, Resilience CEO

A Bob Nelsen start­up turns to Har­vard to help sharp­en its tech, in­spir­ing first spin­out

One of Bob Nelsen’s latest projects is headed to Harvard.

Resilience, a company started with the goal of establishing itself as a “one-stop-shop” for companies looking to scale manufacturing, including for hard-to-develop cell and gene therapies, is less than a year old. Friday, it announced a five-year R&D deal with Harvard University that includes $30 million to develop biologics, including vaccines, nucleic acids and cell and gene therapies.

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.

Susan Galbraith speaking at Endpoints News' virtual EUBIO21 summit

Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo scores As­traZeneca an­oth­er OS win — this time in liv­er can­cer

Is the tide turning on AstraZeneca’s battered PD-L1/CTLA4 combo?

A single priming dose of the experimental tremelimumab, followed by Imfinzi every four weeks, beat Nexavar (sorafenib) in helping a group of liver cancer patients live longer in a Phase III study, the company reported, meeting the primary endpoint.

Specifically, the two drugs extended overall survival for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who had not received prior systemic therapy and were not eligible for localized treatment.

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