Lloyd Klickstein, Versanis Bio CEO

A No­var­tis castoff drug gets new life at an At­las-backed start­up look­ing to blaze a trail in obe­si­ty

Af­ter decades of fail­ure, the obe­si­ty field is fi­nal­ly see­ing some ma­jor progress with the suc­cess of a sta­ble of GLP-1 di­a­betes drugs show­ing clin­i­cal ben­e­fit. A small biotech thinks it has some­thing new to of­fer in that space with an old­er drug, and in­vestors like what they see so far.

Ver­sa­nis Bio launched Tues­day with a $70 mil­lion A round backed by biotech blue-chip­pers At­las Ven­ture and Medicxi with lead can­di­date bima­grum­ab, an in-li­censed No­var­tis drug orig­i­nal­ly tar­get­ing mus­cle weak­ness, gear­ing up for a Phase II study in obe­si­ty.

It’s ear­ly days for Ver­sa­nis, a start­up out of Marc Fish­man and Joe Jimenez’s in­cu­ba­tor Adi­tum Bio, but not for bima­grum­ab, an ac­tivin type 2 re­cep­tor in­hibitor which has da­ta from thou­sands of pa­tients al­ready pub­lished and a po­ten­tial leg up over GLP-1 di­a­betes drugs like semaglu­tide and tirzepatide due to its clean­er safe­ty pro­file, CEO Lloyd Klick­stein told End­points News.

In Phase II da­ta pub­lished back in Jan­u­ary when the drug was still un­der No­var­tis’ con­trol, bima­grum­ab sig­nif­i­cant­ly cut body fat mass and im­proved lean mass com­pared with place­bo af­ter 48 weeks in pa­tients with type 2 di­a­betes, po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing open a path for­ward in obe­si­ty. Bima­grum­ab’s big up­side, in Klick­stein’s telling, is its abil­i­ty to cut fat with­out cut­ting lean mus­cle, an ef­fi­ca­cy pro­file more in line with im­prov­ing clin­i­cal out­comes and low­er­ing risk fac­tors than oth­er drugs that tar­get weight alone.

“This an­ti­body is very much de-risked in terms of its ef­fi­ca­cy,” Klick­stein said. “We know it works. Re­al­ly, we have an op­er­a­tional chal­lenge more so than a sci­en­tif­ic chal­lenge for this drug.”

Now, Ver­sa­nis will take its new trea­sure chest and aim for a “com­pre­hen­sive” Phase II study to piv­ot bima­grum­ab specif­i­cal­ly in­to obe­si­ty. The go­ing won’t be easy on that: Ver­sa­nis is work­ing to re-man­u­fac­ture the drug for the mid-stage test as well as ex­pand the po­ten­tial pa­tient pop­u­la­tion be­yond just di­a­betes while al­so work­ing on de­vel­op­ing a more user-friend­ly sub­cu­ta­neous ap­pli­ca­tion.

That’s plen­ty of work left to fig­ure out, and Ver­sa­nis as of now is stay­ing mum on when the tri­al is ex­pect­ed to be­gin or when we can ex­pect da­ta.

But bima­grum­ab’s ex­ist­ing da­ta and the strength of Ver­sa­nis’ lead­er­ship team were enough to bring on two ma­jor in­vestors in At­las and Medicxi, both of which val­ue star­tups with a clear lead prod­uct in an emerg­ing ther­a­peu­tic area.

Michael Glad­stone

Klick­stein hails from NI­BR, where he worked along­side Fish­man, the found­ing di­rec­tor at NI­BR, and Jimenez, a for­mer No­var­tis CEO, who co-found­ed Adi­tum. This is the first go at CEO for Klick­stein, but he high­light­ed his work as head of trans­la­tion at NI­BR’s ear­ly dis­cov­ery units — an ex­pe­ri­ence com­pared with a “biotech in­side a phar­ma.”

And he’s got a nice rolodex any­way of CEO friends and men­tors to lean on with Fish­man and Jimenez jump­ing on­to the Ver­sa­nis board.

Michael Glad­stone, an At­las gen­er­al part­ner who will al­so join the Ver­sa­nis board, high­light­ed the biotech’s strong da­ta and bima­grum­ab’s mar­ket po­ten­tial in obe­si­ty, where se­vere GI side ef­fects are com­mon, as a clear-cut case for in­vest­ment.

“To start a com­pa­ny stand­ing on the shoul­ders of that kind of da­ta set and un­der­stand­ing the mech­a­nisms to ad­dress an area of im­mense, vir­tu­al­ly un­quan­tifi­able un­met need is re­al­ly ex­cit­ing,” he said.

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.

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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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.

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 rather narrow 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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FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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