Dun Yang (Anticancer Bioscience)

A syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty play­er emerges in Chi­na, armed with lessons on un­drug­gable onco­gene from No­bel lau­re­ate's lab

As a long­time post­doc in the UCSF lab of Michael Bish­op — the No­bel lau­re­ate known, among oth­er things, for cloning the onco­gene MYC — Dun Yang knew the can­cer tar­get like an archer knows the bulls­eye.

“I al­ways talk about if we need­ed to nom­i­nate the most im­por­tant onco­gene […] that should be MYC,” he told End­points News. “The sec­ond one would be RAS. Be­cause more than 50% of hu­man can­cer over­ex­press MYC onco­gene.”

All those years of re­search al­so gave him in­ti­mate knowl­edge about the pit­falls of try­ing to de­vel­op can­cer ther­a­pies around the MYC pro­tein. The con­sen­sus had been that MYC, a tran­scrip­tion fac­tor, is un­drug­gable; even if you some­how man­age to hit it, the po­ten­tial ben­e­fit would like­ly be off­set by the po­ten­tial side ef­fects that come with block­ing its es­sen­tial phys­i­o­log­i­cal func­tions.

So in 2010 — just as PARP in­hibitors were gain­ing trac­tion — he and sev­er­al oth­er sci­en­tists in the lab pro­posed some­thing new.

Thad­deus Allen

“A lot of peo­ple have of course heard of (Bish­op),” said Thad­deus Allen, whose tenure as a re­search sci­en­tist at UCSF over­lapped with Yang’s. “But I think what peo­ple don’t re­al­ize is the last 10 to 15 years of re­search that went on in Mike Bish­op’s lab was re­al­ly fo­cused on syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty and re­al­ly Dun Yang was at the cen­ter of that re­search that was go­ing on.”

In­stead of tar­get­ing MYC di­rect­ly, they tried go­ing af­ter a ki­nase that tu­mors over­ex­press­ing MYC tend to re­ly on, and showed in mice that the com­pound they test­ed could kill can­cer cells while spar­ing nor­mal ones.

Yang would even­tu­al­ly leave San Fran­cis­co to re­turn to his home­town of Cheng­du, Chi­na, to start a can­cer re­search in­sti­tute epony­mous with Bish­op and see if he can go big­ger with that idea.

Now, more than a decade af­ter pub­lish­ing that pa­per, he’s se­cured a to­tal of $21 mil­lion from pri­vate Chi­nese in­vestors to build a com­pa­ny that doesn’t just stand shoul­der to shoul­der with US syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty play­ers like Re­pare, Ar­tios, Cyteir and Ideaya, but some­day grow up to be the Genen­tech of Chi­na.

An­ti­cancer Bio­science is the de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion arm of the J. Michael Bish­op In­sti­tute of Can­cer Re­search, Yang said, and the 50 em­ploy­ees tech­ni­cal­ly work for both en­ti­ties. The team is spread across Chi­na, the US, the UK and In­dia — where the CEO re­cruit­ed his med­i­c­i­nal chemists.

With two drugs, one of them in MYC, poised to com­plete IND-en­abling stud­ies this year and en­ter the clin­ic in 2022, the biotech is busy jug­gling a to­tal of five pre­clin­i­cal pipeline pro­grams, which they say span the ar­eas of tu­mor sup­pres­sor syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty, poly­ploid cell syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty, cen­tro­some am­pli­fi­ca­tion/declus­ter­ing ther­a­py and restora­tion of con­tact in­hi­bi­tion.

Jing Zhang

Build­ing nov­el screen­ings — led by VP Jing Zhang in the UK — that ze­ro in on the right vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties that can be tar­get­ed are core to An­ti­cancer’s ex­per­tise, said Allen, the com­pa­ny’s VP of trans­la­tion­al bi­ol­o­gy. In ad­di­tion to screen­ing on syn­thet­ic li­braries, An­ti­cancer is al­so keen on find­ing com­pounds from na­ture li­braries — col­lec­tions of plant sam­ples from a province that Yang said ac­counts for 60% of the plant di­ver­si­ty in the coun­try.

“What’s new about our plat­form is we col­lect­ed from nov­el places,” added Allen, who’s al­so one of on­ly two staffers based in Cal­i­for­nia. “The com­pa­ny is in Cheng­du for a rea­son.”

“We have an un­matched nat­ur­al prod­ucts li­brary,” Yang wrote, “com­posed of over 17,500 crude ex­tracts, over 1,200 par­tial­ly pu­ri­fied frac­tions and around 2,500 pure nat­ur­al com­pounds. These sam­ples are made from over 2,600 plants, rep­re­sent­ing more than 1,500 plant species used in tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese med­i­cine.”

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.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.