Darrin Disley (L) and Pierre-Louis Joffrin

A UK-based start­up looks to beat Spark's Lux­tur­na at its own game with pro­gram­ma­ble cell plat­form for eye dis­ease

Spark’s Lux­tur­na made waves in 2017 when it was ap­proved to treat in­her­it­ed reti­nal degra­da­tion by re­plac­ing the mu­tat­ed RPE65 gene with a nor­mal copy. But in­stead of re­plac­ing a faulty gene to re­gain func­tion, what if sci­en­tists could re­pro­gram whole cells in vi­vo?

On Tues­day, a UK-based start­up reeled in $17 mil­lion to pur­sue just that.

Mo­gri­fy set out in 2016 to pi­o­neer a new class of in vi­vo re­pro­gram­ming ther­a­pies in oph­thal­mol­o­gy and use that same tech­nol­o­gy to trans­form the way ex vi­vo cell ther­a­pies are de­vel­oped. The com­pa­ny first closed a Se­ries A round in 2019. And now, in­vestors are tack­ing on an­oth­er $17 mil­lion, bring­ing the ex­pand­ed round to $33 mil­lion in to­tal.

While the ini­tial fund­ing helped the young com­pa­ny set up op­er­a­tions, cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer Pierre-Louis Jof­frin says this next wave will be used to es­tab­lish proof-of-con­cept.

“In the case of oph­thal­mol­o­gy, this re­gen­er­a­tive ap­proach of ac­tu­al­ly bring­ing back some of the cells that have dis­ap­peared as a re­sult of dis­ease would be trans­for­ma­tive,” he told End­points News. “Most ap­proach­es at the mo­ment, ei­ther ap­proved or in the pipeline, are on­ly try­ing to slow down the pro­gres­sion of the dis­ease.”

Mo­gri­fy’s name is de­rived from the word “trans­mo­gri­fy,” which Mer­ri­am Web­ster de­fines as  “to change or al­ter great­ly and of­ten with grotesque or hu­mor­ous ef­fect,” and es­sen­tial­ly sums up what the com­pa­ny is try­ing to do. The team us­es tran­scrip­tion fac­tors — small pro­teins that reg­u­late gene ex­pres­sion — to dri­ve the con­ver­sion of cells, es­sen­tial­ly al­low­ing sci­en­tists to “switch” a cell from one state to an­oth­er.

The idea of cell re­pro­gram­ming isn’t new. In fact, Tenaya Ther­a­peu­tics scored a $106 mil­lion crossover round back in March for its heart fail­ure pro­grams, in­clud­ing one that us­es a sin­gle AAV vec­tor to de­liv­er com­bi­na­tions of mul­ti­ple genes that dri­ve in vi­vo re­pro­gram­ming of car­diac fi­brob­lasts to cre­ate new heart mus­cle cells.

In im­muno-on­col­o­gy, Mo­gri­fy us­es tran­scrip­tion fac­tors to con­vert in­duced pluripo­tent stem cells (IP­SC) in petri dish­es or test tubes, which are then de­liv­ered as a ther­a­peu­tic through trans­fu­sion. The com­pa­ny re­cent­ly struck a part­ner­ship with Sang­amo Ther­a­peu­tics that will look to de­rive Tregs from IP­SCs us­ing Mo­gri­fy’s plat­form.

“The use of tran­scrip­tion fac­tors in the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion from IP­SC to spe­cif­ic cells, means that we can dri­ve the ef­fi­cien­cy up, as well as the time of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion down,” Jof­frin said.

Mo­gri­fy has a sec­ond part­ner­ship it hasn’t dis­closed yet, ac­cord­ing to Jof­frin.

The re­newed Se­ries A — led by Park­walk Ad­vi­sors with help from Astel­las Ven­ture Man­age­ment, 24Hay­mar­ket, Ab­cam co-founder Jonathan Mil­ner and Mo­gri­fy CEO Dar­rin Dis­ley — will pro­vide a run­way through 2022, Jof­frin said. The com­pa­ny will look to pull in a “sig­nif­i­cant” Se­ries B by 2023, he added.

“The most ex­cit­ing thing about the com­pa­ny is its abil­i­ty to re­al­ly com­plete­ly dis­cov­er new bi­ol­o­gy,” he said.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Andrea Pfeifer, AC Immune CEO (AC Immune)

Look­ing to repli­cate Covid-19 suc­cess in neu­ro, BioN­Tech back­ers bet on AC Im­mune and its new­ly-ac­quired Parkin­son's vac­cine

The German billionaires behind BioNTech have found a new vaccine project to back.

Through their family office Athos Service, twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann are leading a $25 million private placement into Switzerland’s AC Immune — which concurrently announced that it’s shelling out $58.7 million worth of stock to acquire Affiris’ portfolio of therapies targeting alpha-synuclein, including a vaccine candidate, for Parkinson’s disease.

Rajiv Shukla, Constellation Alpha Holdings

Can­del gets busy IPO week mov­ing with down­sized raise as Ra­jiv Shuk­la's third SPAC goes pub­lic

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

In a week that’s expected to see several biotechs price their IPOs, Candel Therapeutics got things kicked off Tuesday with a muted opener.

The company helmed by former GlaxoSmithKline vet Paul Peter Tak made its way to Nasdaq thanks to a $72 million raise, which was downsized by about 15% than originally anticipated, according to Renaissance Capital. Candel priced at $8 per share after initially seeking to launch in the $13 to $15 range.

Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Gerry Brunk (Lumira)

What will Lu­mi­ra Ven­tures do with $220M? Stay out of the com­fort zone and off the beat­en biotech path

Lumira Ventures closed its largest fund on Monday, raking in $220 million to pump into the life sciences — but instead of targeting biotech hubs like San Francisco and Boston, the company is rolling the dice on “underserved geographies” in the US and Canada.

“We find oftentimes companies located in places like Montreal, or Fort Lauderdale, FL, or Kansas City or Phoenix, AZ just have more capital efficiency and better valuations, without having to compromise anything at all in the quality of the innovation and the management talent,” co-founder and managing partner Gerry Brunk told Endpoints News.