Richard Mason, Apollo Therapeutics CEO

A UK biotech looks to bring al­liance be­tween GSK, J&J, As­traZeneca, and top uni­ver­si­ties state­side with its first megaround

Richard Ma­son was work­ing at the J&J In­no­va­tion Cen­ter in Lon­don about six years ago when the com­pa­ny linked arms with two oth­er phar­mas and three of the UK’s lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties to form Apol­lo Ther­a­peu­tics — a trans­la­tion­al med­i­cine group aimed at spin­ning out new ther­a­pies. Now he’s run­ning the show at Apol­lo, and he’s pulled in $145 mil­lion to dri­ve those pro­grams in­to the clin­ic.

Ma­son un­veiled what he calls Apol­lo’s “first in­sti­tu­tion­al fi­nanc­ing” ear­ly Thurs­day morn­ing, which he plans on us­ing to beef up op­er­a­tions both in the UK and the US, and ad­vance a port­fo­lio of more than 15 pro­grams.

“We had this fan­tas­tic pe­ri­od of just heads down, loads and loads of R&D, and now it’s time to re­al­ly in­vest in it,” the new CEO told End­points News. 

Apol­lo was es­tab­lished in late 2015 as a joint ven­ture be­tween the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, Im­pe­r­i­al Col­lege Lon­don, Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don, As­traZeneca, Glax­o­SmithK­line and J&J In­no­va­tion to “bridge the gap” be­tween aca­d­e­m­ic sci­ence and pa­tients.

“They knew they had great in­no­va­tion and great sci­en­tists,” Ma­son said of uni­ver­si­ty re­searchers. “But ac­tu­al­ly just the know-how on in­dus­tri­al stan­dard R&D, it was dif­fi­cult to ac­cess.”

Apol­lo’s pro­grams fall in­to three main buck­ets: on­col­o­gy, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­or­ders and rare dis­ease. Ma­son is hold­ing his cards close for now, and de­clined to say much about the port­fo­lio aside from that it spans a range of modal­i­ties, in­clud­ing a num­ber of small mol­e­cules and bi­o­log­ics. Last Ju­ly, Apol­lo out-li­censed its first pro­gram — a gene ther­a­py de­vel­oped at the Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don — to Deer­field Man­age­ment.

The de­fault plan is to take the pro­grams to clin­i­cal proof-of-con­cept, then pick the best ones to take in­to lat­er de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion while li­cens­ing out the rest, Ma­son ex­plained. Apol­lo will prob­a­bly be in the clin­ic with “a num­ber of pro­grams” in the next 12 months or so, he added.

Jim Mom­tazee

“What’s fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent about it is your clas­sic ven­ture-dri­ven biotech mod­el, the in­tent, near­ly al­ways, is even­tu­al­ly to sell the com­pa­ny,” said Pa­tient Square Cap­i­tal’s Jim Mom­tazee, who is join­ing Apol­lo’s board. “This busi­ness mod­el has that op­tion­al­i­ty at the pro­gram lev­el, but the in­tent of Apol­lo Ther­a­peu­tics as a busi­ness en­ter­prise is to be around fun­da­men­tal­ly for­ev­er. And you do things quite dif­fer­ent­ly when the in­tent is to be around fun­da­men­tal­ly for­ev­er.”

Apol­lo is us­ing some of its funds to build a new fa­cil­i­ty in the Boston area, and in the next 18 months Ma­son plans to have about 30 full-time staffers split be­tween both sides of the At­lantic.

“Very nat­u­ral­ly now, there’s a huge op­por­tu­ni­ty to use this as a spring­board to, you know, with the in­vest­ment from Pa­tient Square Cap­i­tal and oth­ers, to re­al­ly dri­ve this for­ward as an in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny,” he said.

The round was led by Pa­tient Square Cap­i­tal, with Rock Springs Cap­i­tal, Reimag­ined Ven­tures and UCL Tech­nol­o­gy Fund chim­ing in.

Adap­tive De­sign Meth­ods Of­fer Rapid, Seam­less Tran­si­tion Be­tween Study Phas­es in Rare Can­cer Tri­als

Rare cancers account for 22 percent of cancer diagnoses worldwide, yet there is no universally accepted definition for a “rare” cancer. Moreover, with the evolution of genomics and associated changes in categorizing tumors, some common cancers are now characterized into groups of rare cancers, each with a unique implication for patient management and therapy.

Adaptive designs, which allow for prospectively planned modifications to study design based on accumulating data from subjects in the trial, can be used to optimize rare oncology trials (see Figure 1). Adaptive design studies may include multiple cohorts and multiple tumor types. In addition, numerous adaptation methods may be used in a single trial and may facilitate a more rapid, seamless transition between study phases.

Matt Gline (L) and Pete Salzmann

UP­DAT­ED: Roivant bumps stake in Im­muno­vant with a $200M deal. But with M&A off the ta­ble, shares crater

Roivant has worked out a deal to pick up a chunk of stock in its majority-owned sub Immunovant $IMVT, but the stock buy falls far short of its much-discussed thoughts about buying out all of the 43% of shares it doesn’t already own.

Roivant, which recently inked a SPAC move to the market at a $7 billion-plus valuation, has forged a deal to boost its ownership in Immunovant by 6.3 points, ending with 63.8% of the biotech’s stock following a $200 million injection. That cash will bolster Immunovant’s cash reserves, giving it a $600 million war chest to fund a slate of late-stage studies for its big drug: the anti-FcRn antibody IMVT-1401.

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Sanofi preps a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar buy­out of an mR­NA pi­o­neer af­ter falling be­hind in the race for a Covid-19 jab — re­port

It looks like Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson is dead serious about his intention to vault directly into contention for the future of mRNA vaccines.

A year after paying Translate Bio a whopping $425 million in an upfront and equity payment to help guide the pharma giant to the promised land of mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, Sanofi is reportedly ready to close the deal with a buyout.

Translate’s stock $TBIO soared 78% after the market closed Monday. A spokesperson for Sanofi declined to comment on the report, telling Endpoints News that the company doesn’t comment on market rumors.

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Anthony Sun, Zentalis and Zentera CEO (Zentalis)

With clin­i­cal tri­als lined up for Zen­tal­is drugs, Chi­na's Zen­tera sets its sights on more deal­mak­ing and an IPO

As Zentalis geared up for an AACR presentation of early data on its WEE1 inhibitor earlier this year, its Chinese joint venture Zentera wasn’t idle, either.

Zentera, which has headquarters in Shanghai, had already nabbed clearance to start clinical trials in China for three of the parent company’s drugs. In May — just a month after Zentalis touted three “exceptional responses” out of 55 patients for their shared lead drug, ZN-c3 — it got a fourth CTA approval.

Thomas Soloway, T-knife CEO

What hap­pens when you give a mouse a hu­man self-anti­gen? In­vestors bet $110M to find out

T-knife Therapeutics launched last August on a mission to isolate T cell receptors not from human donors, but from mice. Now, with a new CEO and a candidate bound for the clinic, the Versant-backed company is reloading with a fresh $110 million.

“What we are trying to do for the field of TCR therapy and solid tumor therapy is very analogous to what the murine platforms have done in antibody development,” CEO Thomas Soloway told Endpoints News. 

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UP­DAT­ED: Watch out Glax­o­SmithK­line: As­traZeneca's once-failed lu­pus drug is now ap­proved

Capping a roller coaster journey, AstraZeneca has steered its lupus drug anifrolumab across the finish line.

Saphnelo, as the antibody will be marketed, is the only treatment that’s been approved for systemic lupus erythematosus since GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta clinched an OK in 2011. The British drugmaker notes it’s also the first to target the type I interferon receptor.

Mirroring the population that the drug was tested on in late-stage trials, regulators sanctioned it for patients with moderate to severe cases who are already receiving standard therapy — setting up a launch planned for the end of August, according to Ruud Dobber, who’s in charge of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals business unit.

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Not all mR­NA vac­cines are cre­at­ed equal. Does it mat­ter?; Neu­ro is back; Pri­vate M&A af­fair; 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.

As part of our broader and deeper drive, Endpoints has been pairing webinars with our special reports to cover more angles on a given topic. In conjunction with Max Gelman’s neuroscience feature, Kyle Blankenship moderated an insightful panel to discuss where the field is headed. You can register to watch it on demand here.

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Bris­tol My­ers pulls lym­phoma in­di­ca­tion for Is­to­dax af­ter con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al falls flat

Amid an industrywide review of cancer drugs with accelerated approval, Bristol Myers Squibb had to make the tough call last month to yank an approval for leading I/O drug Opdivo after flopping a confirmatory study. Now, a second Bristol Myers drug is on the chopping block.

Bristol Myers has pulled aging HDAC inhibitor Istodax’s indication in peripheral T cell lymphoma after a Phase III confirmatory study for the drug flopped on its progression-free survival endpoint, the drugmaker said Monday.

Rick Pazdur (via AACR)

FDA's on­col­o­gy head Rick Paz­dur de­fends the ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval path­way, claim­ing it is 'un­der at­tack'

The FDA is sounding the alarm over its accelerated approval pathway as backlash continues over the recent nod in favor of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, and an ODAC meeting on six such approvals that could potentially be pulled from the market — two of which already have.

“Do you think accelerated approval is under attack? I do,” Rick Pazdur, head of FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence, said at a Friends of Cancer Research webinar on Thursday.

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