A vir­tu­al biotech in­cu­ba­tor is launch­ing with the help of Evotec and Sam­sara, look­ing for a few good sci­en­tists in need of seed cash for spin­outs

By any mea­sure, mon­ey has been pour­ing in­to the bio­phar­ma R&D field for more than 5 years now, with every stage of de­vel­op­ment crowd­ed with in­vestors look­ing for the next big thing in ther­a­peu­tics.

Val­ue in­flec­tion points are the guid­ing star of that multi­bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness.

But a busy Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal, the fam­i­ly fund KCK and the big Eu­ro­pean CRO Evotec are back­ing the play of a pair of in­vestors who have staked out a field where there doesn’t seem to be quite so much den­si­ty.

Tom No­vak and Michelle Kim-Dane­ly are launch­ing a vir­tu­al in­cu­ba­tor called Au­to­bahn Labs, which is at the be­gin­ning stages of ink­ing deals with aca­d­e­m­ic labs to seed spin­out com­pa­nies for their dis­cov­er­ies. Sam­sara and KCK are pro­vid­ing up to $5 mil­lion per op­er­a­tion, with Evotec on board to lend its ex­ten­sive con­tract plat­form sup­port to the fledg­lings that sign on. And the sci­en­tists can al­so tap Au­to­bahn’s ad­vi­so­ry group as they steer their lit­tle com­pa­nies through pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Tom No­vak

“Our plan,” No­vak tells me, “is to en­ter in­to part­ner­ships with ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties and find pro­grams that are at very ear­ly stage, 3 to 4 years ahead of the clin­ic.”

And the rare few that make it to launch can look to one of their in­vestors to take the lead on an A round.

To get start­ed, Au­to­bahn has signed up UCLA on kind of a mas­ter con­tract that lays out the terms cov­er­ing IP and eq­ui­ty and so on — and no, they aren’t de­tail­ing the par­tic­u­lars of the con­tract to me.

For sci­en­tists with­out se­lect VCs on speed di­al, that might look quite ap­peal­ing. And now No­vak and Kim-Dane­ly are look­ing to repli­cate the UCLA deal, pri­mar­i­ly along the West Coast but al­so back east as well as Eu­rope.

Michelle Kim-Dane­ly

Both of the prin­ci­pals at Au­to­bahn are re­al­is­tic about the like­li­hood of fail­ure. They es­ti­mate that 85% to 90% of their seed plays won’t make it to the clin­ic and that next lev­el of de­vel­op­ment. But get­ting 1 out of 10 small in­vest­ments to pay off could work out well. No­vak says they have enough mon­ey for 8 on­go­ing projects at a time.

“It’s im­por­tant to have dif­fer­ent mod­els, dif­fer­ent sweet spots,” says Kim-Dane­ly. “For uni­ver­si­ties it’s an­oth­er ar­row in their quiv­ers.”

As for dis­ease ar­eas and tech, the two say they are com­plete­ly ag­nos­tic.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sin­gu­lar fo­cus on ROR1 earns Velos­Bio $137M to fund PhI ADC and oth­er pro­grams

Years after selling Acerta to AstraZeneca for $7 billion, largely on the promise of its BTK inhibitor, Dave Johnson has once again gathered hefty financial support behind a new cancer target.

Matrix Capital Management and Surveyor Capital are leading a $137 million round for VelosBio, which has recently begun a Phase I study for its lead antibody-drug conjugate targeted against ROR1. Johnson took up the CEO post in October 2018.

Alexander Vos, VarmX CEO

'Fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­en­t' from Por­to­la, Dutch biotech lands €32M to steer an­ti-an­ti­co­ag­u­lant through the clin­ic

Portola may not have had much success proving the commercial value of an anti-anticoagulant, but that’s not stopping European investors from pouring $36.2 million (€32 million) into what they see as a superior approach put forth by a Dutch biotech.

VarmX’s blood thinner reversal agent stems from research done by founder and CSO Pieter Reitsma at Leiden University Medical Center. A modified recombinant form of factor X, VMX-C001 “has an insertion of 16 amino acids that replaces a stretch of 7 amino acids in the so-called serine protease domain” compared to the native coagulation factor, CEO Alexander Vos told Endpoints News.

FDA bars the door — for now — against Mer­ck’s star can­cer drug af­ter Roche beat them to the punch

Merck has been handed a rare setback at the FDA.

After filing for the accelerated approval of a combination of their star PD-1 drug Keytruda with Eisai’s Lenvima as a first-line treatment for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma, the FDA nixed the move, handing out a CRL because Roche beat them to the punch on the same indication by a matter of weeks.

According to Merck:

Ahead of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act action dates of Merck’s and Eisai’s applications, another combination therapy was approved based on a randomized, controlled trial that demonstrated overall survival. Consequently, the CRL stated that Merck’s and Eisai’s applications do not provide evidence that Keytruda in combination with Lenvima represents a meaningful advantage over available therapies for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic HCC with no prior systemic therapy for advanced disease. Since the applications for KEYNOTE-524/Study 116 no longer meet the criteria for accelerated approval, both companies plan to work with the FDA to take appropriate next steps, which include conducting a well-controlled clinical trial that demonstrates substantial evidence of effectiveness and the clinical benefit of the combination.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na sticks to Ju­ly for its Phase III as ru­mors swirl; Fol­low­ing US lead, EU buys up Covid-19 treat­ments

The Phase III might be delayed from its original early July goal, but Moderna says it will still kick off the pivotal study for what could ultimately be the first Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the month.

A day after Reuters reported that squabbling between the Cambridge biotech and government regulators had held up the trial by about two weeks, Moderna released a statement saying that they had completed enrollment of their 650-person Phase II trial and were on track to begin Phase III by the end of the month. The protocol for that study, which is meant to prove whether or not the vaccine can prevent people from becoming sick, has been finalized, they said.

Stephen Hahn, AP

Trump and Navar­ro press again for hy­drox­y­chloro­quine. Can the FDA stay in­de­pen­dent?

Tuesday morning, economist and Trump advisor Peter Navarro walked onto the White House driveway and promptly brought a political cloud back onto the FDA.

Speaking to a White House pool reporter, Navarro said that four Detroit doctors were, based on a single disputed study, filing for the FDA to again issue an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial pill that President Trump hyped for months as a Covid-19 treatment over the objections of his own scientists. Then, while avoiding directly calling for the FDA to OK the drug, blasted the agency. He said its decision to pull an earlier authorization “was based on bad science” and “had a tremendously negative effect” on doctors and patients.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Noubar Afeyan, Flagship CEO and Tessera chairman (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Flag­ship ex­ecs take a les­son from na­ture to mas­ter ‘gene writ­ing,’ launch­ing a star-stud­ded biotech with big am­bi­tions to cure dis­ease

Flagship Pioneering has opened up its deep pockets to fund a biotech upstart out to revolutionize the whole gene therapy/gene editing field — before gene editing has even made it to the market. And they’ve surrounded themselves with some marquee scientists and execs who have crowded around to help shepherd the technology ahead.

The lead player here is Flagship general partner Geoff von Maltzahn, an MIT-trained synthetic biologist who set out in 2018 to do CRISPR — a widely used gene editing tool — and other rival technologies one or two better. Von Maltzahn has been working with Sana co-founder Jake Rubens, another synthetic biology player out of MIT who he describes as his “superstar,” who’s taken the CSO role.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 84,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.