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.

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.

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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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.

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.

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.

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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Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.