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.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Barry Greene, Sage CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Sage's sec­ond chance at de­pres­sion hits the PhI­II pri­ma­ry, but ques­tions re­main over dura­bil­i­ty, side ef­fects

Looking to make a comeback after a big Phase III flop, Sage Therapeutics revealed data they believe could change the entire depression treatment landscape, given the vast array of failures in the field. But some results are spooking investors, sending Sage $SAGE shares down early Tuesday.

First, the primary: Sage and Biogen reported Phase III data for once-daily zuranolone Tuesday morning, saying the experimental drug hit its primary endpoint by spurring a statistically significant change from baseline in the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression total score. After 15 days, patients in the drug arm saw an average change of -14.1 points, compared to -12.3 on placebo.

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Bio­gen sig­nals a big PhI­II fail­ure as the lead gene ther­a­py in their $800M Night­star buy­out goes down in flames

That $800 million buyout of Nightstar has turned into a bust for Biogen as the lead therapy in the deal failed a pivotal study, signaling a severe setback for the biotech’s ambitions in gene therapies.

The big biotech put out the word after the market closed on Monday that the gene therapy they picked up in the deal for a degenerative blindness called choroideremia failed the Phase III study, just a month after their #2 drug in the deal also flopped in a mid-stage study.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (Endpoints News)

Hal Bar­ron gam­bles $625M cash on high-wire TIG­IT act, throw­ing Glax­o­SmithK­line in­to heat­ed race and com­plet­ing next-gen I/O trin­i­ty

Count Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline in for the TIGIT fight.

The stakes are as high as the risks: While a growing pack of Big Pharma rivals is lending credence to the hypothesis that TIGIT will be the next big immune checkpoint and cancer drug target, the first clinical trials have shown response rates that can be described as modest at best. But Barron’s bet is on the whole “axis” that the receptor sits on, with an eye on testing its new anti-TIGIT antibody not just in combo with PD-1 but also in triplets.

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As Covid-19 shifts the world's at­ten­tion to biotech, Noubar Afeyan's Flag­ship builds $3.4B fund to fu­el new in­ven­tions. Here's the plan

A little more than a year ago, Flagship Pioneering rolled out a monster fund with $1.1 billion in it to bankroll the platform companies they were creating inside their own labs. But it turns out, that was just the prelude to a much, much larger raise, as both current investors — who’ve been reaping the rewards of some booming biotech stocks — join in with new investors betting on more in the years to come.

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An­oth­er busy week for IPOs be­gins with an off-the shelf cell ther­a­py play­er sniff­ing around uni­corn sta­tus

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

A flurry of biotechs are expected to hit Nasdaq this week, with two companies, Ambrx Biopharma and Century Therapeutics, setting the terms for their public debuts, with expected raises at $126 million and $200 million, respectively. Alzamend Neuro is also joining in with a $12.5 million raise and two preclinical Alzheimer’s treatments in tow.

Alexander Vos, VectorY CEO

Start­ing fresh in man­u­fac­tur­ing, For­bion start­up re­fu­els to steer next-gen gene ther­a­py ap­proach for ALS, Alzheimer's in­to clin­ic

Forbion laid out its case for a next-generation gene therapy approach when it took the wraps off VectorY Therapeutics and its vectorized antibody tech in February. Now, the Dutch VC has tapped an experienced hand at cell and gene therapy manufacturing to steer the ship — and pulled a marquee syndicate for a €31 million ($37.6 million) seed round.

Alexander Vos, the new CEO, is a venture partner at BioGeneration Ventures and jumps immediately from VarmX, a BGV portfolio company developing an anticoagulant. But before that, he had led Dutch CDMO PharmaCell for eight years until it was bought out by Lonza.

Lynn Fitch, Mississippi Attorney General (Rogelio V. Solis/AP Images)

Mis­sis­sip­pi sues Eli Lil­ly, Sanofi and No­vo over in­sulin prices as in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars may ar­rive soon

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch last week sued the top three insulin manufacturers, which collectively cover almost the entire US insulin market, alleging that they’ve colluded to raise their prices in lockstep, and in some cases by more than 1,000% for drugs that are decades old.

“Because of Manufacturer Defendants’ collusive price increases, nearly a century after the discovery of insulin, diabetes medications have become unaffordable for many diabetics,” the lawsuit says.

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