Robert Coughlin, MassBio CEO (MassBio)

Af­ter down year, 2020 brings new cash in­to Mass­a­chu­setts biotech

The sea of cash that has hit biotech since the pan­dem­ic be­gan has not left out its biggest sec­tor: Mass­a­chu­setts.

Through the first half of 2020, ven­ture cap­i­tal firms have poured more than $2.1 bil­lion in­to biotechs in the state, set­ting the sec­tor on a pace to re­bound af­ter a down year in 2019. The new fig­ure, in­clud­ed in a new in­dus­try snap­shot from the trade group Mass­Bio, is more than 2/3 the $3.1 bil­lion biotechs in the state raised through the en­tire­ty of last year, and would put the sec­tor on track to raise more than any year in the last decade be­sides 2018.

The his­toric IPO boom hasn’t passed the sec­tor over ei­ther. A third of biotech IPOs came from Mass­a­chu­setts, with each com­pa­ny av­er­ag­ing $187 mil­lion.

Eliz­a­beth Steele Mass Bio

“This is all hap­pen­ing dur­ing a pan­dem­ic that is crip­pling the world econ­o­my, but it is def­i­nite­ly putting a spot­light on our in­dus­try and bio­phar­ma in­no­va­tion,” Eliz­a­beth Steele, vice pres­i­dent of pro­grams and glob­al af­fairs at Mass­Bio and au­thor of the re­port, told End­points News. “In 2019, there was a dip in ven­ture cap­i­tal, there was a dip in IPOs over the year be­fore, and I think in 2020 every­one un­der­stands what it feels like to have an un­met med­ical need.”

The re­port comes out as BIO, PhRMA and the in­dus­tries they rep­re­sent go toe to toe again with the White House on pric­ing leg­is­la­tion, af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump on Fri­day signed ex­ec­u­tive or­ders de­signed to curb drug prices. BIO CEO Michelle Mc­Mur­ry-Heath spoke out against the or­ders — which are con­sid­ered large­ly sym­bol­ic on their own — on Fri­day.

In a state­ment, Mass­Bio CEO Robert Cough­lin ar­gued the Mass­a­chu­setts re­port and the de­flat­ed 2019 num­bers were ev­i­dence that drug-pric­ing leg­is­la­tion that ad­vanced last year, which in­clud­ed a bi­par­ti­san bill in the Sen­ate and a De­mo­c­ra­t­ic bill in the House, had culled in­vest­ment. No­tably, though, fund­ing in Mass­a­chu­setts had been down since the first half of 2019, be­fore ei­ther bill was in­tro­duced. The is­sue had, how­ev­er, al­ready ap­peared on the De­mo­c­ra­t­ic cam­paign trail.

“In 2019, we saw some of the most se­vere leg­is­la­tion around drug pric­ing for the in­dus­try, both in Mass­a­chu­setts and fed­er­al­ly, which led to a de­cline in in­vest­ment as we pre­dict­ed it would,” Cough­lin said. “The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has since up­end­ed our coun­try’s econ­o­my, put a spot­light on the true val­ue of the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try in ad­dress­ing a hu­man health cri­sis, and cre­at­ed a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of just how dif­fi­cult it is to de­vel­op a ther­a­py or vac­cine.”

The new re­port al­so shows that de­spite re­ports of traf­fic and over­crowd­ing in Kendall Square — or at least pre-pan­dem­ic re­ports of traf­fic and over­crowd­ing — Mass­a­chu­setts re­mains the fastest grow­ing state for biotech R&D jobs. Those jobs rose 18% last year to over 45,000, putting the state just be­hind Cal­i­for­nia. And to­tal Mass­a­chu­setts biotech jobs rose 7.7% last year to just un­der 80,000. Take­da and Sanofi were the largest em­ploy­ers.

Cam­bridge alone con­tin­ues to re­ceive 59% of all in­vest­ment, al­though Mass­Bio ex­pects to see that num­ber de­cline in the near fu­ture.

“We’re hop­ing that more mi­ni-clus­ters pop up in the ar­eas around Boston/Cam­bridge and push fur­ther out,” Steele said. “Cam­bridge is def­i­nite­ly spe­cial and re­mark­able but it doesn’t mean that a com­pa­ny can’t be based 20 min­utes away and still when the pan­dem­ic is over come in­to Cam­bridge for a cof­fee and meet peo­ple face to face.”

The lead­ing Mass­a­chu­setts pri­vate rounds came from Black­stone-backed An­thos Ther­a­peu­tics, which raised $250 mil­lion in a sin­gle round, El­e­vate Bio, and Beam Ther­a­peu­tics. The lead­ing IPOs came from For­ma Ther­a­peu­tics, which raised $278 mil­lion, and Black Di­a­mond Ther­a­peu­tics, which raised $231 mil­lion.

Steele said she ex­pects af­ter a huge year in 2018 and a down year in 2019, the next few years will bring the steady rise the in­dus­try saw for much of the 2010s.

Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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Lund­beck sounds taps on an­oth­er CNS drug, re­treat­ing from a mine field still oc­cu­pied by a Mer­ck team

Lundbeck has snipped another clinical-stage branch of its CNS research, dumping a schizophrenia program after determining that their therapy would have no positive influence on the disease.

Designed originally as a 240-patient study, researchers set out in early 2019 to see if a homegrown drug dubbed Lu AF11167 could make it through a proof-of-concept study. The drug is a PDE10Ai inhibitor, targeting an enzyme which it said at the time offered a new pathway to retuning the body’s neurotransmitter dopamine. The big idea was that by hitting their target, the drug would modulate “dopamine D1 and D2 receptor-mediated intraneuronal signaling without binding to these receptors,” influencing negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

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Sean Nolan and RA Session II

Less than 3 months af­ter launch, the AveX­is crew’s Taysha rais­es $95M Se­ries B. Is an IPO next?

The old AveXis team is moving quickly in Dallas.

Three months ago, they launched Taysha with $30 million in Series A funding and a pipeline of gene therapies out of UT Southwestern. Now, they’ve announced an oversubscribed $95 million Series B. And the biotech is declining all interview requests on the news, the kind of broad silence that can indicate an IPO is in the pipeline.

Biotechs, including those relatively fresh off launch, have been going public at a frenzy since the pandemic began. Investors have showed a willingness to put upwards of $200 million to companies that have yet to bring a drug into the clinic. Still, if Taysha were to go public in the near future, it would be perhaps the shortest path from launch to IPO in recent biotech memory.

UP­DAT­ED: No­vavax her­alds the lat­est pos­i­tive snap­shot of ear­ly-stage Covid-19 vac­cine — so why did its stock briefly crater?

High-flying Novavax $NVAX became the latest of the Covid-19 vaccine players to stake out a positive set of biomarker data from its early-stage look at its vaccine in humans.

Their adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine was “well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody responses numerically superior to that seen in human convalescent sera,” the company noted. According to the biotech:

All subjects developed anti-spike IgG antibodies after a single dose of vaccine, many of them also developing wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses, and after Dose 2, 100% of participants developed wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses. Both anti-spike IgG and viral neutralization responses compared favorably to responses from patients with clinically significant COVID‑19 disease. Importantly, the IgG antibody response was highly correlated with neutralization titers, demonstrating that a significant proportion of antibodies were functional.

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RA, No­var­tis back Gen­tiBio's seed round, plans to launch de­vel­op­ment of En­gTreg ther­a­pies

Boston, MA-based startup GentiBio landed a $20 million seed fund from three investors to dive into engineered regulatory T cell (EngTreg) development.

Marquee investors OrbiMed, Novartis Venture Fund and RA Capital Management have backed GentiBio’s mission to develop EngTregs for the treatment of autoimmune, alloimmune, autoinflammatory, and allergic diseases. Unlike other companies studying treatments using a patient’s own Tregs, GentiBio plans to make use of CD4+ immune cells, found in the blood.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a prospec­tive moth­er­lode of Covid-19 vac­cine rev­enue — will a back­lash fol­low?

Moderna shows no sign of slowing down, or turning charitable when it comes to pricing supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine.

One of the leaders in the Phase III race to get a Covid-19 vaccine across the finish line in record time, Moderna says it’s on track to complete enrollment in one of the most avidly watched studies in the world next month. And the biotech has already banked some $400 million in deposits for vaccine supply as it works through negotiations with countries around the world — as CEO Stéphane Bancel sets out to hire a commercial team.

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Ver­sant de­buts Ridge­line's start­up #4, armed with $30M and al­ter­na­tive TCR cell ther­a­pies for sol­id tu­mors

For all the iterations and advances in TCR therapies for cancer, any experimental treatments involving T cell receptors share one trait: By definition, they only recognize antigens presented as peptides on the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on cells.

Versant reckons it’s time to expand the arsenal. With $30 million in initial funding, its Ridgeline Discovery Engine in Switzerland has been working on a non-peptidic approach that it says has tumor-agnostic potential, especially in solid tumors. They’ve named it Matterhorn, after a Swiss mountain as they did with the three other companies that have emerged from the Basel-based incubator.

Covid-19 roundup: J&J and BAR­DA agree to $1 bil­lion for 100 mil­lion dos­es; Plas­ma re­duces mor­tal­i­ty by 50% — re­ports

J&J has become the latest vaccine developer to agree to supply BARDA with doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, signing an agreement that will give the government 100 million doses in exchange for $1 billion in funding.

The agreement, similar to those signed by Novavax, Sanofi and AstraZeneca-Oxford, provides funding not only for individual doses but to help J&J ramp up manufacturing. Pfizer, by contrast, received $1.95 billion for the doses alone. Still, if one looked at each agreement as purchase amounts, J&J’s deal would be $10 per dose, slotting in between Novavax’s $16 per dose and AstraZeneca’s $4 per dose.

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CF Foun­da­tion, Long­wood team on new in­cu­ba­tor for com­pa­nies with cut­ting-edge CF treat­ments

Nine months after launching a $500 million hunt for a cure for cystic fibrosis, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation said it will use a portion of those funds to do something it has never done before: help launch new companies.

The CF Foundation, whose venture philanthropy efforts helped fund Vertex’s line of powerful CF drugs, is teaming with Longwood Fund to create a CF incubator. The incubator will identify new companies with platforms or technologies that can be applied in the rare genetic condition. The partners can then finance early development in exchange for a commitment from the companies to focus on applications in cystic fibrosis.