Luis Peña, Evommune CEO

Af­ter get­ting their can­di­dates back from Eli Lil­ly, the old Der­mi­ra team is dash­ing for the clin­ic

Af­ter get­ting bought out by Eli Lil­ly for $1 bil­lion last year, the old Der­mi­ra team re­grouped in Jan­u­ary with their own up­start and three in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­ease pro­grams li­censed back from the Big Phar­ma. Now, the small team has $83 mil­lion more to work with.

Evom­mune un­veiled an $83 mil­lion Se­ries A round on Thurs­day morn­ing, which will be used to push its first three can­di­dates in­to the clin­ic. First up is IRAK4/Tr­kA, a small mol­e­cule that broad­ly in­hibits in­nate in­flam­ma­tion, which CEO Luis Peña says should en­ter the clin­ic this year. The team is look­ing to tack­le atopic der­mati­tis and rosacea, with the first clin­i­cal read­out ex­pect­ed next year.

“There re­al­ly still is the search for kind of the holy grail of a non-steroidal top­i­cal for atopic der­mati­tis that works re­al­ly well,” Peña told End­points News. “And then with rosacea, there re­al­ly hasn’t been a lot of new ther­a­peu­tics for rosacea.”

Then there’s RORγt, a small mol­e­cule ad­dress­ing Th17 me­di­at­ed in­flam­ma­tion, which is be­ing de­vel­oped for pso­ri­a­sis, as well as graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease, lichen planus, rosacea, and in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease. The last com­pound li­censed back from Lil­ly is MRG­PRX2, a small mol­e­cule to treat chron­ic itch. Peña hopes to have clin­i­cal read­outs on the lat­ter two pro­grams by the end of 2023.

There’s al­so a fourth can­di­date in the works for atopic der­mati­tis, dubbed PKCθ, brought in via a part­ner­ship with Ax­ce­lead Drug Dis­cov­ery Part­ners.

When Lil­ly swal­lowed Der­mi­ra back in Jan­u­ary 2020, the phar­ma had its sights set on le­brik­izum­ab, a cast-off from Roche that Der­mi­ra picked up for $135 mil­lion in near-term cash. But Der­mi­ra’s broad­er an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry pipeline is what Evom­mune’s in­ter­est­ed in.

“There will be a fo­cus, first and fore­most, to dri­ve the cur­rent pipeline for­ward,” Peña said. But long-term, the goal is to have at least one new pipeline ad­di­tion every year, he added.

To do so, the team is lever­ag­ing a plat­form built at Der­mi­ra, in which donor skin from tum­my tucks is used to in­duce in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions. Be­cause it mim­ics what’s hap­pen­ing clin­i­cal­ly, the dis­ease mod­el of­fers an “amaz­ing win­dow” in­to in­flam­ma­tion across the body, the CEO said.

So far, Evom­mune has in­ten­tion­al­ly kept its 10-per­son team small. The com­pa­ny was in­cor­po­rat­ed about two years ago, with the help of CMO Eu­gene Bauer, Der­mi­ra’s co-founder and for­mer CMO, and SVP of re­search Hans Hofland, who was head of re­search and non­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment at Der­mi­ra. But over the next six to nine months, Peña hopes to in­crease the staff by 30 to 40 new em­ploy­ees to help dri­ve the pipeline and dis­cov­ery work.

The lat­est round — which brings Evom­mune’s to­tal raise to near­ly $100 mil­lion — should help with that. Some “high cal­iber in­vestors” chipped in­to the Se­ries A, Peña said, in­clud­ing An­dera Part­ners, LSP, Piv­otal bioVen­ture Part­ners and oth­er undis­closed in­vestors.

Mean­while, Peña says he’s got an S-1 in his back pock­et.

“We will be ready to IPO if the mar­kets look good,” he said. “But we al­so now, with this big of a round, have I would say the lux­u­ry to ride it out if the mar­kets aren’t look­ing good.”

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.

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.

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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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.

Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a rather narrow market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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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.

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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