Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genen­tech swooped in to buy NASH-fo­cused Je­cure Ther­a­peu­tics back in 2018, a hand­ful of the start­up’s ex­ec­u­tives weren’t quite ready to dis­perse.

It had been just three years since Je­cure launched with a pre­clin­i­cal port­fo­lio of NL­RP3 in­hibitors — and the takeover came soon­er than any­one, in­clud­ing CEO Jeff Stafford, had ex­pect­ed. So he got talk­ing with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neurs in charge of Je­cure’s R&D.

“We want­ed to do some­thing to­geth­er again,” Stafford told End­points News. “All of us share a high en­thu­si­asm for ear­ly stage drug dis­cov­ery, and had some ideas.”

Jeff Stafford

A year lat­er, they launched 858 Ther­a­peu­tics — named af­ter the San Diego area code — to fo­cus on the bur­geon­ing field of RNA mod­u­la­tion and the role it plays in can­cer. Right away, they snapped up Gotham Ther­a­peu­tics, a New York-based start­up that was cre­at­ing med­i­cines to drug key pro­teins that mod­u­late mR­NA, for an undis­closed amount.

And on Tues­day, they emerged from stealth mode with a $60 mil­lion Se­ries A round led by Ver­sant Ven­tures. NEA, Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment and Lo­gos Cap­i­tal chipped in­to the round.

“We just found that space to be in­cred­i­bly dy­nam­ic where there have been, over the last few years, just a whole host of break­through dis­cov­er­ies,” Ver­sant part­ner Car­lo Riz­zu­to said.

Car­lo Riz­zu­to

While the in­dus­try was ini­tial­ly laser-fo­cused on mod­i­fy­ing DNA, ev­i­dence be­gan pil­ing up years ago that RNA mod­i­fi­ca­tions could help de­ter­mine to which de­gree genes are trans­lat­ed in­to pro­teins. The mod­i­fi­ca­tions play a big role in some can­cers — but un­til re­cent­ly, sci­en­tists have strug­gled to ad­dress those tar­gets due to a dearth of as­says and chal­lenges in cre­at­ing chem­i­cal mat­ter with drug-like prop­er­ties, Stafford said.

858’s plat­form re­volves around “spe­cial­ized know-how and spe­cial­ized as­says,” ac­cord­ing to Stafford. The Se­ries A mon­ey should be enough to get the team in­to the clin­ic by 2023 — but the CEO was care­ful not to dis­close the team’s tar­gets just yet. He says the com­pa­ny should be able to tack­le three to five pro­grams at a giv­en time.

Veal and Bain are on board as CSO and VP of bi­ol­o­gy, re­spec­tive­ly — the same roles they held at Je­cure. All three ex­ecs have ex­pe­ri­ence at Ver­sant-backed biotechs, in­clud­ing Quan­ti­cel and Ami­ra Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which were bought by Cel­gene and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb, re­spec­tive­ly.

Stafford says he’s look­ing to ex­pand the 25-per­son team to 40 in the next 18 months, with head­quar­ters in San Diego and op­er­a­tions in New York.

“(It’s) I think very rare in this busi­ness to get to work with the same team over mul­ti­ple suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies,” Riz­zu­to said. “There are not many, you know, three-times suc­cess­ful teams that are do­ing their fourth com­pa­ny and so I think that’s a very clear point of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion.”

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Fireside chat between Hal Barron and John Carroll, UKBIO19

It’s time we talked about bio­phar­ma — live in Lon­don next week

Zoom can only go so far. And I think at this stage, we’ve all tested the limits of staying in touch — virtually. So I’m particularly happy now that we’ve revved up the travel machine to point myself to London for the first time in several years.

Whatever events we have lined up, we’ve always built in plenty of opportunities for all of us to get together and talk. For London, live, I plan to be right out front, meeting with and chatting with the small crowd of biopharma people we are hosting on October 12 at Silicon Valley Bank’s London headquarters. And there’s a lengthy mixer at the end I’m most looking forward to, with several networking openings between sessions.

Take­da to pull key hy­poparathy­roidism drug from the mar­ket af­ter years of man­u­fac­tur­ing woes

Takeda on Tuesday morning made an announcement that almost 3,000 people with the rare disease known as hypoparathyroidism were fearing.

Due to unresolved supply issues and manufacturing woes, Takeda said it will cut its losses and discontinue its hypoparathyroidism drug, known as Natpara (parathyroid hormone), halting all manufacturing of the drug by the end of 2024, but the entire inventory will be available until depleted or expired, a company spokesperson said via email.

Pfizer and BioNTech's original Marvel comic book links evolving Covid vaccine science to Avengers' evolving villain-fighting tools.(Source: Pfizer LinkedIn post)

Pfiz­er, BioN­Tech part­ner with Mar­vel for Avengers and Covid-fight­ing com­ic book

Pfizer and BioNTech are collaborating with Marvel to celebrate “everyday” people getting Covid-19 vaccines in a custom comic book.

In the “Everyday Heroes” digital comic book, an evolving Ultron, one of the Avengers’ leading villains, is defeated by Captain America, Ironman and others. The plotline and history of Ultron is explained by a grandfather who is waiting with his family at a clinic for Covid-19 vaccinations.

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FDA+ roundup: Ad­comm date set for Cy­to­ki­net­ics heart drug; New gener­ic drug guid­ance to re­duce fa­cil­i­ty de­lays

The FDA on Wednesday set Dec. 13 as the day that its Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will review Cytokinetics’ potential heart drug, meaning regulators aren’t likely to meet the Nov. 30 PDUFA date that was previously set.

The drug, known as omecamtiv mecarbil, read out its first Phase III in November 2020, hitting the primary endpoint of reducing the odds of hospitalization or other urgent care for heart failure by 8%. But it also missed a key secondary endpoint analysts had pegged as the key to breaking into the market, failing to significantly differ in reducing cardiovascular death from placebo.

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Valitor CEO Steven Lo (L) and president and CSO Wesley Jackson

A dozen years in the mak­ing, a UC Berke­ley spin­out nabs funds to take on the eye

Largely funded by government grants for the better part of its first decade, a UC Berkeley spinout has secured a new CEO and the funds to take its research into the clinic in early 2024.

The biotech, named by one of the co-founder’s daughters and originally scrapped together with NIH funds in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis, is also on a mission to upend the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, with an injectable drug that it claims could be more durable than the “800-pound gorilla” in the room, Genentech’s Lucentis and Regeneron/Bayer’s Eylea.

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Af­ter Covid set­back, Val­ne­va lines up $100M for Pfiz­er-al­lied Ly­me dis­ease PhI­II

Valneva has secured €102.9 million (around $99.9 million USD) in a share offering to push forward its Pfizer-partnered Lyme disease vaccine and a jab for chikungunya that awaits an FDA decision.

The French vaccine maker largely snagged the near $100 million from Deep Track Capital and local state-owned Bpifrance, the company said Tuesday night. The capital injection is nearly equal to the amount Pfizer paid to nab equity in the company earlier this summer as part of the duo’s vaccine tie-up.

Car­olyn Bertozzi (Illustration: Assistant editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Car­olyn Bertozzi, re­peat biotech founder and launch­er of a field, shares in chem­istry No­bel win

Carolyn Bertozzi, predicted by some to become a Nobel laureate, clinched one of the world’s top awards in the wee hours of Wednesday, winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside a repeat winner and a Copenhagen researcher.

The Stanford professor, Morten Meldal of University of Copenhagen and 2001-awardee K. Barry Sharpless of Scripps shared the prize equally. The Nobel is sometimes split in quarters and/or halves.