Am­gen vet Patrick Baeuer­le in­spires a $45M round from A-list VCs for a next-gen I/O drug plat­form

MPM found­ed Har­poon Ther­a­peu­tics and seed­ed its ear­ly work look­ing to make the leap in­to next-gen im­muno-on­col­o­gy drugs with some in­sights from one of the pi­o­neers in the field. Now it has put to­geth­er a glob­al syn­di­cate of some A-list ven­ture in­vestors to back a $45 mil­lion B round to move their lead drug in­to the clin­ic next year.

Har­poon was in­spired by Patrick Baeuer­le, who led the de­vel­op­ment work on Mi­cromet BiTE plat­form, which used an an­ti­body to redi­rect killer T cells to de­stroy tu­mor cells. Am­gen went on to ac­quire Mi­cromet in 2012, back when Roger Perl­mut­ter was run­ning R&D and fell in love with the work. Perl­mut­ter, now run­ning R&D at Mer­ck, brought Baeuer­le on board at Am­gen to con­tin­ue work on Blin­cy­to, which was ap­proved in late 2014 as the first bis­pe­cif­ic CD19-di­rect­ed CD3 T-cell en­gager.

The sci­en­tist then left for MPM, bring­ing along some ideas on how next-wave drugs could go much, much fur­ther.

The big idea now, to be test­ed with HPN424 for prostate can­cer, is built around a new plat­form dubbed Tri­TAC, for tri-spe­cif­ic T-cell ac­ti­vat­ing drugs. Done prop­er­ly, the biotech be­lieves it has a bet­ter way “to un­leash the tar­get­ed cell-killing prop­er­ties of a pa­tient’s own im­mune sys­tem through T-cell ac­ti­va­tion.” That’s a big goal, and done prop­er­ly the biotech be­lieves it will pen­e­trate tis­sue bet­ter and ex­tend serum ex­po­sure, with ap­pli­ca­tions in can­cer as well as im­munol­o­gy.

“We’re giv­ing an an­ti­body-type mol­e­cule, not an an­ti­body per se, and we give that to pa­tients,” says Har­poon CEO Jer­ry McMa­hon, had been CEO at Koll­tan un­til Celldex bought it out last year. “The mol­e­cule will cre­ate a bridge be­tween the tu­mor cells and the T cells, and that bridge – or synapse – al­lows the T cell to kill the tu­mor cell.”

McMa­hon sees this as a third class of I/O drug, fol­low­ing check­point in­hibitors and CAR-T, ad­van­taged by their abil­i­ty to be able to ad­just dosage and reg­i­men.

The lat­est round brings the to­tal amount raised so far to $60 mil­lion, with enough cash to get at least through the next two years, with plans to dou­ble the cur­rent 15-mem­ber staff by the end of next year. In ad­di­tion to its prostate can­cer drug, McMa­hon adds that the biotech al­so has an­oth­er ther­a­py be­ing prepped for hu­man stud­ies that tar­gets lung, ovar­i­an and pan­cre­at­ic can­cer.

Har­poon, found­ed in 2015, spun one of its oth­er plat­forms us­ing the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment to ac­ti­vate T cells in­to a sep­a­rate biotech called Mav­er­ick, which at­tract­ed a $125 mil­lion in­vest­ment last Jan­u­ary tied to an op­tion to ac­quire it.

Baeuer­le has been busy of late, boot­ing up new com­pa­nies. He and MPM al­so found­ed TCR2 Ther­a­peu­tics, an­oth­er im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny that hopes to pi­o­neer a new class of T cell ther­a­pies that re­pro­grams the nat­ur­al T cell re­cep­tor com­plex to rec­og­nize spe­cif­ic anti­gens found on tu­mors, rapid­ly killing can­cer cells.

Lon­don-based Ar­ix Bio­science and New Leaf Ven­ture Part­ners co-led the lat­est round, with help from MPM Cap­i­tal and Tai­ho Ven­tures, an­oth­er new in­vestor.

“Har­poon Ther­a­peu­tics has a nov­el, T-cell en­gager plat­form which we be­lieve will be in­stru­men­tal to the dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment of im­por­tant new ther­a­peu­tics in on­col­o­gy,” said Mark Chin, in­vest­ment man­ag­er at Ar­ix Bio­science. “Cou­pled with its sci­en­tif­ic ex­per­tise and strong man­age­ment team, Har­poon is well-po­si­tioned to play a lead­ing role in the im­muno-on­col­o­gy field.”

J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Rich Heyman (ARCH)

Rich Hey­man joins PMV Phar­ma, a p53 biotech, as it adds $70 mil­lion in Se­ries D

Less than a year after pulling in an impressive $62 million Series C round, PMV Pharma is back at it again.

The Cranbury, NJ-based biotech announced Monday an additional $70 million in Series D financing as it seeks to develop cancer therapies targeting p53 mutations. Additionally, PMV also introduced longtime biotech entrepreneur Rich Heyman as chairman of the board of directors.

“This financing provides PMV Pharma with the resources to expand our pipeline and to potentially advance multiple p53 therapies into the clinic,” said PMV president and CEO David Mack in a statement.

FDA hands Mor­phoSys and In­cyte a quick OK on their po­ten­tial block­buster CAR-T al­ter­na­tive

Nearly three years after okaying the CAR-Ts Yescarta and Kymriah, the FDA has approved a new CD19 therapy.

MorphoSys’ Monjuvi, or tafasitamab-cxix, was cleared Friday for use in refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DBLCL). The approval sets up both MorphoSys and their commercial partner Incyte to compete with Gilead and Novartis in the ultra-competitive indication, where similar trial results and far easier delivery could allow them to cut a fair share of the market.

Sanofi un­der for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion for De­pakine al­le­ga­tions; Beam li­cens­es CAR-T tech from Ox­ford Bio­med­ica

Sanofi is facing a formal investigation on manslaughter charges, due to accusations that its epilepsy drug Depakine caused birth malfunctions and slow neurological development when taken during pregnancy.

The French pharma was formally charged in February, years after evidence surfaced that the drug, sodium valproate, posed neurodevelopmental risks. Sodium valproate first hit the market in 1967 for the treatment of epilepsy and bipolar disorder, and is currently prescribed in more than 100 countries.

Days af­ter seal­ing Sanofi pact, Kymera beats a path to the Nas­daq with $100M IPO pitch

Back in March, when Kymera Therapeutics closed $102 million in Series C funding led by Biotechnology Value Fund and Redmile Group, CEO Nello Mainolfi noted the protein degradation player was “at the cusp of transitioning” into a fully integrated R&D company. Five months and a major Sanofi pact later, he’s back asking for another little push to get there.

Kymera has penciled in $100 million in its first IPO pitch — although given the public market’s seemingly insatiable appetite for biotechs these days the final figure is anyone’s guess.

CymaBay flash­es pos­i­tive re­sults from the tri­al they have to re­launch

Two weeks after the FDA lifted its clinical hold on their lead drug, CymaBay said it showed positive results in an aborted Phase III trial.

The drug, a small molecule known as seladelpar, had been in development for three different liver conditions before an independent review of a NASH study last year showed that it might actually be damaging patient’s liver cells. The FDA slapped a clinical hold across all three trials, only lifting it last month when an FDA review determined that the drug hadn’t caused liver damage.

Covid-19 roundup: Eli Lil­ly retro­fits RVs for first-of-its-kind an­ti­body tri­al with NIH; Am­gen, Ab­b­Vie, Take­da team on a drug

Eli Lilly and the NIH are about to start a first-of-its-kind trial that researchers and developers have talked about for months as a way of providing temporary immunity to the most at-risk populations.

Lilly announced this morning that it will start a 2,400-person trial with the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases to test whether its experimental Covid-19 neutralizing antibody can prevent people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities from developing the disease. The idea, known as passive immunity, is that rather than waiting on a vaccine to induce people to develop antibodies, doctors can give them lab-grown antibodies. Ideally, those antibodies will either attack the new SARS-CoV-2 infection, if the patient has recently been exposed, or persist in the blood for several weeks and prevent infection or disease for that period.

Frank Zhang (AP Images)

CAR-T fil­ing in sight, Frank Zhang grabs full con­trol of J&J-part­nered Leg­end Biotech, steps down from Gen­Script

Two months after Yuan Xu steered Legend Biotech to a $424 million public debut on the Nasdaq, founder and chairman Frank Zhang is grabbing the reins as CEO.

In conjunction with the move, Zhang is also stepping down from the helm of GenScript — a position he’s held for 18 years. GenScript, a Hong Kong-listed CRO, hatched Legend as a subsidiary in 2015 before spinning it out, and remains a majority shareholder.

So Covid-19 leader BioN­Tech has a can­cer vac­cine in de­vel­op­ment? Yes, and Re­gen­eron just jumped in for the PhII com­bo study

Before the coronavirus global emergency stole the R&D show in biopharma, the leaders in the race to develop new mRNA therapies had a big interest in determining if their tech could be used to create an effective cancer vaccine after all the first-gen tries had failed to impress. So perhaps it’s not surprising that an early cut of the data at frontrunner BioNTech went largely unnoticed.

Unless you were at Regeneron.

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