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.”

Noubar Afeyan, Flagship founder and CEO (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

Flag­ship launch­es Sen­da Bio­sciences with an $88M back­ing, look­ing to pi­o­neer the field of 'In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy'

Flagship Pioneering has a fresh company out this week, one that aims to lay the groundwork for a whole new discipline.

Senda Biosciences launched Wednesday with $88 million in Flagship cash. The goal? Gain insights into the molecular connections between people and coevolved nonhuman species like plants and bacteria, paving the way for “Intersystems Biology.”

Guillaume Pfefer has been tapped to run the show, a 25-year biotech veteran who comes from GSK after leading the development of the company’s shingles vaccine.

Q32 Bio grabs $60M to kick off hu­man stud­ies for next-gen com­ple­ment drugs — with some Covid-19 tweaks along the way

For a company that launched in the early months of the pandemic, Q32 Bio had its fair share of run-ins with the new normals under Covid-19.

The original plan, for instance, was to conduct first-in-human studies of the IL-7 receptor antibody it licensed from Bristol Myers Squibb in the Netherlands. But they realized shortly after that while the country was beginning to open up clinical trials, there were additional restrictions on drugs that tampered with immunological mechanisms.

Daphne Koller, Getty

Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bristol Myers Squibb is turning to one of the star upstarts in the machine learning world to go back to the drawing board and come up with the disease models needed to find drugs that can work against two of the toughest targets in the neuro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-funded insitro is getting $70 million in cash and near-term milestones to use their machine learning platform to create induced pluripotent stem cell-derived disease models for ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks at the Rose Garden, May 26, 2020 (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Eli Lil­ly lines up a block­buster deal for Covid-19 an­ti­body, right af­ter it failed a NI­AID tri­al

Two days after Eli Lilly conceded that its antibody bamlanivimab was a flop in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, the US government is preparing to make it a blockbuster.

The pharma giant reported early Wednesday that it struck a deal to supply the feds with 300,000 vials of the drug at a cost of $375 million — once it gets an EUA stamp from the FDA. And once that 2-month supply deal is done, the government has an option on another 650,000 doses on the same terms — which could potentially add another $812 million.

Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Konstantin Poukalov

Per­cep­tive re­cruits A-list in­vestors to back its in-house Chi­na start­up with a mam­moth $310M raise

It took two years for Perceptive Advisors to conceive and boot up LianBio, its big bet on a new kind of in-licensing model for China, seeding it with enough cash to set up two anchoring deals with MyoKardia and BridgeBio. The result was a startup that was all ready to go, reaping $310 million just a little over two months after official launch.

Homegrown Chinese biotechs — many of them boasting of US ties and execs with overseas credentials — have been raking in mega-venture rounds in 2020, both from influential local backers and overseas VC firms that have been loading up new cash. As with IPOs, the deal flow might be slower but the amounts are often more staggering. LianBio’s latest round, unusually, is branded both a Series A and crossover.

Ar­cus and As­traZeneca part­ner on a high stakes an­ti-TIG­IT/PD-L1 PhI­II can­cer study, look­ing to im­prove on a stan­dard of care

For AstraZeneca, the PACIFIC trial in Stage III non-small cell lung cancer remains one of the big triumphs for AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group. It not only made their PD-L1 Imfinzi a franchise player with a solid advance in a large niche of the lung cancer market, the study — which continues to offer data on the long-range efficacy of their drug — also helped salve the vicious sting of the failure of the CTLA-4 combo in the MYSTIC study.

No­var­tis buys a new gene ther­a­py for vi­sion loss, and this is one pre­clin­i­cal ven­ture that did­n't come cheap

Cyrus Mozayeni got excited when he began to explore the academic work of Ehud Isacoff and John G. Flannery at UC Berkeley.

Together, they were engaged in finding a gene therapy approach to pan-genotypic vision restoration in patients with photoreceptor-based blindness, potentially restoring the vision of a broad group of patients. And they did it by using a vector to deliver the genetic sequence for light sensing proteins.

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Christian Rommel (via Roche)

Bay­er fol­lows R&D deal spree by raid­ing Roche's can­cer group for its new re­search chief

The day after Bayer signed off on a $4 billion deal designed to put the company among the leaders in gene therapy development, the pharma giant has recruited a new chief for its R&D division. And they opted for an expert in the cancer field.

Christian Rommel, Roche’s head of discovery and early-stage oncology development, has been tapped to take over the job. Joerg Moeller, who got the top research post after early- and late-stage development roles were combined 2 years ago, is hitting the exit “to pursue other career opportunities.”

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