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.”

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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