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.”

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.

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.

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 has set Dec. 13 as the day that its Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will review Cytokinetics’ potential heart drug, setting up a key vote ahead of a Feb. 28, 2023 PDUFA date.

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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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.

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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