Avak Kahvejian, Flagship Pioneering general partner

Am­per­sand snags $50M as Flag­ship fo­cus­es ther­a­peu­tics on de­sired tar­gets on­ly 

The be­he­moth biotech cre­ator Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing is out with an­oth­er start­up aim­ing to achieve the crown jew­el of drug de­vel­op­ment: treat­ments that hit on­ly the de­sired tar­get and cause no un­want­ed ef­fects else­where.

Am­per­sand Bio­med­i­cines is the Boston in­cu­ba­tor’s lat­est biotech to open its blinds, with Flag­ship dish­ing out a $50 mil­lion check to bankroll ini­tial work.

Lead­ing the charge at Am­per­sand is Flag­ship gen­er­al part­ner Avak Kahve­jian, who’s al­so found­ing CEO of Pro­Found Ther­a­peu­tics and has been in­volved in the ear­ly days of mul­ti­ple oth­er com­pa­nies formed by the en­gine that sparked Mod­er­na.

The 33-em­ploy­ee start­up is build­ing out an in­ter­nal pipeline of pro­tein drugs, main­ly bi­o­log­ics, that span mul­ti­ple undis­closed dis­ease ar­eas, Kahve­jian told End­points News in a pre­view of the launch.

Ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­o­gy and bi­ol­o­gy have helped the in­dus­try un­der­stand the hu­man body way more in re­cent years, al­low­ing for a more de­tailed blue­print of where pro­teins re­side and, im­por­tant­ly, where they don’t.

“Us­ing com­pu­ta­tion, we can elu­ci­date those that could serve as high­ly spe­cif­ic bea­cons or ad­dress­es to tar­get ther­a­pies with a very high de­gree of pre­ci­sion and res­o­lu­tion,” the found­ing CEO ex­plained.

That leads to Am­per­sand cre­at­ing po­ten­tial new med­i­cines that en­tail a “lo­cal­iz­er that takes ad­van­tage of that ad­dress and then an ac­tu­a­tor, which will car­ry out the ther­a­peu­tic func­tion and po­ten­tial­ly me­di­ate the bi­ol­o­gy through a dif­fer­ent tar­get on the cell or in the vicin­i­ty of the cell,” per Kahve­jian, who’s al­so helped spur Flag­ship’s spin­outs of Seres Ther­a­peu­tics, Cel­lar­i­ty, Ru­bius Ther­a­peu­tics, Laronde, Co­di­ak Bio­Sciences and oth­ers.

Cur­rent med­i­cines can have off-tar­get tox­i­c­i­ty con­cerns as a re­sult of not on­ly hit­ting the de­sired dis­eased tis­sue but al­so un­want­ed ar­eas.

“It’s left a lot of tar­gets that are re­al­ly mean­ing­ful that have re­al­ly strong bi­o­log­i­cal po­ten­tial on the cut­ting-room floor be­cause of their tis­sue dis­tri­b­u­tion, where you know and love the tar­get, but you say, ‘It’s in too many risky ar­eas for us to even en­vi­sion drug­ging it,’” as Kahve­jian told it.

The com­pa­ny said it can iden­ti­fy lo­cal­iz­ers for “any or­gan, cell, and dis­ease.” It’s part of the moon­shot-es­que ap­proach­es that Flag­ship em­beds in its project off­shoots. The moniker be­hind the lat­est is a nod to Am­per­sand’s plat­form, dubbed AND, which is short for ad­dress, nav­i­gate, de­sign.

Noubar Afeyan

On the found­ing team of the com­pa­ny, formed in 2020, are Kahve­jian, Flag­ship leader Noubar Afeyan and his nephew Raf­fi Afeyan, as well as Yann Echelard, Char­lotte Nicod and Nick Plugis. Am­per­sand’s chief tech­nol­o­gy of­fi­cer is Daniël Blom, a for­mer SVP of drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment at Cyg­nal Ther­a­peu­tics who has con­tributed to two mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body and four small mol­e­cule clin­i­cal can­di­dates while at Cyg­nal, Mer­ck and GSK.

In Flag­ship fash­ion, Kahve­jian said more com­pa­nies are in the works, with­out nam­ing names. Re­cent com­pa­ny fil­ings and web­sites point to stealth-mode ar­ti­fi­cial bi­o­log­ics mak­er Abi­o­log­ics, “cost-ef­fec­tive med­i­cines” mak­er Em­press Ther­a­peu­tics (led by Sonata co-founder Ja­son Park), RNA-fo­cused Ra­di­al Ther­a­peu­tics, cell and gene ther­a­py com­pa­nies and oth­ers.

“There’s a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties that we’re work­ing on, and a cou­ple dif­fer­ent bi­o­log­i­cal in­sights that we’re work­ing on,” Kahve­jian said. “They will all be an­nounced, or some of them will be an­nounced, in due course, maybe this year and next.”

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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Jeff Bluestone (R), Sonoma Biotherapeutics CEO

Jef­frey Blue­stone brings his start­up haul to $400M+, join­ing forces with Re­gen­eron on cell ther­a­pies

These days, when Jeffrey Bluestone gets together with his contemporaries in science, the conversation often turns to retirement plans.

But a little more than three years ago, Bluestone reached a momentous turning point in his career, exiting a prestigious post at UCSF, where he had spent decades in the scientific pursuit of new therapies. And it had nothing to do with retirement anytime in the near future.

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Hugo Peris, Spiral Therapeutics CEO

Hear­ing-fo­cused biotech grabs trio of pro­grams from Oton­o­my's fire sale

Otonomy may be shutting down, but the lessons learned there will live on at another biotech working on new treatments for hearing loss.

San Francisco-based Spiral Therapeutics has bought certain assets related to three of Otonomy’s programs, ranging from data, patent rights, and know-how to inventory. That includes data around Otonomy’s twice-failed lead program, OTO-104 (Otividex), a sustained-exposure formulation of dexamethasone.

Covant acting CEO Matt Maisak (L) and CSO Iván Cornella

With Boehringer In­gel­heim’s help, Roivant churns out an­oth­er Vant to go up against En­deav­or, Im­pact founders

Roivant Sciences has added another branch to its family tree, unveiling Covant Therapeutics with a $10 million upfront commitment from Boehringer Ingelheim to turn up the heat in cancer.

The Boston-based drug discovery startup will jointly create a new small molecule immunotherapy with the private German pharma giant. The deal, made public Tuesday morning, includes up to $471 million in future payments and tiered royalties, should the product make it to market.

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John Flavin, Portal Innovations CEO

Por­tal In­no­va­tions takes its Chica­go biotech in­vest­ing, lab space mod­el to Boston with Bob Langer start­up in tow

Life sciences investor and lab operator Portal Innovations is taking the blueprint it set in Chicago and expanding to Massachusetts, where it will deploy $25 million, and help house new startups in the former Boston Globe headquarters.

Portal CEO and founder John Flavin told Endpoints News the company will open its Boston-area operations in the coming weeks, and its first lab occupant will be Syntis Bio, an early-stage biotech out of Moderna co-founder Bob Langer, MIT professor Giovanni Traverso and Sherlock Biosciences co-founder Rahul Dhanda.

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CSL CEO Paul McKenzie (L) and CMO Bill Mezzanotte

Q&A: New­ly-mint­ed CSL chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul McKen­zie and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Bill Mez­zan­otte

Paul McKenzie took over as CEO of Australian pharma giant CSL this month, following in the footsteps of long-time CSL vet Paul Perreault.

With an eye on mRNA, and quickly commercializing its new, $3.5 million-per-shot gene therapy for hemophilia B, McKenzie and chief medical officer Bill Mezzanotte answered some questions from Endpoints News this afternoon about where McKenzie is going to take the company and what advances may be coming to market from CSL’s pipeline. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

UK gov­ern­ment, pri­vate in­vestors dole out $340M+ to drug, di­ag­nos­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers

The government of the United Kingdom is giving out grants to several manufacturers that have a presence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The government announced that four companies, including Ipsen, contract manufacturer Pharmaron, DNA manufacturer Touchlight and diagnostic test producer Randox, will receive a total of £277 million ($341.1 million). According to a release from the UK government, this represents the first portion of grants from the Life Sciences Innovative Manufacturing Fund.

Kourosh Davarpanah, Inato CEO

Big Phar­ma-part­nered clin­i­cal tri­al match­mak­er se­cures $20M to im­prove plat­form

A company with public links to Sanofi and Moderna has raised more money to expand its mission of improving diversity and enrollment in clinical trials.

Inato put the word out on Wednesday that it raised $20 million via an A2 round to advance its matching platform between pharma companies and potential clinical trial sites.

Inato CEO Kourosh Davarpanah told Endpoints News that with the $20 million in hand, it will pursue improvements to its diversity offerings, its focus on oncology and data collection.