An­oth­er gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny launch­es with VC cash and a CRISPR tech to tar­get tox­ic RNA

Gene Yeo Yeo Lab

A San Diego-based biotech has at­tract­ed sub­stan­tial ven­ture sup­port for its clin­i­cal for­ay in­to gene ther­a­pies that can tar­get tox­ic brands of RNA — sparked by DNA mu­ta­tions — that trig­ger ge­net­ic dis­eases. And they’ve wooed a well-known West Coast en­tre­pre­neur to the helm.

The biotech is called Lo­cana, which is work­ing on the sci­en­tif­ic ex­plo­rations done by UC San Diego pro­fes­sor Gene Yeo. Yeo’s pub­lished work in­cludes lab ex­per­i­ments that used CRISPR Cas9 tech to mod­i­fy repet­i­tive RNA —an ap­proach with im­pli­ca­tions for some tough dis­eases like my­oton­ic dy­s­tro­phy type 1 and 2, Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease, and C9orf72-linked amy­otroph­ic lat­er­al scle­ro­sis. That work was pub­lished in Cell.

Look­ing over their web site, the com­pa­ny plans to use a gene ther­a­py vec­tor to de­liv­er an RNA-tar­get­ing pro­tein with an en­zyme at the tip.

The Lo­cana plat­form Lo­cana

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion


Jef­frey Os­trove Lo­cana

Rare ge­net­ic dis­eases and new gene ther­a­py ap­proach­es have been all the rage now for a few years, com­ing af­ter years of frus­tra­tion when it comes to ear­li­er at­tempts to ad­dress some of these dis­eases. So it’s no won­der that some high pro­file VCs are jump­ing in­to this for the ride.

Arch is lead­ing the way on this new A round, which weighs in at $55 mil­lion — which looks like a tidy sum to get up to proof-of-con­cept work. Google’s GV is jump­ing in along­side UCB for the first time, join­ing Temasek and Light­stone Ven­tures — which have been in­volved from the start.

David Nelles Yeo Lab

Lo­cana is now a pre­clin­i­cal com­pa­ny, so get­ting in­to hu­mans looks to be a top pri­or­i­ty.

Along with the mon­ey, Lo­cana is get­ting a CEO: Jef­frey Os­trove. Os­trove’s lengthy re­sume in­cludes an­oth­er CEO role at Gen­Stem in San Diego, which is work­ing on “lentivi­ral mod­i­fied stem cell treat­ments for lyso­so­mal stor­age and mi­to­chon­dr­i­al dis­eases.” He was al­so CEO of Ab­Vit­ro, which Juno snapped up in a $125 mil­lion deal back in 2016.

David Nelles is a co-founder.


Im­age: Shut­ter­stock

The DCT-OS: A Tech­nol­o­gy-first Op­er­at­ing Sys­tem - En­abling Clin­i­cal Tri­als

As technology-enabled clinical research becomes the new normal, an integrated decentralized clinical trial operating system can ensure quality, deliver consistency and improve the patient experience.

The increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines has many of us looking forward to a time when everyday things return to a state of normal. Schools and teachers are returning to classrooms, offices and small businesses are reopening, and there’s a palpable sense of optimism that the often-awkward adjustments we’ve all made personally and professionally in the last year are behind us, never to return. In the world of clinical research, however, some pandemic-necessitated adjustments are proving to be more than emergency stopgap measures to ensure trial continuity — and numerous decentralized clinical trial (DCT) tools and methodologies employed within the last year are likely here to stay as part of biopharma’s new normal.

Onno van de Stolpe, Galapagos CEO (Thierry Roge/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

Gala­pa­gos chops in­to their pipeline, drop­ping core fields and re­or­ga­niz­ing R&D as the BD team hunts for some­thing 'trans­for­ma­tive'

Just 5 months after Gilead gutted its rich partnership with Galapagos following a bitter setback at the FDA, the Belgian biotech is hunkering down and chopping the pipeline in an effort to conserve cash while their BD team pursues a mission to find a “transformative” deal for the company.

The filgotinib disaster didn’t warrant a mention as Galapagos laid out its Darwinian restructuring plans. Forced to make choices, the company is ditching its IPF molecule ’1205, while moving ahead with a Phase II IPF study for its chitinase inhibitor ’4617.

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Stéphane Bancel, Getty

Mod­er­na CEO brush­es off US sup­port for IP waiv­er, eyes more than $19B in Covid-19 vac­cine sales in 2021

Moderna is definitively more concerned with keeping pace with Pfizer in the race to vaccinate the world against Covid-19 than it is with Wednesday’s decision from the Biden administration to back an intellectual property waiver that aims to increase vaccine supplies worldwide.

In its first quarter earnings call on Thursday, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel shrugged off any suggestion that the newly US-backed intellectual property waiver would impact his company’s vaccine or bottom line. Still, the company’s stock price fell by about 9% in early morning trading.

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'Chang­ing the whole game of drug dis­cov­ery': Leg­endary R&D vet Roger Perl­mut­ter leaps back in­to work as a biotech CEO

Roger Perlmutter needs no introduction to anyone remotely involved in biopharma. As the R&D chief first at Amgen and then Merck, he’s built a stellar reputation and a prolific career steering new drugs toward the market for everything from cancer to infectious diseases.

But for years, he’s also held a less known title: science partner at The Column Group, where he’s regularly consulted about the various ideas the VCs had for new startups.

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Ad­comm splits slight­ly in fa­vor of FDA ap­prov­ing Chemo­Cen­tryx’s rare dis­ease drug

The FDA’s Arthritis Advisory Committee on Thursday voted 10 for and 8 against the approval of ChemoCentryx’s $CCXI investigational drug avacopan as a treatment for adults with a rare and serious disease known as anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic autoantibody (ANCA)-vasculitis.

The vote on whether the FDA should approve the drug was preceded by a split vote of 9 to 9 on whether the efficacy data support approval, and 10 to 8 that the safety profile of avacopan is adequate enough to support approval.

Paul Hastings, Nkarta CEO

With no up­front pay­ment or mile­stones on the line, Nkar­ta and CRISPR join forces on CAR-NK search

Most deals in biotech come with hefty upfront payments attached, and the promise of big biobucks if a program works out. Not this one.

Nkarta has struck what CEO Paul Hastings calls a “real collaboration” with CRISPR Therapeutics to co-develop and commercialize two CAR-NK therapies, in addition to an NK+T program. The duo will split all R&D costs — and any worldwide profits — 50/50, Hastings said.

Brent Saunders (Richard Drew, AP Images)

OcuWho? Star deal­mak­er turned aes­thet­ics czar Brent Saun­ders flips back in­to biotech. But who’s he team­ing up with now?

Brent Saunders went on a tear of headline-blazing deals building Allergan, merging and rearranging a variety of big companies into one before an M&A pact with Pfizer blew up and sent him on a bout of biotech drug deals. That didn’t work so well, so under pressure, he got his buyout at AbbVie — which needed a big franchise like Botox. And it was no big surprise to see him riding the SPAC wave into a recent $1 billion-plus deal that left him in the executive chairman’s seat at an aesthetics outfit — now redubbed The Beauty Health Company — holding a big chunk of the equity.

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Drug pric­ing watch­dog joins the cho­rus of crit­ics on Bio­gen's ad­u­canum­ab: What about charg­ing $2,560 per year?

As if Biogen’s aducanumab isn’t controversial enough, the researchers at drug pricing watchdog ICER have drawn up the contours of a new debate: If the therapy does get approved for Alzheimer’s by June, what price should it command?

Their answer: At most $8,290 per year — and perhaps as little as $2,560.

Even at the top of the range, the proposed price is a fraction of the $50,000 that Wall Street has reportedly come to expect (although RBC analyst Brian Abrahams puts the consensus figure at $11.5K). With critics, including experts on the FDA’s advisory committee, making their fierce opposition to aducanumab’s approval loud and clear, the pricing pressure adds one extra wrinkle Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos doesn’t need as he orders full-steam preparation for a launch.

Eric Kelsic, Dyno Therapeutics CEO

Dyno's Er­ic Kel­sic fills the tank in his quest for bet­ter AAV with a group of big-name sup­port­ers on board

Adeno-associated viruses (AAV) for gene therapy have received a ton of scrutiny throughout the field’s history after a smattering of safety scares and their limited therapeutic range. Hoping to crack the field wide open through a capsid design revolution, Eric Kelsic and his team at Dyno have drummed up immense excitement — and now a hefty war chest.

Dyno Therapeutics has bagged a $100 million Series A with backing from the likes of round leader Andreessen Horowitz and new investor Casdin Capital in its quest to use AI to design better AAV capsids for gene therapy, the company said Thursday.