An­oth­er im­munome­tab­o­lism deal? Johns Hop­kins spin­out Dra­cen lands $36M in­vest­ment from Deer­field

In the sec­ond fi­nanc­ing round an­nounced in one day for an im­munome­tab­o­lism start­up, Johns Hop­kins spin­out Dra­cen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals just wrapped up a $36 mil­lion in­vest­ment deal from Deer­field.

This mon­ey was part of a big­ger $40 mil­lion Se­ries A round, which got re­port­ed be­fore the deal ac­tu­al­ly closed.

Bar­bara Slush­er

The com­pa­ny, found­ed just a year ago, is de­vel­op­ing nov­el glu­t­a­mine an­tag­o­nists that work as in­hibitors of can­cer me­tab­o­lism, chok­ing out tu­mors and their nor­mal meta­bol­ic func­tion.

The tech is based on work by Bar­bara Slush­er, a pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy, and Jonathan Pow­ell, a pro­fes­sor of on­col­o­gy, at Johns Hop­kins School of Med­i­cine. The re­searchers al­tered the struc­ture of an ex­per­i­men­tal drug that en­hanced its abil­i­ty to slip through the blood-brain bar­ri­er. Their re­search was pub­lished in Au­gust 2016 in the Jour­nal of Med­i­c­i­nal Chem­istry, which showed in an­i­mal stud­ies that the al­tered drug struc­ture re­sult­ed in 10 times bet­ter drug de­liv­ery to the brains com­pared with the rest of an­i­mals’ bod­ies.

Jonathan Pow­ell

The drug they tweaked is called 6-di­a­zo-5-oxo-L-nor­leucine, or DON for short. It’s been used to shrink ad­vanced tu­mors in clin­i­cal tri­als, but its dam­age to the gas­troin­testi­nal sys­tem pre­vent­ed it from mov­ing for­ward.

“We won­dered whether we could make a safer and more tol­er­a­ble form of DON by en­hanc­ing its brain pen­e­tra­tion and lim­it­ing its ex­po­sure to the rest of the body and, thus, tox­i­c­i­ty,” Slush­er said in a 2016 state­ment.

Dra­cen has an ex­clu­sive agree­ment with Hop­kins and the In­sti­tute of Or­gan­ic Chem­istry and Bio­chem­istry in Prague to li­cense the joint­ly-owned tech and de­vel­op pro­pri­etary drug can­di­dates.

Tom Es­tok

Dra­cen in­tends to de­vel­op its glu­t­a­mine an­tag­o­nists alone and in com­bo stud­ies with im­mune check­point in­hibitors like an­ti-PD-1 and an­ti-PD-L1. The start­up’s plat­form might al­so have ap­pli­ca­tions in au­toim­mune dis­or­ders, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­ease and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem con­di­tions.

Dra­cen’s CEO Tom Es­tok said Dra­cen might be in the clin­ic by 2019. The com­pa­ny will use the new round from Deer­field to takes its can­cer pro­grams that di­rec­tion.

Jonathan Leff

“We are pleased to part­ner with Dra­cen and its founders from Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty,” said Jonathan Leff, a Deer­field part­ner, in a state­ment. “We see great po­ten­tial for Dra­cen’s ap­proach to de­liv­er im­proved out­comes for can­cer pa­tients and po­ten­tial­ly ex­tend the ben­e­fits of im­muno-on­col­o­gy ther­a­pies.”

The field of im­munome­tab­o­lism ap­pears to be heat­ing up, with Third Rock de­but­ing Rheos Med­i­cines just this morn­ing. Rheos is work­ing on a plat­form tech that it hopes will de­liv­er mul­ti­ple tar­gets span­ning au­toim­mune dis­eases and can­cer.

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gink­go Bioworks re­sizes the de­f­i­n­i­tion of go­ing big in biotech, rais­ing $2.5B in a record SPAC deal that weighs in with a whop­ping $15B-plus val­u­a­tion

Ginkgo Bioworks execs always thought big. But today should redefine just how big an upstart biotech player can dream.

In the largest SPAC deal to clear the hurdles to Nasdaq, the biotech that envisioned everything from remaking synthetic meat to a whole new approach to developing drugs has joined forces with one of the biggest disruptors in biotech to slam the Richter scale on dealmaking.

Soon after becoming the darling of the VC crew and clearing the bar on a $4 billion valuation, Ginkgo — a synthetic biotech player out to reprogram cells with industrial efficiency — has now struck a deal to go public in the latest leviathan SPAC that sets its pre-money valuation at $15 billion. In one swift vault, Ginkgo will combine with Harry Sloan’s Soaring Eagle Acquisition Corp. and leap into the public markets.

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Chris Garabedian (Xontogeny)

Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors, Xon­toge­ny bring the band back and then some with a $515M sec­ond fund sniff­ing out lead com­pounds

When Perceptive Advisors and startup accelerator Xontogeny initially teamed up on an early-stage VC round in 2019, the partners hoped to prove their investments could be a force multiplier for early-stage companies. Now, with that proof of concept behind them, the pair have closed a second VC round worth more than double the money.

Dubbed PXV Fund II and headed by Xontogeny CEO and former Sarepta head Chris Garabedian, the $515 million fund will target 10 to 12 early-stage preclinical companies with Series A rounds in the $20 million to $40 million range with opportunities for Series B follow-ups. The oversubscribed fund is bringing the band back with initial investors from PXVI as well as new investors that include “top-tier” asset managers, endowments, foundations, family offices, and individual investors.

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Stephen Squinto, Gennao Bio CEO (Gennao)

Alex­ion co-founder Stephen Squin­to is back in the game as CEO, this time for a small gene ther­a­py play­er

With his name already behind a rare disease success story in Alexion, Stephen Squinto was looking for a great story to drive him to jump back into the biotech game. He found that in a fledging non-viral gene therapy company, and now he’s got a few backers on board as well.

On Tuesday, Gennao Bio launched with a $40 million Series A co-led by OrbiMed and Logos Capital with participation by Surveyor Capital. The biotech, which is looking to use its cell-penetrating antibody platform to deliver nucleic acid “payloads” during into the nucleus, had to rush for its initial series — and had a name change along the way.

FDA un­veils six ICH guide­lines ahead of meet­ing with Health Cana­da

A sign that the FDA’s non-Covid-related processes are beginning to normalize: The release of six guidelines from the International Council of Harmonisation.

Years in development, the ICH documents offer an international perspective on drug development, with these latest guidelines covering everything from recommendations to support the classification of drug substances, featured in the M9 guidance, to standards for nonclinical safety studies for pediatric medicines in the S11 guideline.

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Sanofi, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Boehringer ac­cused of play­ing games, de­stroy­ing emails re­lat­ed to law­suit over con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed Zan­tac

A recent court filing raises new questions about how major pharma companies like Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and Boehringer Ingelheim have dealt with a lawsuit related to recalls of certain over-the-counter heartburn drugs due to the presence of a potentially cancer-causing substance found in them.

More than 70,000 people who took Sanofi’s Zantac and other heartburn drugs containing ranitidine, which have been recalled over the past two years, have sued the manufacturers, including generic drugmakers, and other retailers and distributors as part of a consolidated suit before US District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg in Florida.

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Dan Vahdat, Huma CEO (Yang Guanyu/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

With back­ing from Bay­er, a Lon­don firm will pitch its 'hos­pi­tals at home' con­cept for de­cen­tral­ized tri­als

Money is flying for companies promising to revolutionize the way clinical trials are conducted. Leaps by Bayer is the latest to get behind one of these players, leading a $200 million venture round for Huma Therapeutics and its digital “hospital at home” tech.

London-based Huma unveiled a $130 million Series C on Wednesday, which it will use to expand its digital platform in the US, Asia and the Middle East. As part of the round, the company can exercise another $70 million commitment later on.

David Halbert, Caris Life Sciences CEO (Caris via Twitter)

The grow­ing liq­uid biop­sy field sees a uni­corn en­trant as Caris pulls in $830M megaround

Caris Life Sciences has pulled in another massive raise, and this time they’re reportedly one step closer to launching their IPO.

The AI-focused Caris pulled in an $830 million growth equity round, the company announced Tuesday afternoon, earning a valuation of about $7.83 billion. Tuesday’s raise also brings their total financing amount to $1.3 billion since 2018 and $1.14 billion since last October. According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the raise, Caris expects to complete their IPO sometime within the next 12 months.

A clos­er look at the FDA’s more than 700 pan­dem­ic-re­lat­ed record re­quests to re­place on­site in­spec­tions

As the pandemic constrained the FDA’s ability to travel for onsite manufacturing inspections, the agency increasingly turned to requesting records to fill the gap, even for hundreds of US-based facilities.

FDA explains in its guidance on manufacturing inspections during the pandemic that the agency can request records (not to be confused with the FDA’s remote interactive evaluations) directly from facilities “in advance of or in lieu of” certain onsite inspections. Companies are legally required to fulfill those requests because a denial may be considered limiting an inspection, which could lead to the FDA deeming a drug made at that site to be adulterated.

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