Arch joins Cel­gene, Chi­na in­vestors bankrolling a pi­o­neer­ing New York biotech start­up fo­cused on a new ap­proach to metas­ta­sis

Julio Aguirre-Ghiso has steered the work in his lab at Mount Sinai down some of the less-trav­eled path­ways of can­cer re­search. And it’s led him to launch a biotech — which is hav­ing its com­ing-out par­ty to­day in New York — that has now set out to de­vel­op new med­i­cines tai­lored for the field he’s been pi­o­neer­ing.

While a mas­sive amount of can­cer re­search has been de­vot­ed to a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of tu­mors and new and bet­ter ways to kill tu­mor cells, Aguirre-Ghiso’s re­search has cen­tered on “dor­mant” dis­sem­i­nat­ed tu­mor cells, or DTCs, that can re­ac­ti­vate long af­ter drugs have wiped out all ap­pear­ances of can­cer — fu­el­ing a metasta­t­ic re­sponse that comes back to kill the pa­tient with near cer­tain­ty.

Ari Nowacek

That lab work has be­come the foun­da­tion of Hi­ber­Cell, a new com­pa­ny seed­ed by Arch last sum­mer and now de­but­ing with a $60.75 mil­lion launch round. Ari Nowacek, a prin­ci­pal at Arch who has helped cham­pi­on the com­pa­ny, is step­ping in as BD chief for the start­up, which has a small, vir­tu­al team of 5 now run­ning the show.

The syn­di­cate Nowacek helped form is telling about the way mon­ey comes to­geth­er in the bio­phar­ma world these days. Arch al­lied it­self, as it has be­fore, with Hill­house and 6 Di­men­sions out of Chi­na. Cel­gene, still op­er­at­ing as an in­de­pen­dent com­pa­ny in the lead-up to fi­nal­iz­ing the Bris­tol-My­ers buy­out, stepped in here as well. The NYC Life Sci­ences Fund, ea­ger to help fos­ter a Big Ap­ple hub, al­so con­tributed cash, along­side a group of uniden­ti­fied in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors and in­di­vid­u­als.

There isn’t any­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly new about the no­tion of dis­sem­i­na­tion in can­cer, says Alan Rig­by, the co-founder and CSO of the com­pa­ny. That dates back decades. But Aguirre-Ghiso’s lab has made some im­por­tant break­throughs in the bi­ol­o­gy of dis­sem­i­na­tion, find­ing that “soli­tary cells or mi­cro-clus­ters break away at ear­ly stages and dis­sem­i­nate ear­ly.” 

On his home page on Mount Sinai’s web­site, the sci­en­tist fur­ther ex­plains:

My lab has al­so de­signed an epi­ge­net­ic re­pro­gram­ming ther­a­py to in­duce dor­man­cy of DTCs, which is be­ing de­vel­oped in­to a clin­i­cal tri­al. We al­so dis­cov­ered that UPR sig­nal­ing can pro­mote the sur­vival of dor­mant tu­mor cells and that macrophages are key play­ers in the reg­u­la­tion of ear­ly dis­sem­i­na­tion and dor­man­cy. With mul­ti­ple col­lab­o­ra­tors we run an NCI-Tu­mor Mi­croen­vi­ron­ment Net­work Cen­ter that stud­ies the mi­croen­vi­ron­men­tal stress and dor­man­cy and de­vel­ops new tech­nolo­gies to im­age and tar­get metas­ta­sis. We al­so col­lab­o­rate to char­ac­ter­ize dor­man­cy in hu­man breast, prostate and head and neck can­cer DTCs and we study the epi­ge­net­ic reg­u­la­tion of DTC dor­man­cy. A ma­jor ef­fort in our lab is al­so to de­vel­op a trans­la­tion­al pro­gram with the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try to iden­ti­fy po­ten­tial drugs to tar­get dor­mant dis­ease.

The re­search they’re do­ing has di­rect ap­pli­ca­tions that are par­tic­u­lar­ly suit­ed for the Chi­na mar­ket, adds Rig­by, cit­ing esophageal, gas­tric and liv­er can­cers. He adds that the launch round should get them in­to 2022, in­clud­ing a nice stretch af­ter they’re slat­ed to get in­to the clin­ic in 2020 or ear­ly ’21 with their first drug.

Rig­by al­so says that the team, which is like­ly to grow some­what, in-li­censed late pre­clin­i­cal drug can­di­dates that they’re work­ing with now. He de­clined to of­fer de­tails about those drugs, not un­usu­al for a start­up look­ing to get out ahead of any po­ten­tial ri­vals that may ap­pear now.


Im­age: Julio Aguirre-Ghiso and Alan Rig­by. HI­BER­CELL

Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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Hal Barron. GSK

GSK's Hal Bar­ron her­alds their sec­ond pos­i­tive piv­otal for cru­cial an­ti-BC­MA ther­a­py, point­ing to a push for quick OKs in a crowd­ed field

Hal Barron has his second positive round of Phase III data in hand for his anti-BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin (GSK2857916). And GSK’s research chief says the data paves the way for their drive in search of an FDA approval for treating multiple myeloma.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this drug for GSK, a cornerstone of Barron’s campaign to make a dramatic impact on the oncology market and provide some long-lost excitement for the pharma giant’s pipeline. They’re putting this BCMA program at the front of that charge — looking to lead a host of rivals all aimed at the same target.

We don’t know what the data are yet, but DREAMM-2 falls on the heels of a promising set of data delivered 5 months ago for DREAMM-1. There investigators noted that complete responses among treatment-resistant patients rose to 15% in the extra year’s worth of data to look over, with a median progression-free survival rate of 12 months, up from 7.9 months reported earlier. The median duration of response was 14.3 months.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Why would Am­gen want to buy Alex­ion? An­a­lysts call hot­ly ru­mored takeover un­like­ly, but seize the mo­ment

A rumor that Amgen is closing in on buyout deal for Alexion has sparked a guessing game on just what kind of M&A strategy Amgen is pursuing and how much Alexion is worth.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed first lent credence to the report out of the Spanish news outlet Intereconomía, which said Amgen is bidding as much as $200 per share. While the source may be questionable, “the concept of this happening doesn’t sound too crazy to me,” he wrote.