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

Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

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Rodney Rietze, iVexSol CEO

Bris­tol My­ers, Charles Riv­er join Se­ries A fund­ing for iVex­Sol

Massachusetts-based iVexSol has secured funding to the tune of $23.8 million in its latest Series A round. The new investors include Bristol Myers Squibb, manufacturer Charles River Laboratories and Asahi Kasei Medical.

iVexSol is a manufacturer of lentiviral vectors (LVV), used in making gene therapies, and this latest round of fundraising brings its total Series A total over $39 million, which will be used to recruit more employees and bolster its technology.

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Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

Tony Johnson, Goldfinch Bio CEO (Goldfinch via YouTube)

Kid­ney dis­ease drug­mak­er Goldfinch Bio shuts down

Goldfinch Bio, attempting to make treatments for kidney diseases and diabetic nephropathy, is shutting down.

President and CEO Tony Johnson confirmed to Endpoints News Friday afternoon that the biotech shut down after “fundraising challenges in the current macro-environment.” Fierce Biotech first reported the news.

Johnson, who joined in 2017 after a stint as SVP of early clinical development at AstraZeneca, said in a text that the company “entered the ABC process recently,” referring to an assignment for the benefit of the creditors, which provides a different wind-down avenue than a bankruptcy.

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Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

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Eliot Forster, F-star CEO (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

F-star gets down to the wire with $161M sale to Chi­nese buy­er as na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns linger

With the clock ticking on F-star Therapeutics’ takeover by a Chinese buyer, the companies are still scrambling to remove a hold on the deal from the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

F-star and invoX Pharma said they are “actively negotiating” with CFIUS “about the terms of a mitigation agreement to address CFIUS’s concerns regarding potential national security risks posed by the transaction.”

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CBER Director Peter Marks (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

FDA ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee votes unan­i­mous­ly in fa­vor of bi­va­lent Covid shots re­plac­ing pri­ma­ry se­ries

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all current vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

The vote marks an effort to clear up confusion around varying formulations and dosing schedules for current primary series and booster vaccines, as well as “get closer to the strains that are circulating,” according to committee member Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

In­vestor 'misalign­men­t' leads to tR­NA biotech's shut­ter­ing

A small biotech looking to carve a lane in the tRNA field has folded, an investor and a co-founder confirmed to Endpoints News.

Similar to Flagship’s Alltrna and other upstarts like Takeda-backed hC Bioscience, the now-shuttered Theonys was attempting to go after transfer RNA, seen as a potential Swiss Army knife in the broader RNA therapeutics space. The idea is that one tRNA drug could be used across a galaxy of disorders and diseases.

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