Matthew Roden, Aktis Oncology CEO (MPM Capital)

Are ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals ready for the main­stream? No­var­tis, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb bet yes on MP­M's plat­form take

Bri­an Good­man, Patrick Baeuer­le and Todd Fo­ley weren’t ex­act­ly look­ing to start a ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals com­pa­ny.

Rather, the team at MPM Cap­i­tal — which had been known for its will­ing­ness to seed and in­cu­bate new ideas for bat­tling can­cer — was search­ing for tech­nolo­gies that could con­fer “CAR-T like ef­fi­ca­cy” in sol­id tu­mors. They went through an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates, cell ther­a­pies and T cell en­gagers but very quick­ly got hooked on some­thing else: al­pha emit­ting par­ti­cles.

It was 2019, and in­ter­est in the space was bub­bling as No­var­tis claimed a lead with the ac­qui­si­tion of both Ad­vanced Ac­cel­er­a­tor Ap­pli­ca­tions and En­do­cyte while small­er play­ers like Fu­sion Phar­ma and Clo­vis were an­gling for en­try. Specif­i­cal­ly, the MPM VCs had their eyes on al­pha emit­ting par­ti­cles: a pay­load that’s 1,000 times as po­tent as the be­ta emit­ters used in cur­rent­ly ap­proved ra­dio­ther­a­pies.

The time seemed ripe for ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to be­come more main­stream, they de­cid­ed, with mon­ey be­ing poured in­to all steps of the val­ue chain, in­clud­ing sup­pli­ers of ra­dioiso­topes and con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers. But there is a need for a new kind of phar­ma­col­o­gy — find­ing the right mol­e­cules that would take the ra­dioiso­topes where they need to be and keep them there. And that’s pre­cise­ly their goal with Ak­tis On­col­o­gy, which was for­mal­ized in 2020 and is now tak­ing the wraps off a $72 mil­lion launch round.

“We’re not alone,” said Matthew Ro­den, CEO of Ak­tis and ex­ec­u­tive part­ner at MPM. “There’s an ecosys­tem be­ing built at the mo­ment that’s go­ing to en­able the suc­cess of this field go­ing for­ward.”

Like Rayze­Bio — the Ver­sant- and ven­Bio-backed start­up that’s sim­i­lar­ly promis­ing a new breed of ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — Ak­tis (the Greek root for ac­tini­um, the el­e­ment they’d be turn­ing to for the al­pha-emit­ting par­ti­cles) is keen about be­com­ing a plat­form play. Ro­den, an alum­nus of Bris­tol My­ers Squibb’s strat­e­gy unit who took up the post at the biotech soon af­ter join­ing MPM last sum­mer, is care­ful not to spill too many beans. But he is more ready to di­vulge what drew him to the project among oth­er port­fo­lio com­pa­nies he could’ve cho­sen from.

“There’s re­al­ly no good re­sis­tance mech­a­nism to al­pha emis­sions,” he told End­points News. “Al­pha par­ti­cles are ba­si­cal­ly a he­li­um atom that is dis­charged that cre­ates dou­ble strand breaks in DNA.”

Com­bined with the po­ten­cy, that means ra­dio­ther­a­pies can work with few­er con­straints and po­ten­tial­ly ad­dress tar­gets that es­cape oth­er modal­i­ties: You don’t need a thresh­old of anti­gen ex­pres­sion, or in­ter­nal­iza­tion, or im­mune cell ac­tiv­i­ty.

Plus, since you can the­o­ret­i­cal­ly swap out imag­ing iso­topes with ther­a­peu­tic iso­topes with ease, Ak­tis en­vi­sions a straight­for­ward path to the clin­ic once they can show — with the help of those imag­ing agents — dense ac­cu­mu­la­tion of the drug around the tu­mor but nowhere else.

Hav­ing looked at “count­less class­es of mol­e­cules,” Ro­den not­ed that Ak­tis’ in­ter­nal crew of 10 has worked with col­lab­o­ra­tors, ad­vi­sors and con­sul­tants (we’re go­ing to have to wait to find out who they are) to build a cou­ple of screen­ing plat­forms in par­al­lel to iden­ti­fy com­pounds to hit their se­lect­ed tar­gets. The com­pa­ny is head­quar­tered in Cam­bridge, MA with labs in Re­search Tri­an­gle Park, NC.

No­var­tis and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb are both back­ing the hunt, join­ing EcoR1 Cap­i­tal, Vi­da Ven­tures, Oc­ta­gon Cap­i­tal and TCG Crossover on the Se­ries A syn­di­cate.

Paul Feld­man, a Glax­o­SmithK­line vet who pre­vi­ous­ly co-found­ed a pep­tide-fo­cused com­pa­ny, is com­ing on board as CSO while Good­man from MPM is dou­bling as head of op­er­a­tions and cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.