Armed with $42.5M, Gem­i­ni em­braces the Goldilocks strat­e­gy in bring­ing pre­ci­sion med to AMD

For most biotech star­tups, the big chal­lenge lies in de­vel­op­ing one or two new drugs that promise to do a bet­ter job of tar­get­ing a par­tic­u­lar dis­ease.

But Gem­i­ni Ther­a­peu­tics — the lat­est in a long line­up of Cam­bridge, MA biotechs to roll out this year — isn’t like most up­starts.

James McLaugh­lin

CEO James McLaugh­lin has set out to divvy up the large pop­u­la­tion of pa­tients at high risk of dry age-re­lat­ed mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion — AMD — in­to small, ge­net­i­cal­ly de­fined buck­ets of pa­tients, and then find the right drug most like­ly to help them. And that’s big enough to even­tu­al­ly in­volve a whole pipeline of ther­a­peu­tics.

“There are ge­net­ic vari­ants that in­crease the risk of dis­ease by 20 times or more. In­ter­est­ing tar­gets that were nev­er pur­sued; that is what got the pro­gram start­ed. Could we de­vel­op ther­a­peu­tics that were fea­si­ble and tractable for the eye?” says McLaugh­lin, the for­mer op­er­a­tions chief at gene ther­a­py pi­o­neer Voy­ager.

That process be­gan in stealth two and a half years ago, says McLaugh­lin, fol­lowed by the first seed fund­ing in 2016 as Gem­i­ni start­ed work­ing on the R&D side of the busi­ness. Now McLaugh­lin has a $42.5 mil­lion launch round co-led by At­las Ven­ture, Light­stone Ven­tures and Or­biMed. And the grow­ing 7-mem­ber team at Gem­i­ni will be start­ing out with three ba­sic tech­nolo­gies: re­com­bi­nant pro­teins, mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies and gene ther­a­py.

Find the right pop­u­la­tion first, he says, and you can de­ter­mine the right ther­a­peu­tic ap­proach sec­ond.

“It’s def­i­nite­ly am­bi­tious,” says the CEO, re­quir­ing dif­fer­ent teams to break down the tech and the pre­ci­sion med­i­cine they’re pur­su­ing. So there’s a team of gene ther­a­py ex­perts, a team on tar­get bi­ol­o­gy and a team on reti­nal dis­ease and AMD. “A lot of the con­ver­sa­tion is bridg­ing the gap be­tween the dis­ci­plines,” he adds, with ad­vis­ers and founders from around the globe.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Ed­in­burgh’s Paul Bar­low, Andy Her­bert and Tufts Uni­ver­si­ty’s Jo­han­na Sed­don are the sci­en­tif­ic founders.

Gem­i­ni’s sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board in­cludes:

  • Reti­nal dis­ease and AMD ex­perts Alan Wright from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ed­in­burgh, Dean Bok from UCLA and Bruce Jaf­fee.
  • Tar­get bi­ol­o­gy ex­perts in­clude John Atkin­son from Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Louis, Michael Ehrmann from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Es­sen-Duis­berg, Kevin March­bank and Claire Har­ris from New­cas­tle Uni­ver­si­ty, and Si­mon Clark from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Man­ches­ter.
  • Gene ther­a­py ex­perts in­clude Shan­non Boye from Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da, Ar­avind Asokan from the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na, and Chris Mueller and Clau­dio Pun­zo from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Med­ical School.

At this stage, Gem­i­ni has iden­ti­fied hun­dreds of ge­net­ic mu­ta­tions that play a role in the eye dis­ease. They’re start­ing out with the “Goldilocks zone,” small groups of 1% to 2% or so of the pa­tients like­ly to ben­e­fit the most from one of their tar­get­ed ap­proach­es. The big­ger groups can wait un­til lat­er, af­ter the biotech has shown what it can do with pa­tient pop­u­la­tions that re­sem­ble those found in rare dis­eases, where small tri­als can tell you a lot.

The re­cent up­beat re­view of Spark’s ground­break­ing gene ther­a­py for the eye fo­cused con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion on just how at­trac­tive the eye is as a drug tar­get. It’s large­ly con­tained, al­low­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tors to take a high­ly fo­cused ap­proach that avoids sys­temic threats. And it can be more straight­for­ward in as­sess­ing a drug’s im­pact.

For now, it’s Gem­i­ni’s en­tire world.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.