Armed with CRISPR and a $38M round, eGe­n­e­sis tack­les the Holy Grail of xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion

Luhan Yang, eGe­n­e­sis

The first crude re­search in­volv­ing xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion goes back to the 1960s, when in­ves­ti­ga­tors first ac­tive­ly con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­i­ties of har­vest­ing or­gans from pri­mates for use in hu­mans. That failed, and sub­se­quent at­tempts run­ning through the mid-90s al­so flopped, with in­com­pat­i­bil­i­ty prov­ing im­pos­si­ble to over­come, while al­so rais­ing some big fears about trans­fer­ring pig virus­es to hu­mans with po­ten­tial­ly cat­a­stroph­ic re­sults.

But George Church and his cel­e­brat­ed team at Har­vard have been us­ing a hot new lab tool to give xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion an­oth­er shot at the re­al world. And now the team has raised $38 mil­lion from some for­ward-think­ing in­vestors to see if yes­ter­day’s sci­ence fic­tion can be­come to­mor­row’s land­mark re­al­i­ty.

Xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion “has been aban­doned for the past 15 years,” says Luhan Yang, an award-win­ning young sci­en­tist who’s the CSO and co-founder at eGe­n­e­sis. But Yang and her 10-mem­ber crew are us­ing CRISPR gene edit­ing tech­nol­o­gy to knock out prob­lem anti­gens to ad­dress the re­jec­tion is­sue while prov­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal set­ting that you can erad­i­cate the prob­lem virus from the pig genome, hope­ful­ly clos­ing the door on any pos­si­ble plague that could be trig­gered.

George Church

Yang says she’s al­ready pub­lished her work show­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties there, but she’s al­so quick to ac­knowl­edge just how ear­ly-stage the pre­clin­i­cal an­i­mal re­search is, and the long road ahead be­fore this can be test­ed in hu­mans.

“We have to see whether the or­gan is safe, com­pat­i­ble with the hu­man host, be­fore we move in­to the pa­tient,” says the CSO. “2017 is a very im­por­tant year for us” as eGe­n­e­sis con­tin­ues its work on Pigs 2.0 to ad­dress both is­sues.

It took some vi­sion­ary VCs will­ing to fund some rad­i­cal ideas to make this pos­si­ble, says Yang. Bio­mat­ics Cap­i­tal and Arch Ven­ture Part­ners co-led the round with par­tic­i­pa­tion from Khosla Ven­tures, Al­ta Part­ners, Alexan­dria Eq­ui­ties, Her­itage Provider Net­work, Berggru­en Hold­ings North Amer­i­ca Ltd., Up­ris­ing, and Fan Ven­tures. In ad­di­tion, Daniel S. Lynch — the for­mer CEO of Im­Clone — has joined eGe­n­e­sis as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man. They’ve be­gun the process of look­ing for a CEO while the team is set to grow to about 15 to 20 now that the new fi­nanc­ing has ar­rived.

I wrote about Bio­mat­ics and its two man­ag­ing part­ners yes­ter­day. They’ve put to­geth­er a $200 mil­lion fund look­ing for some break­through sci­ence to sup­port. And it doesn’t get much more am­bi­tious than this. Arch, mean­while, has prid­ed it­self in bankrolling break­through ideas in biotech. This was tai­lor made for them.

Xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion may sound a lit­tle far-fetched to some, con­cedes Yang. But if they can get this to work, the con­se­quences of farm­ing tis­sue and or­gans like hearts and kid­neys are enor­mous. In her na­tive Chi­na, she says, the cul­ture and re­li­gion make or­gan do­na­tions rare. Xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion would save a large num­ber of lives.

For now, though, the team is keep­ing its time­lines to it­self. How much time will it take to try this in hu­mans? It’s still to ear­ly to say, says Yang, who al­so didn’t want to spec­u­late. But they’ve just tak­en some big steps for­ward with the fi­nanc­ing.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL CEO Paul Per­reault de­ter­mined to grow plas­ma col­lec­tion af­ter full-year sales dip

As the ink dries on CSL’s $11.7 billion Vifor buyout, the company posted a dip in profits, due in part to a drop in plasma donations amid the pandemic.

However, CEO Paul Perreault assured investors and analysts on the full-year call that the team has left “no stone unturned” when assessing options to grow plasma volumes. The chief executive also spelled out positive results for the company’s monoclonal antibody garadacimab in hereditary angioedema (HAE), though he isn’t revealing the exact numbers just yet.

Blaise Coleman, Endo International CEO

En­do files for Chap­ter 11 as it looks to fin­ish off its opi­oid lit­i­ga­tion

Irish drugmaker Endo International is entering into bankruptcy as it faces the weight of serious litigation related to its involvement in the opioid epidemic in the US.

The company has filed Chapter 11 proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, with the company expected to file recognition proceedings in Canada, the UK and Australia. The company’s bankruptcy filing showed the company had assets and liabilities in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion.

Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Marisol Peron, Genmab SVP of communications and corporate affairs

Gen­mab launch­es cor­po­rate cam­paign am­pli­fy­ing its ‘knock your socks off’ an­ti­bod­ies

Genmab often talks about its “knock-your-socks-off” antibodies — and now the term is getting its own logo and corporate campaign.

The teal and purple logo for the acronym KYSO — Genmab pronounces it “ky-so” — debuts on Wednesday and comes on the heels of Genmab’s newly announced 2030 vision. That aspiration aims to expand Genmab’s drug development beyond oncology to include other serious diseases, while also doubling down on its own drug development.

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