Christine Bunt, Robert Langer. Verseau

Armed with Langer tech and $50M, Verseau hails new check­point drugs un­leash­ing macrophages against can­cer

The ris­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of CD47 has pro­pelled the “don’t-eat-me” sig­nal to house­hold name sta­tus in the im­muno-on­col­o­gy world: By block­ing that pro­tein, the the­o­ry goes, one can stop can­cer cells from fool­ing macrophages. But just as PD-(L)1 mere­ly rep­re­sents the most fruit­ful of all check­points reg­u­lat­ing T cells, Verseau Ther­a­peu­tics is con­vinced that CD47 is one of many reg­u­la­tors one can mod­u­late to stir up or tame the im­mune sys­tem.

“Macrophages are in­ter­est­ing be­cause we were all ed­u­cat­ed prob­a­bly 20 years ago that they are the big eaters in the im­mune sys­tem, but they’re re­al­ly the or­ches­tra­tors of the im­mune sys­tem,” CEO Chris­tine Bunt said.

But the cells are al­so high­ly so­phis­ti­cat­ed and hard to work with, and pre­vi­ous ap­proach­es have fo­cused more on de­plet­ing than mo­bi­liz­ing them.

Dan An­der­son

So Bunt, a Big Phar­ma vet who’s then a part­ner at 20/20 Health­Care Part­ners, called Bob Langer at MIT hop­ing to find a way to work with non-T cell tar­get­ing im­munother­a­pies. The duo had worked to­geth­er to start Taris Med­ical — which was even­tu­al­ly sold to Al­ler­gan — and this time around she li­censed siR­NA de­liv­ery tech from Langer and Koch In­sti­tute in­ves­ti­ga­tor Dan An­der­son for a val­i­da­tion and dis­cov­ery plat­form. They al­so wooed Ig­or Feld­man and Ta­tiana Novo­brant­se­va, two sci­en­tists in­volved in cre­at­ing Jounce Ther­a­peu­tics.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing its first in­jec­tion of cap­i­tal in 2017, Verseau is now ready to emerge from stealth with its lead pro­gram. Equipped with $50 mil­lion from 20/20 Health­Care Part­ners, 3SBio, Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments, High­light Cap­i­tal, In­Harv Part­ners, The Mark Foun­da­tion for Can­cer Re­search and Yonghua Cap­i­tal, the biotech aims to bring their first macrophage check­point mod­u­la­tor (MCM) to the clin­ic.

George Golumbes­ki

The tar­get, PS­GL-1, is one of 23 that Verseau has iden­ti­fied as mas­ter switch­es that ad­dress the func­tion of macrophages more ful­ly than the an­ti-CD47 par­ty has. While Bunt said she’s had dis­cus­sions with Irv Weiss­man and ap­plaud the work he and oth­ers have done in the field, their ap­proach on­ly scratch­es the sur­face.

George Golumbes­ki, the for­mer BD chief at Cel­gene who’s kept him­self busy with a string of board chair po­si­tions, of­fered a ring­ing en­dorse­ment of this ap­proach as he jumps in to lead the board.

“The fo­cus on myeloid cells as an av­enue to broad­en the ther­a­peu­tic po­ten­tial of im­munother­a­py is emerg­ing quick­ly, and Verseau is po­si­tioned to make a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on this field,” said Golumbes­ki, Chair­man of the Board of Verseau. “The ear­ly da­ta are im­pres­sive and sug­gest that macrophage-tar­get­ed ther­a­peu­tics may be­come a sig­nif­i­cant ad­vance in im­munother­a­py.”

Ig­or Feld­man

While to­day marks Verseau’s of­fi­cial com­ing-out par­ty, avid biotech news read­ers may re­mem­ber that in Feb­ru­ary Chi­na’s 3SBio an­nounced it’s li­censed rights to three an­ti­bod­ies from the Boston-based start­up. That was a some­what awk­ward sit­u­a­tion of putting the car­riage in front of the horse, but now that she is free to speak about it Bunt is clear­ly pleased about se­cur­ing a Chi­na deal ear­ly in Verseau’s life — an un­con­ven­tion­al route of ob­tain­ing de­vel­op­ment cap­i­tal.

“Chi­na is a ter­rif­ic mar­ket — I’m there 4 times a year — but you need lo­cal part­ners if you need to con­quer that mar­ket,” she said.

Ta­tiana Novo­brant­se­va

3SBio’s man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties were ap­peal­ing, as was their will­ing­ness to shoul­der some pre­clin­i­cal and clin­i­cal work, which could start to pave the way to par­al­lel reg­u­la­to­ry fil­ings in the US and Chi­na.

Bunt’s state­side team of 32 re­cent­ly re­lo­cat­ed to a big­ger lab in Bed­ford, MA to ac­com­mo­date the un­ex­pect­ed­ly speedy growth, and they an­tic­i­pate hir­ing will at a fast clip.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; 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.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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UP­DAT­ED: Three biotechs price hefty IPOs just be­fore the week­end, while a fourth and a SPAC seek spots on Wall Street

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A handful of biotechs are hitting Wall Street just before the start of the weekend, with three companies — Caribou Biosciences, Sophia Genetics and Absci — all pricing big raises Wednesday and Thursday. Gamma delta T cell-focused IN8bio relaunched its IPO campaign months after postponing it last November, seeking a slightly lower raise. And another SPAC has filed for a public debut.

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Victor Perlroth, Kodiak Sciences CEO

Ko­di­ak turns down $125M pay­ment from Bak­er Bros. deal, slash­es roy­al­ty cap by 55%

Following a massive public raise last November, Kodiak Sciences has re-worked a royalty sale agreement with an old partner — and declined new funds in the process.

Kodiak is turning down a planned $125 million payment from Baker Bros. Advisors, according to an SEC filing, cutting short an agreement that saw the biotech hand over a 4.5% stream of royalty sales on its experimental anti-VEGF therapy KSI-301 for retinal vascular diseases. In conjunction with the move, Kodiak is shrinking the royalty cap from just over $1 billion to $450 million.

EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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Mol­e­c­u­lar Di­ag­nos­tics Can Trans­form Can­cer Care. Let’s Make It Hap­pen.

Like so many people around the world, my life has been profoundly shaped by cancer. Those personal experiences, along with a deep love of clinical laboratory science and a passion to apply the power of genomics in medicine, motivated me to launch a company that would improve cancer care through better diagnostics. Thirteen years later, I am proud that we are delivering more accurate information at multiple points along the patient journey, with a focus on eight of the 10 cancers that are most commonly diagnosed in the United States.