Art Krieg comes down from the moun­tain with a $27M round for Check­mate Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Art Krieg’s ski trip to Deer Val­ley in Utah last Feb­ru­ary was good for a lot more than mas­ter­ing the moguls.

Ben Aus­pitz from F-Prime joined the trip or­ga­nized by Krieg’s orig­i­nal back­ers at Sofinno­va Ven­tures, and their con­ver­sa­tions on and around the slopes led Aus­pitz and F-Prime to take the lead on a $27 mil­lion B round for Check­mate Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, an­nounced Thurs­day evening.

“We weren’t in any kind of a hur­ry to raise more mon­ey,” Krieg tells me. So it was a re­laxed time to start go­ing over Check­mate’s Phase Ib study, now un­der­way and look­ing at its drug’s abil­i­ty to help melanoma pa­tients who had failed Keytru­da.

The $27 mil­lion sets Check­mate up for the next 18 months, says the CEO. That will get them well past the point of en­ter­ing an ex­pan­sion phase of the study, with plans to bring in about 100 more pa­tients and start to bet­ter gauge the im­pact of their drug — which ac­ti­vates toll-like re­cep­tor 9 (TLR9) — in dri­ving a T cell re­sponse to can­cer cells.

That’s a com­ple­men­tary strat­e­gy to the PD-(L)1 check­point drugs like Keytru­da, which take the brakes off the im­mune sys­tem so T cells can swarm can­cer cells. Krieg ob­tained the drug af­ter Cy­tos had tried, and failed, with it in asth­ma.

Check­mate prob­a­bly won’t start talk­ing spe­cif­ic da­ta on its com­bo of their drug with Keytru­da un­til lat­er in the fall of this year, when it gets some­thing to present at a sci­en­tif­ic con­fer­ence. But Krieg tells me that they’ve al­ready had a chance to track tu­mor re­gres­sion in pa­tients. They’re not a pub­lic com­pa­ny, he adds, so there’s no need to re­lease lit­tle batch­es of da­ta along the way.

Krieg is very as­set-fo­cused, and he has been work­ing hard to keep the com­pa­ny team small. Check­mate has grown to about 18 staffers now, with most in Cam­bridge, MA. A few are scat­tered around the globe. Check­mate doesn’t have a lab and doesn’t plan on get­ting one. While Krieg — a long­time biotech vet and RNA ex­pert — ex­pects to add an­oth­er 6 to a dozen staffers with this round, he still doesn’t ex­pect to get big at any time.

“The most like­ly out­come down the road is M&A,” he says, af­ter the biotech snags more hu­man da­ta. But on the oth­er hand, he has a group of back­ers — which al­so in­cludes his old Pfiz­er boss Corey Good­man at ven­Bio — who have the cash to go in­to piv­otal work and be­yond. They could al­so do an IPO down the road, so no one course has been set yet.

“We will be ap­ply­ing for break­through ther­a­py in the next few months,” adds Krieg, who did a short stint as CSO at Sarep­ta be­fore he and then CEO Chris Garabe­di­an had a falling out, 10 months be­fore Garabe­di­an fol­lowed him out the ex­it.

That BTD dis­cus­sion, he says, will al­so give Check­point the chance to start a di­a­logue with the agency about what a reg­is­tra­tion path­way looks like.

Kenji Yasukawa, Astellas CEO (Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Astel­las taps chief strat­e­gy of­fi­cer as next CEO to 'go on the ag­gres­sive'

Five years into its big R&D revamp, Astellas says it’s time for a changing of the guard.

Kenji Yasukawa, who took over as president and CEO in 2018, will step down to become chairman of the board in April, making room for Naoki Okamura to take over. Okamura joined the company in 1986 and has served in a variety of finance, business and strategy roles, including most recently as chief strategy officer.

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Jean-Paul Clozel, Idorsia CEO (Patrick Straub/Keystone via AP Images)

Idor­si­a's brain bleed drug flunks PhI­II tri­al, a decade af­ter pre­vi­ous flop

Idorsia’s long journey with clazosentan came to an abrupt “unexpected result” Monday morning with a Phase III flop.

The Swiss biopharma said the drug did not meet the main goal of the late-stage REACT study, conducted in the US, Canada and Europe since early 2019.

The 409-patient trial tested the intravenous drug’s ability to prevent complications due to delayed cerebral ischemia following aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (aSAH), in which blood vessels in the brain narrow and blood accumulates around the brain’s surface, which then dials up the pressure on the brain.

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Clin­i­cal tri­al di­ver­si­ty da­ta show mis­match be­tween en­roll­ment and dis­ease preva­lence, GSK says

A lack of diversity in clinical trials has persisted despite decades of initiatives to try to turn the tide.

In a recent review of 17 years of clinical trials, drugmaker GSK found that there were some mismatches between the demographics of its US-based trials and how prevalent diseases were in those populations.

The results, the company says, will help GSK and others design studies that better represent epidemiological rates within races and ethnicities.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; 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.

With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Simba Gill, Evelo Biosciences CEO

Sim­ba Gill stay­ing on at Evelo to weath­er lay­offs and a PhII fail

Simba Gill will be staying put as CEO of Evelo Biosciences for now.

Gill announced last year that he would be leaving the head position at Evelo to take on the role of executive partner at Flagship Pioneering. He was aiming to stay on until a successor was selected, but there’s a new course of action in the wake of a Phase II miss and a reduced headcount.

“I want to emphasize that I remain personally committed to Evelo and staying on to lead the organization. I continue to believe that Evelo is a remarkable opportunity in terms of the science, the platform, the type of products that we’re able to produce, and most importantly, the potential of millions of patients suffering from all stages of inflammatory disease,” Gill said on a conference call.

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Laurent Audoly, former Parthenon CEO

Parthenon Ther­a­peu­tics CEO ex­its weeks af­ter co-founder leaves

Parthenon Therapeutics’ CEO and co-founder Laurent Audoly is no longer steering the ship of the cancer biotech, Endpoints News has learned.

Audoly’s departure comes just weeks after co-founder and chief business and operating officer Olga Granaturova left to take on the same posts at Normunity, another privately-held immunotherapy startup. CSO Tamas Oravecz also traded in his CSO hat for the same role at Simcere last August.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.