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.

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

Cameron Durrant, Humanigen CEO (Columbia University Technology Ventures via YouTube)

Cameron Dur­rant hus­tled his way from the OTC side­lines right in­to the Covid-19 drug race. Death or glo­ry lies straight ahead

Over the past few months, Covid-19 has gone from being a monolithic threat to one of the biggest overnight boons the biopharma industry has ever seen. And amid all the furor over Moderna’s swelling stock price, plenty of chatter over what new drugs and vaccines will cost and investors’ uninhibited zeal for all things related to pandemic products, it’s been one little biotech’s golden ticket back from the land of the living dead.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Credit: AP Images

Covid-19 roundup: BAR­DA sup­ports Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed with big $628M con­tract to ser­vice Amer­i­ca's vac­cine pro­duc­tion needs

Another BARDA contract designed to service America’s Covid-19 vaccine needs has been deployed.

The White House-led initiative designed to bankroll development to bring a vaccine to the American public by this fall — Operation Warp Speed — has via BARDA handed a meaty contract to the maker of an FDA-licensed anthrax vaccine to open up its manufacturing apparatus to shore up production of Covid-19 vaccines.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Adam Keeney (NodThera)

As NL­RP3 play­ers head for first clin­i­cal face-off, No­vo, Sanofi fu­el trans-At­lantic con­tender with $55M

In the relative short history of inflammasome research, Adam Keeney sees two time points marking major breakthroughs: the early 2000s, when the role of inflammasomes as a major innate immunity node was elucidated; and 2015, when Pfizer found out a compound it thought was targeting IL-1 actually blocks NLRP3. Keeney’s biotech, NodThera, was founded the year after alongside several others to create its own superior small molecule drugs.

FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 82,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.