As UK biotech gains steam, Syn­cona launch­es new Treg play­er while Cam­bridge spin­out ex­pands Se­ries A

Since merg­ing with the pub­lic in­vest­ment firm BAC­IT two-plus years ago, Syn­cona has made steady head­way in the cell and gene ther­a­py space: It watched Au­to­lus bag an $150M IPO, jumped in­to a $116 mil­lion round for Free­line and cel­e­brat­ed the $800 mil­lion sale of Night­star, all the while groom­ing its port­fo­lio of star­tups in which it typ­i­cal­ly holds a ma­jor­i­ty stake.

Now the Lon­don-based VC firm — once an in­de­pen­dent sub­sidiary of the Well­come Trust — is un­veil­ing its next big act, square­ly fo­cused on en­gi­neer­ing reg­u­la­to­ry T cells.

Quell Ther­a­peu­tics is launch­ing with £35 mil­lion ($44.6 mil­lion) in Se­ries A cash, the ma­jor­i­ty of which came from Syn­cona with $1 mil­lion at­trib­uted to UCL Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. Syn­cona’s stake reg­is­ters at 69.3%.

Syn­cona be­gan set­ting up what it en­vi­sions to be a glob­al leader in the emerg­ing Treg cell field back in late 2017. They man­aged to en­list six re­searchers from King’s Col­lege Lon­don, Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don and Ger­many’s Han­nover Med­ical School who com­bine ex­per­tise in clin­i­cal tri­als, reg­u­la­to­ry T cell bi­ol­o­gy and gene en­gi­neer­ing. The founders re­main un­named but an on­line list­ing sug­gests that Al­ber­to Sanchez-Fueyo, Gio­van­na Lom­bar­di and Marc Mar­tinez-Llordel­la at King’s as well as UCL’s Hans Strauss are in­volved.

With IP from King’s and UCL, Quell is tak­ing ad­van­tage of Treg cells’ abil­i­ty to down­reg­u­late the im­mune sys­tem and ex­plor­ing treat­ments for sol­id or­gan trans­plant re­jec­tion, au­toim­mune and in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases. It is the 10th life sci­ence com­pa­ny found­ed by Syn­cona ac­cord­ing to Mar­tin Mur­phy, Syn­cona’s chief ex­ec­u­tive and the new biotech’s chair­man.

Al­so an­nounc­ing news is Storm Ther­a­peu­tics — a spin­out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge found­ed in 2015 to trans­late Tony Kouzarides and Er­ic Miska’s dis­cov­ery on RNA mod­i­fy­ing en­zymes. The com­pa­ny’s new in­vestor Ser­o­ba Life Sci­ences has helped bring its to­tal Se­ries A haul to £30 mil­lion ($38.4 mil­lion), on a day bub­bling with ac­tion for the UK biotech sec­tor. The buzz builds on a sun­ny 2018, when ven­ture dol­lars gushed in­to the in­dus­try at a record-break­ing pace.

Cam­bridge In­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal, M Ven­tures, Pfiz­er Ven­tures, Tai­ho Ven­tures and IP Group are all on board for drug dis­cov­ery work in on­col­o­gy and be­yond.

But the ac­tion is not lim­it­ed to the Gold­en Tri­an­gle. Rin­ri Ther­a­peu­tics, a biotech spun out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sheffield, has se­cured £1.4 mil­lion ($1.78 mil­lion) to ex­plore a cell-based ther­a­py to re­store hear­ing. Marce­lo Ri­v­ol­ta came up with the tech to po­ten­tial­ly re­verse neu­ro­path­ic sen­sorineur­al hear­ing loss based on years of sen­so­ry stem cell re­search. Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund, UCB Ven­tures and BioC­i­ty are back­ing the op­er­a­tion, which will now be led by CEO Si­mon Chan­dler.

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler, File Photo

Ox­ford, Evotec ramp up LAB10x with AI ex­perts at Sen­syne — fo­cused on biotech spin­outs

Ox­ford is al­ly­ing it­self with Evotec and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence out­fit Sen­syne Health to ramp up some new biotech spin­outs while look­ing to “ac­cel­er­ate da­ta-dri­ven drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.”

The big idea here is that Ox­ford sci­en­tists — some of the best drug hunters in the world — can uti­lize Sen­syne’s AI plat­form for their work, re­ly­ing on the chemists and hands-on de­vel­op­ers at Evotec to push ahead to a crit­i­cal proof of con­cept mo­ment. And they’ll do it through a project leader called LAB10x, which gets £5 mil­lion over the next three years to fund the work.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes more than a week af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Alex­ion wins pri­or­i­ty re­view for Ul­tomiris' aHUS in­di­ca­tion; FDA ex­pands ap­proval of Ver­tex's Symdeko

→ Alex­ion $ALXN has scored a speedy re­view for Ul­tomiris for pa­tients with atyp­i­cal he­molyt­ic ure­mic syn­drome (aHUS) af­ter post­ing pos­i­tive da­ta from a piv­otal study in Jan­u­ary. The drug is the rare dis­ease com­pa­ny’s shot at pro­tect­ing its block­buster blood dis­or­der fran­chise that is cur­rent­ly cen­tered around its flag­ship drug, Soliris, which is a com­ple­ment in­hibitor typ­i­cal­ly ad­min­is­tered every two weeks. Ul­tomiris has a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism of ac­tion but re­quires less-fre­quent dos­ing — every eight weeks. The de­ci­sion date has been set to Oc­to­ber 19. Late last year, Ul­tomiris se­cured ap­proval for noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria (PNH) pa­tients.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.