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.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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Adeno-associated virus-1 illustration; the use of AAVs resurrected the gene therapy field, but companies are now testing the limits of a 20-year-old technology (File photo, Shutterstock)

Af­ter 3 deaths rock the field, gene ther­a­py re­searchers con­tem­plate AAV's fu­ture

Nicole Paulk was scrolling through her phone in bed early one morning in June when an email from a colleague jolted her awake. It was an article: Two patients in an Audentes gene therapy trial had died, grinding the study to a halt.

Paulk, who runs a gene therapy lab at the University of California, San Francisco, had planned to spend the day listening to talks at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, which was taking place that week. Instead, she skipped the conference, canceled every work call on her calendar and began phoning colleagues across academia and industry, trying to figure out what happened and why. All the while, a single name hung in the back of her head.

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Pascal Soriot, AP

As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot sev­ers an un­usu­al board con­nec­tion, steer­ing clear of con­flicts while re­tain­ing im­por­tant al­liances

CSL Behring chief Paul Perreault scored an unusual coup last summer when he added AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot to the board, via Zoom. It’s rare, to say the least, to see a Big Pharma CEO take any board post in an industry where interests can simultaneously connect and collide on multiple levels of operations.

The tie set the stage for an important manufacturing connection. The Australian pharma giant agreed to supply the country with 10s of millions of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, once it passes regulatory muster.

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Yanay Ofran (L) and Anat Binur (Ukko)

Leaps by Bay­er backs a pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing start­up tak­ing on Aim­mune — and Nestlé — in peanut al­ler­gy

Little capsules of peanut powder drove Nestlé’s $2.6 billion buyout of Aimmune. Now, with $40 million in new funding, a fledgling biotech is promising to bring a more sophisticated version of that protein therapy that can go much, much further.

Ukko’s goal is two-pronged — with the initial products spanning therapeutic and food — but it’s grounded in the same protein engineering platform, co-founder and CEO Anat Binur told Endpoints News.

As tar­get­ed ther­a­pies get ever more pre­cise, Deer­field un­veils $50M bet on an Har­vard pro­fes­sor's chem­istry in­sights

Behind the seemingly simple concept of targeted cancer therapies is the drug developer’s headache that the target is always changing. Each generation of kinase inhibitors may be ostensibly hitting the same oncogene, but in addition to blocking the wildtype oncogene, they must now also address the mutations that have developed along the way, spurring resistance to current drugs.

The more those target kinases evolve, too, the more they could resemble off-target kinases you don’t want to bind. So each iteration requires more selectivity — sometimes down to differences of a few atoms.

Vincent Sandanayaka (file photo)

UP­DAT­ED: Ex-MD An­der­son chief De­Pin­ho is help­ing launch an­oth­er biotech — and he's stick­ing with fa­mil­iar ground

Years after co-founding SINE-focused Karyopharm and stirring up controversy at MD Anderson, Ronald DePinho is helping uncloak a new biotech targeting solute carrier transporter proteins — and Karyopharm’s former head of chemistry is leading the charge.

Nirogy Therapeutics emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday with a $16.5 million Series A round and plans to hit the clinic by 2022. The financing should be enough to carry the startup’s lead program, a small molecule lactate transport inhibitor, through Phase I, CEO Vincent Sandanayaka said.

Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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