Asian in­vestor com­mits $15M to launch new pro­tein degra­da­tion biotech start­up Cull­gen out of UNC

A Japan-based in­vestor with close ties to Chi­nese re­search cir­cles is back­ing a new biotech up­start in the US with its own take on the hot field of pro­tein degra­da­tion.

Yue Xiong

Tokyo-based GNI Group is pro­vid­ing up to $15 mil­lion to seed the work at a new­co called Cull­gen, the brain­child of UNC in­ves­ti­ga­tor Yue Xiong. While still very much a fledg­ling, the com­pa­ny’s launch plans call for re­search to be un­der­tak­en in the US, Japan as well as Chi­na.

Like oth­ers in the field, they’ll be fo­cused on ubiq­ui­tin-me­di­at­ed pro­tein degra­da­tion tech­nol­o­gy. Xiong has been work­ing on de­vel­op­ing new drugs found through his in­ves­ti­ga­tion of en­zymes present in the cullin-RING fam­i­ly of E3 ubiq­ui­tin lig­as­es. And the com­pa­ny will set off with some tar­gets in on­col­o­gy and then spread out to in­flam­ma­tion and au­toim­mune dis­ease.

It’s a thriv­ing field.

Genen­tech and Pfiz­er inked re­cent deals with Arv­inas, which is build­ing on the lab work of Yale’s Craig Crews on pro­tein degra­da­tion. At­las backed Kymera’s launch last fall. And NI­BR chief and pro­tein degra­da­tion ex­pert Jay Brad­ner, who ear­li­er found­ed C4 to delve in­to this, forged an al­liance with UC Berke­ley that will dive deep in­to pro­tein degra­da­tion.

Ying Luo

Cull­gen rep­re­sents the ar­rival of new Asian in­vestors in the US, the glob­al R&D struc­ture that’s be­ing de­vel­oped to sup­port star­tups as well as the over­all fund­ing fren­zy that has fo­cused close­ly on can­cer R&D over the past two years.

So what will Cull­gen go af­ter? Xiong’s home page on the UNC web­site in­cludes this seg­ment on pro­tein degra­da­tion:

Most, if not all, cel­lu­lar process­es, in­clud­ing no­tably cell cy­cle con­trol and p53 con­trol, are reg­u­lat­ed by ubiq­ui­tin-me­di­at­ed mod­i­fi­ca­tion and degra­da­tion. The mech­a­nisms tar­get­ing spe­cif­ic pro­teins for ubiq­ui­ty­la­tion, in most cas­es, are poor­ly un­der­stood. We dis­cov­ered two nov­el RING fin­ger pro­teins, ROC1 and ROC2, which con­sti­tute ac­tive ubiq­ui­tin lig­as­es with mem­bers of the cullin fam­i­ly. We al­so dis­cov­ered that Cullins 3 and 4 could as­sem­ble in vi­vo as many as 200 and 100 dis­tinct E3 ubiq­ui­tin lig­as­es, re­spec­tive­ly. Our cur­rent re­search in this area is fo­cused on two is­sues. (1) De­vel­op­ing a strat­e­gy to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fy the sub­strates of the cullin-RING E3 lig­as­es, and (2) Elu­ci­dat­ing the mech­a­nism of CUL4 E3 lig­as­es in con­trol of gene ex­pres­sion and chro­matin struc­ture.

Lisa Carey, Stephen Frye and Pe­ter Jack­son are join­ing the SAB while Ying Luo, the CEO of GNIG, Yue Xiong, Jian Jin, and GNIG CFO Thomas East­ling will sit on the board.

Sanofi brings in 4 new ex­ec­u­tives in con­tin­ued shake-up, as vac­cines and con­sumer health chief head out the door

In the middle of Sanofi’s multi-pronged race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, David Loew, the head of their sprawling vaccines unit, is leaving – part of the final flurry of moves in the French giant’ months-long corporate shuffle that will give them new-look leadership under new CEO Paul Hudson.

The company also said today that Alan Main, the head of their consumer healthcare unit, is out, and they named 4 executives to fill new or newly vacated positions, 3 of whom come from both outside both Sanofi and from Pharma.

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As­traZeneca trum­pets the 'mo­men­tous' da­ta they found for Tagris­so in an ad­ju­vant set­ting for NSCLC — but many of the ex­perts aren’t cheer­ing along

AstraZeneca is rolling out the big guns this evening to provide a salute to their ADAURA data on Tagrisso at ASCO.

Cancer R&D chief José Baselga calls the disease-free survival data for their drug in an adjuvant setting of early stage, epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated NSCLC patients following surgery “momentous.” Roy Herbst, the principal investigator out of Yale, calls it “transformative.”

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Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Ab­b­Vie wins an ap­proval in uter­ine fi­broid-as­so­ci­at­ed heavy bleed­ing. Are ri­vals My­ovant and Ob­sE­va far be­hind?

Women expel on average about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during their time of the month. But with uterine fibroids, heavy bleeding is typical — a third of a cup or more. Drugmakers have been working on oral therapies to try and stem the flow, and as expected, AbbVie and their partners at Neurocrine Biosciences are the first to make it across the finish line.

Known chemically as elagolix, the drug is already approved as a treatment for endometriosis under the brand name Orilissa. It targets the GnRH receptor to decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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As­traZeneca’s $7B ADC suc­ceeds where Roche failed, im­prov­ing sur­vival in gas­tric can­cer

Another day, another win for Enhertu.

The antibody-drug conjugate AstraZeneca promised up-to $7 billion to partner on has had a quite a few months, beginning with splashy results in a Phase II breast cancer trial, a rapid approval and, earlier this month, breakthrough designations in both non-small cell lung cancer and gastric cancer.

Now, at ASCO, the British pharma and their Japanese partner, Daiichi Sankyo, have shown off the data that led to the gastric cancer designation, which they’ll take back to the FDA. In a pivotal, 187-person Phase II trial, Enhertu shrunk tumors in 42.9% of third-line patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer, compared with 12.5% in a control arm where doctors prescribed their choice of therapy. Progression-free survival was 5.4 months for Enhertu compared to 3.5 months for the control.

Once a gem, now just a rock, Take­da punts PhI­II IBD drug as ri­vals mus­cle ahead

Back in 2016, when then-Shire CEO Flemming Ørnskov picked up a promising clinical-stage IBD drug from Pfizer, the Boston-based biotech dubbed it SHP647 and moved it into the gem section of the pipeline, with rosy expectations of registration-worthy Phase III data ahead.

This was a drug that the EC wanted Takeda to commit to selling off before it gave their blessing to its acquisition of Shire, to settle some deep-seated concerns revolving around the potential market overlap with their blockbuster rival Entyvio. And Takeda, which took on a heavy debt load to buy Shire, clearly wanted the cash to pay down debt.