Atre­ca banks a $125M mega-round as it builds a pipeline of an­ti­bod­ies for can­cer and pon­ders IPO tim­ing

In an­oth­er sign that the mon­ey back­ing up­start biotechs — and the val­ue at­tached to new drugs — con­tin­ues to swell, Red­wood City, CA-based Atre­ca to­day is pulling back the cov­ers from a $125 mil­lion mega-round de­signed to get through the ini­tial pre­clin­i­cal phase of de­vel­op­ment.

John Or­win

The work at Atre­ca cen­ters on a plat­form tech that takes tis­sue sam­ples from can­cer pa­tients to ex­plore for ide­al an­ti­bod­ies, us­ing B cells as their sound­ing board. If that seems fa­mil­iar, that’s be­cause it’s the same ba­sic tech ap­proach that Seat­tle-based On­coRe­sponse is us­ing, as I re­port­ed ear­li­er in the week with their $40 mil­lion round.

“These an­ti­bod­ies form in the con­text of the pa­tients’ re­sponse, but the anti­gens they’re tar­get­ing are not unique to the pa­tient,” Atre­ca CEO John Or­win tells me. In­stead, they’re af­ter a broad pa­tient pop­u­la­tion that can ben­e­fit. And they’re sleuthing sam­ples in ways that should de­liv­er ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­pies that can be used to tar­get a va­ri­ety of can­cer types — an­oth­er com­mon strat­e­gy in the field.

The CEO notes that the B cells they in­ter­ro­gate “are ex­treme­ly in­for­ma­tion-rich cells” that re­searchers can use to “cap­ture the se­quence in­for­ma­tion used in bioin­for­mat­ics to turn in­to reagents with an eye to de­vel­op­ing an­ti­bod­ies.”

“It’s the way we gen­er­ate the da­ta and the way we use the da­ta to se­lect what we take in­to pre­clin­i­cal test­ing and the way we do pre­clin­i­cal test­ing that we think gives us sig­nif­i­cant com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages,” he adds.

By ramp­ing up an in­dus­tri­al ap­proach to the plat­form, Or­win — who helmed Re­lyp­sa un­til its $1.53 bil­lion buy­out — and his crew of 65 at Atre­ca are al­so as­sem­bling a pipeline of ther­a­pies that should in­clude plen­ty of can­di­dates for new bis­pecifics and an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates as well.

Their first Phase I should get un­der­way next year, says the CEO. The $125 mil­lion should last in­to 2020, giv­ing Atre­ca some breath­ing room in 2019 to con­sid­er the right time for an IPO.

Cur­rent­ly on its third round, Atre­ca’s lead in­vestor is stay­ing qui­et for now. That’s a bit un­usu­al at this stage of the game for a round this size. But there were plen­ty of in­vestors in the syn­di­cate who were ready to flag their par­tic­i­pa­tion. They in­clude Welling­ton Man­age­ment Com­pa­ny and Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, based in Boston. New in­vestors Ais­ling Cap­i­tal, Box­er Cap­i­tal of the Tavi­s­tock Group, EcoR1 Cap­i­tal, Red­mile Group, Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal, and funds man­aged by Tekla Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment al­so pitched in.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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As­traZeneca's di­a­betes drug Farx­i­ga helps pa­tients with heart dis­ease and with­out di­a­betes in land­mark tri­al

Months ago, data on J&J’s $JNJ Invokana indicated the diabetes drug conferred cardiovascular (CV) benefit in patients who do and do not have preexisting CV disease. On Tuesday, AstraZeneca’s $AZN rival treatment, Farxiga, was shown to cut the risk of CV death or the worsening of heart failure in patients with heart disease, in a landmark trial.

The treatments, in addition to Jardiance from Eli Lilly $LLY, belong to a class of diabetes drugs called sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, which work by curbing the absorption of glucose via the kidneys so that surplus glucose is excreted through urination.

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan [via Bloomberg/Getty]

I’m not per­fect: No­var­tis chief Vas Narasimhan al­most apol­o­gizes in the wake of a new cri­sis

Vas Narasimhan has warily stepped up with what might pass as something close to a borderline apology for the latest scandal to engulf Novartis.

But he couldn’t quite get there.

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Pay­back? Sarep­ta stunned as FDA spurns fol­lowup to Ex­ondys 51 for Duchenne MD

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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UP­DAT­ED: No­var­tis spin­off Nabri­va fi­nal­ly scores its first an­tibi­ot­ic ap­proval

In May, Nabriva Therapeutics suffered a setback after the FDA rejected its antibiotic for complicated urinary tract infections — the Novartis spinoff has now had some better luck with the US agency, which on Monday approved its other drug for community-acquired bacterial pneumonia.

The drug, lefamulin, has been developed as an intravenous and oral formulation and been tested in two late-stage clinical trials. The semi-synthetic compound, whose dosing can be switched between the two formulations, is engineered to inhibit the synthesis of bacterial protein by binding to a part of the bacterial ribosome.

Saqib Islam. CheckRare via YouTube

Spring­Works seeks $115M to push Pfiz­er drugs across fin­ish line while Sat­suma sells mi­graine play in $86M IPO

SpringWorks and Satsuma — both biotech spinouts that have closed B rounds in April — are loading up with IPO cash to boost their respective late-stage plans.
SpringWorks

Bain-backed SpringWorks is the better-known company of the two, and it’s gunning for a larger windfall of $115 million to add to $228 million from previous financings. In the process, the Stamford, CT-based team is also drawing the curtains on the partnerships it has in mind for the pair of assets it had initially licensed from Pfizer.

Mi­nor­i­ty racial groups con­tin­ue to be dis­mal­ly rep­re­sent­ed in can­cer tri­als — study

Data reveal that different racial and ethnic groups — by nature and/or nurture — can respond differently in terms of pharmacokinetics, efficacy, or safety to therapeutics, but this disparity is not necessarily accounted for in clinical trials. A fresh analysis of the last decade of US cancer drug approvals suggests the trend continues, cementing previous research that suggests oncology trials are woefully under-representative of the racial makeup of the real world.