Back to the be­gin­ning: Pfiz­er seeds dis­cov­ery-stage neu­ro start­up Mag­no­lia (af­ter ax­ing its own brain R&D)

Af­ter yank­ing its own neu­ro­science ef­forts —  and re­treat­ing from the fail­ure-strewn bat­tle­ground of brain sci­ence — Pfiz­er is ped­al­ing back to the be­gin­ning in this field. The phar­ma gi­ant is fund­ing a brand-new MD An­der­son spin­out that’s ques­tion­ing the very ba­sics of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion.

The start­up, called Mag­no­lia Neu­ro­sciences (“Mag­no­lia” as a nod to its Texas roots), is be­ing rather tightlipped about what it’s work­ing on. But CEO Thong Le tells me the com­pa­ny is steer­ing away from tra­di­tion­al ef­forts in the field.

In short, the start­up is tap­ping a body of lit­er­a­ture around a bi­o­log­i­cal process that oc­curs in the womb dur­ing the ear­li­est stages of life. When an em­bryo is form­ing, the body trash­es ex­cess neu­rons in a process called “pro­grammed cell death.” Re­search shows that this same process is re­ac­ti­vat­ed in the brain through­out the course of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, among oth­er neu­ro con­di­tions. Mag­no­lia is hy­poth­e­siz­ing that block­ing spe­cif­ic com­po­nents of this process will pre­serve brain tis­sue in hu­mans and — hope­ful­ly — pre­vent mem­o­ry loss. That’s what they’ve seen in mouse mod­els, any­way.

“Not on­ly can you pre­serve brain tis­sue and en­hance mem­o­ry, but — from a more bi­o­log­i­cal point of view — you could dra­mat­i­cal­ly change the course and de­vel­op­ment of neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease,” Le said.

To get to work on the idea, Mag­no­lia has round­ed up $31 mil­lion in a Se­ries A packed with high pro­file cor­po­rate VCs. The stel­lar syn­di­cate was put to­geth­er by Ac­cel­er­a­tor Life Sci­ence Part­ners, a start­up fac­to­ry that churns out these ven­tures by shop­ping aca­d­e­m­ic labs and oth­er hubs of in­no­va­tion around the globe. Once they find some­thing promis­ing, they put to­geth­er a team and spin the tech out in­to a start­up of its own.

It should be not­ed that Le is the CEO at Ac­cel­er­a­tor, which is why he’s head­ing up Mag­no­lia for the time be­ing.

Ac­cel­er­a­tor has satel­lites in New York, Seat­tle, and San Diego, and has launched sev­en star­tups since its in­cep­tion. One of their ven­tures is Lo­do Ther­a­peu­tics, the New York-based com­pa­ny that scored a $969 mil­lion (biobucks) deal with Genen­tech in metage­nomics ear­li­er this year.

Mag­no­lia man­aged to at­tract a slew of cor­po­rate VCs, in­clud­ing the afore­men­tioned Pfiz­er, Eli Lil­ly, Ab­b­Vie Ven­tures, and John­son & John­son In­no­va­tion, among oth­ers. You can see the full list on the com­pa­ny’s press re­lease.

Af­ter scrap­ping its own neu­ro­science work ear­li­er this year, some might see Pfiz­er’s in­vest­ment in star­tups as putting a bandaid over a gap­ing hole. But the phar­ma gi­ant is mak­ing an ef­fort to seed in­no­va­tion out­side of its own labs. In June, the com­pa­ny com­mit­ted an ad­di­tion­al $150 mil­lion to its VC group to in­vest in neu­ro­science star­tups. This in­vest­ment in Mag­no­lia is one of the first bets, it seems.

Le said it ac­tu­al­ly makes a lot of sense for large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies to leave the ear­ly dis­cov­ery work to small­er biotechs.

“When it comes to de­vel­op­ing drugs for com­plex dis­eases like Alzheimer’s, to some ex­tent we’re muck­ing with bi­ol­o­gy that we don’t re­al­ly have a per­fect un­der­stand­ing of, which re­quires tak­ing cal­cu­lat­ed risk from a de­vel­op­ment per­spec­tive,” he said. “Large phar­ma com­pa­nies that are pub­licly trad­ed don’t have as much flex­i­bil­i­ty as they’d like to have in terms of be­ing ag­ile and tak­ing the leaps of faith need­ed to push an ear­ly stage pro­gram ag­gres­sive­ly for­ward.”

Le said this lat­est round of fund­ing should move Mag­no­lia to­ward clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, al­though he’s not shar­ing time­lines just yet.


Im­age: Ac­cel­er­a­tor and Mag­no­lia CEO Thong Le. Mag­no­lia

Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos (via Getty Images)

With ad­u­canum­ab caught on a cliff, Bio­gen’s Michel Vounatsos bets bil­lions on an­oth­er high-risk neu­ro play

With its FDA pitch on the Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab hanging perilously close to disaster, Biogen is rolling the dice on a $3.1 billion deal that brings in commercial rights to one of the other spotlight neuro drugs in late-stage development — after it already failed its first Phase III.

The big biotech has turned to Sage Therapeutics for its latest deal, close to a year after the crushing failure of Sage-217, now dubbed zuranolone, in the MOUNTAIN study.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.

Michelle Longmire, Medable CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Med­able gets $91M for vir­tu­al clin­i­cal tri­als, bring­ing to­tal raise to $136M

As biotechs look to get clinical studies back on track amid the pandemic, Medable returned to the venture well for the second time this year, bagging a $91 million Series C to build out its virtual trial platform.

The software provider recently launched three new apps for decentralizing clinical trials, and saw a 500% revenue spike this year. And it isn’t alone. Back in August, Science 37 secured a $40 million round for its virtual trial tech, with support from Novartis, Sanofi Ventures and Amgen. Patients and researchers are taking a liking to the online approach, suggesting regulators could allow it to become a new normal even after the pandemic is over.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Peter Thiel (Riccardo Savi/Sipa via AP Images)

Tech bil­lion­aire Pe­ter Thiel backs a lead­ing psy­che­del­ic drug de­vel­op­er

Right on the heels of investing in antibody drug developer AbCellera, Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel has jumped into a syndicate putting up $125 million for a company with a portfolio of psychedelic drugs in the clinic for mental health.

The C round — which includes a $32 million conversion of notes to equity — will fuel the development programs at ATAI Life Sciences, a Berlin-based biotech that has assembled a portfolio of companies with psychedelic and non-psychedilc approaches to depression, anxiety and addiction.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 94,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.