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

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Is­raeli biotech rais­es $57M to go where cur­rent BRAF in­hibitors can't, with back­ing from No­var­tis, SR One

For the blockbuster potential of Novartis’ Tafinlar and Pfizer’s Braftovi, all the BRAF inhibitors on the market so far only target V600 mutations — which accounts for roughly 50% of patients.

Israeli biotech Novellus now has $57 million to develop a drug that they say can help the other 50% who have everything else.

The Series C will fund a Phase II trial for PLX-8394, a “paradox breaker” that could block RAF without activating MAPK signaling. In a Phase I trial, a patient with a BRAF fusion saw their tumor go away after taking the drug, allowing Novellus to hit the ground running.

Jonathan Rigby, Immune Regulation group CEO

Im­mune Reg­u­la­tion, tak­ing two clin­i­cal pro­grams to 're­set' the im­mune sys­tem, nets $53M+ Se­ries B

A little under two years after a company rebranding, Immune Regulation is taking an even bigger step toward advancing its goals.

Formerly known as Peptinnovate, the British biotech announced a $53.4 million Series B early Monday morning, helping to further advance two clinical programs in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Though those are the two initial indications the company is focusing on, CEO Jonathan Rigby told Endpoints News he hopes the candidates can be applied to a broad swath of autoimmune disorders.

UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.