Backed by part­ners at Pfiz­er, eF­FEC­TOR brings its VC to­tal to $150M as PhII can­cer tri­al looms

With a big as­sist from its Big Phar­ma col­lab­o­ra­tor Pfiz­er, San Diego-based eF­FEC­TOR Ther­a­peu­tics has now added a $38.5 mil­lion round to pay for a Phase II pro­gram to test the com­bi­na­tion of its oral im­muno-ther­a­py drug with avelum­ab (Baven­cio) — Pfiz­er and Mer­ck KGaA’s PD-L1 check­point in­hibitor.

Steve Wor­land

The round com­pletes a se­ries of moves by eF­FEC­TOR, which has moved from pre­clin­i­cal tests to check on the po­ten­tial of a com­bo to ear­ly-stage monother­a­py work to test the drug in a small group of can­cer pa­tients. Pfiz­er had agreed to share the costs of the com­ing Phase II tri­als with eF­FEC­TOR, and Pfiz­er Ven­ture In­vest­ments took the lead on the new round, which brings its to­tal raised to $150 mil­lion.

Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments al­so stepped in for the first time, along­side a big syn­di­cate of found­ing in­vestors that in­cludes a num­ber of cor­po­rate ven­ture arms: U.S. Ven­ture Part­ners, Abing­worth, No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund, SR One, The Col­umn Group, Al­ti­tude Life Sci­ence Ven­tures, Sec­toral As­set Man­age­ment, Ab­b­vie Biotech Ven­tures, Bio­Med Ven­tures, and Astel­las Ven­tures.

The biotech’s lead drug is eFT508, an oral in­hibitor of MNK 1 and 2 ki­nas­es that play a role in evad­ing an im­mune sys­tem at­tack. About a month ago Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA and eF­FEC­TOR signed off on a col­lab­o­ra­tion to fund a split Phase II study that will test a com­bi­na­tion of their two ther­a­pies against colon can­cer with a monother­a­py arm for eFT508.

“The pri­ma­ry role is to trans­la­tion­al­ly reg­u­late gene ex­pres­sion,” CEO Steve Wor­land tells me, with a di­rect ef­fect on the tu­mor “as well as the ef­fect on the im­mune sys­tem’s ca­pa­bil­i­ty to at­tack the tu­mor.”

In Wor­land’s view, the lead drug has po­ten­tial as a monother­a­py, but its best use could well be in com­bi­na­tion with check­point in­hibitors like the PD-L1 drug avelum­ab or LAG3 or oth­er check­points. He ex­pects to have Phase II da­ta avail­able from the pro­gram in mid-2018, but Wor­land isn’t cer­tain that in­ves­ti­ga­tors will be able to pull all the num­bers to­geth­er in time for AS­CO.

Wor­land, the for­mer CEO of Anadys, which was ac­quired by Roche, snagged a $45 mil­lion A round to start the com­pa­ny in 2013, then fol­lowed that with $56 mil­lion more for the B round.

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.

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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.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: 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.

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Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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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.

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FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

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.

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