BAR­DA looks to get the jump on next pan­dem­ic with VC arm tar­get­ing 'trans­for­ma­tive' tech

Five years af­ter Con­gress first called for it — and a year and a half af­ter a pan­dem­ic broke out — BAR­DA, the US’s top pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness agency, is launch­ing its own VC fund.

The new fund will in­vest in tech­nolo­gies that could be de­ployed against fu­ture out­breaks or oth­er pub­lic health emer­gen­cies. It fol­lows a sim­i­lar mod­el to oth­er pub­lic health VCs, such as the Gates Foun­da­tion’s fund, giv­ing cap­i­tal to ear­ly-stage com­pa­nies with promis­ing plat­form tech­nolo­gies in ex­change for as­sur­ances they use it part­ly for in­fec­tious dis­eases that might not have a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket.

Sandeep Pa­tel

Sandeep Pa­tel, di­rec­tor of BAR­DA’s di­vi­sion of Re­search, In­no­va­tion and Ven­tures, name-checked mR­NA vac­cines, a tech­nol­o­gy that was be­ing de­vel­oped in large part for can­cer be­fore Covid-19, but which an­oth­er branch of the gov­ern­ment — DARPA — in­vest­ed in as a pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness tool.

It’s “look­ing at what’s po­ten­tial­ly trans­for­ma­tive,”  he told End­points News. “mR­NA rep­re­sent­ed a kind of new class of vac­cines. What’s the equiv­a­lent of that we can in­vest in for the fu­ture, ei­ther in vac­cines, treat­ments or di­ag­nos­tics? Or even things that cut across those ar­eas.”

Fit­ting­ly for a long-over­looked gov­ern­ment agency de­pen­dent on Con­gress for cash, the fund is for now mod­est. BAR­DA has com­mit­ted on­ly $10 mil­lion this year and $50 mil­lion over the next five years to the VC, al­though Pa­tel said that they hope to raise that up to $500 mil­lion over the next decade. He not­ed that Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s new bud­get in­cludes $50 mil­lion for year one of the ef­fort, should it be passed.

They al­so plan to match their own in­vest­ments with pri­vate cap­i­tal. Con­gress au­tho­rized the VC fund in 2016 as part of the 21st Cen­tu­ry Cures Act, but Pa­tel said they need­ed time to fig­ure out its mod­el. Af­ter so­lic­it­ing bids in the fall, the agency an­nounced it will team with GHIC, a Gates-fund­ed non-prof­it that will look to mar­shal more con­ven­tion­al VCs to bur­nish BAR­DA’s ef­forts.

De­spite its pre-pan­dem­ic his­to­ry, the new fund fits in­to a broad­er push to de­vel­op tech­nolo­gies, in­fra­struc­ture and oth­er ca­pa­bil­i­ties to pre­vent the next pan­dem­ic, join­ing gov­ern­ment and aca­d­e­m­ic ef­forts to de­vel­op pan-vi­ral vac­cines and in­dus­try ef­forts to reimag­ine bi­o­log­ics man­u­fac­tur­ing, so any fu­ture pan­dem­ic vac­cine or treat­ment could be rapid­ly scaled.

It’s a de­par­ture from where BAR­DA has spent much of the funds in the past, when it di­rect­ed tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to get in­di­vid­ual prod­ucts — of­ten an­tibi­otics with­out an im­me­di­ate com­mer­cial mar­ket — through late-stage stud­ies.

Pa­tel said they’ll in­vest in com­pa­nies — around five to nine per year — that have clear­er com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions out­side of pub­lic health emer­gen­cies, so it will be sus­tain­able with­out heavy pub­lic fund­ing and ready if a cri­sis strikes. As with oth­er non-prof­it ven­ture ef­forts, any re­turns from those in­vest­ments would be fun­neled back in­to the fund to be re-in­vest­ed. He com­pared it to In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s VC arm.

What could those tech­nolo­gies or com­pa­nies be? Pa­tel wouldn’t dive in­to too many specifics, but he threw out nee­dle-free vac­cines, which BAR­DA has al­ready mod­est­ly in­vest­ed in,  and new meth­ods for rapid­ly scal­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing — any­thing that could turned around faster for Covid-28, or what­ev­er strikes next.

“There’s a lot, there’s a long list here, we’re in the process of set­ting pri­or­i­ties,” Pa­tel said. “Clear­ly Covid-19 has showed us some lessons”

So­cial im­age: Rick Bright (Pho­to by Greg Nash / POOL / AFP) (Pho­to by GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Get­ty Im­ages)

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 117,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.