Ken Song (RayzeBio)

Bare­ly two months af­ter un­veil­ing a new breed of ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, Rayze­Bio brings to­tal haul to $150M

Just be­fore Ver­sant and ven­Bio of­fi­cial­ly took the wraps off Rayze­Bio with $45 mil­lion in launch mon­ey, Ken Song reached out to a few oth­er in­vestors “just to give them an overview.”

He wasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly look­ing to raise mon­ey im­me­di­ate­ly, the CEO said. Where­as the Se­ries A came to­geth­er most­ly around the con­cept of a new ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny, Rayze­Bio now had more de­tails and progress around its pipeline to il­lus­trate just what its plat­form can do. But the group — com­pris­ing some firms that were known for their crossover and pub­lic port­fo­lios — be­came so en­thused that, bare­ly two months lat­er, he has $105 mil­lion more to work with.

The plan is still to have at least one de­vel­op­ment can­di­date by the sec­ond half of 2021 and start the first clin­i­cal tri­als with­in a year of that.

“We can now def­i­nite­ly pros­e­cute in par­al­lel all of our pro­grams with­out need­ing to make re­source al­lo­ca­tion de­ci­sions due to lack of cap­i­tal,” he told End­points News.

Deb­o­rah Charych

With 13 now on the pay­roll and more set to join, Song al­so wooed Er­ic Bischoff, a col­league from his Metacrine days, to join as SVP of de­vel­op­ment and op­er­a­tions. Gary Li, the new­ly ap­point­ed head of bi­ol­o­gy and trans­la­tion­al med­i­cine, is tasked with get­ting the com­pounds ready for IND-en­abling stud­ies. Both join Song and Deb­o­rah Charych, co-founder and chief tech­nol­o­gy of­fi­cer, on the se­nior team.

RayzBio’s pro­grams, in­clud­ing the most ad­vanced one in mid-stage lead op­ti­miza­tion, have two parts: There are the pep­tide binders for a host of sol­id tu­mor tar­gets, iden­ti­fied in screen­ing by its Japan­ese part­ners at Pep­tiDream. These are then ra­di­o­la­beled with Ac­tini­um-225 with the in­tent of send­ing the pow­er­ful ra­dioiso­tope straight, and on­ly, to can­cer cells.

The biotech’s de­ci­sion to make be­spoke binders rather than re­pur­pose mol­e­cules off-the-shelf proved ap­peal­ing to in­vestors, Song said. The VCs al­so liked that it had 7 pro­grams, some of which would be first-in-class ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts if they make it.

“Be­cause if you look at most oth­er ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies that are out there — I’m ex­clud­ing No­var­tis, which is a large phar­ma — but if you look at pret­ty much every­one out there, most com­pa­nies are pur­su­ing maybe 1 or 2 pro­grams at most. And many of those pro­grams tend to be sort of the same tried and true tar­gets that have al­ready been pur­sued in ra­dio­phar­ma.”

A Ven­rock fund fo­cused on pub­licly held and late-stage pri­vate plays led the round, with Or­biMed, Red­mile Group, Viking Glob­al In­vestors, Lo­gos Cap­i­tal, Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, LifeSci Ven­ture Part­ners, Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments and oth­ers join­ing as new in­vestors. Ver­sant and ven­Bio re­turned for more, along­side Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal.

Bong Koh

Bong Koh from Ven­rock Health­care Cap­i­tal Part­ners is join­ing the board.

The new cash in­fu­sion will al­so fund an ex­pan­sion of the San Diego head­quar­ters as well as stud­ies in­to Rayze­Bio’s man­u­fac­tur­ing op­tions. Mak­ing ra­dioiso­tope-drug con­ju­gates, af­ter all, is a much dif­fer­ent process than typ­i­cal ther­a­pies, de­spite dra­mat­ic ad­vances in the abil­i­ty for ear­ly-stage de­vel­op­ers to se­cure ther­a­peu­tic ra­dioiso­topes.

For now, it’s go­ing with a cen­tral­ized mod­el re­ly­ing on key part­ners. But it could bring more of it in-house in the fu­ture — or try some­thing else.

“I would say every­thing is still on the ta­ble in terms of de­ter­min­ing what is the best man­u­fac­tur­ing strat­e­gy to take for­ward,” Song said.

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.

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.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

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.

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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.

When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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