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.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Saurabh Saha at Endpoints News' #BIO19

On the heels of $250M launch, Centes­sa barges ahead with an IPO to fu­el its 10-in-1 Medicxi pipeline

Francesco De Rubertis made no secret of IPO plans for Centessa, his 10-in-1 legacy play. Barely two months later, the S-1 is in.

The hot-off-the-press filing depicts the same grand vision that the longtime VC touted when he did the rounds in February: Take the asset-centric mindset that he’s been preaching at Medicxi over the years, and roll up a bunch of biotech upstarts, with unrelated risk profiles, into 1 pharma company that can carry on the development at scale.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.