Johnston Erwin, TRexBio CEO

Big Phar­ma back­ers jump on board 'Treg' car­tog­ra­pher's lead round with up to six can­di­dates in the pipe

Among the wealth of emerg­ing tar­gets in on­col­o­gy, im­mune sys­tem sup­press­ing reg­u­la­to­ry T cells — bet­ter known as “Tregs” — have earned some big-name in­ter­est in re­cent years. Now, a West Coast start­up map­ping Tregs in hu­man tis­sue has scored a slate of Big Phar­ma back­ers to dri­ve its grow­ing pipeline in­to the clin­ic.

South San Fran­cis­co-based TRexBio emerged from stealth Tues­day with a $59 mil­lion Se­ries A and the back­ing of in­vest­ment funds from Big Phar­ma gi­ants Eli Lil­ly, J&J and Pfiz­er, the biotech said in a re­lease.

Car­ol Gal­lagher

TRex’s plat­form maps the bi­ol­o­gy and func­tion of hu­man tis­sue Tregs to iden­ti­fy tar­gets in on­col­o­gy and au­toim­mune dis­or­ders. The com­pa­ny’s “deep bi­ol­o­gy” plat­forms pro­duce high-res­o­lu­tion pro­fil­ing of hu­man tis­sues to cre­ate “tis­sue-like” Tregs, the com­pa­ny said.

The biotech says it has six pre­clin­i­cal can­di­dates cur­rent­ly in its pipeline and is on pace to name its two lead drugs with­in the next year. TRex’s plat­form has iden­ti­fied 20 nov­el tar­gets so far, it said.

The biotech will be led by chair­man Car­ol Gal­lagher, the for­mer CEO of Cal­is­to­ga Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and a part­ner at New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates for the last sev­en years, and John­ston Er­win, a 36-year Lil­ly vet­er­an who will take the role of CEO. Er­win most re­cent­ly worked as VP of cor­po­rate busi­ness de­vel­op­ment.

“The com­pa­ny has a sig­nif­i­cant foun­da­tion in place, with a com­pelling vi­sion, ded­i­cat­ed team and ro­bust sci­ence,” Er­win said in a state­ment. “I am ex­cit­ed to lead the com­pa­ny in­to its next stage of de­vel­op­ment and ul­ti­mate­ly trans­form the lives of pa­tients by bring­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of im­mune-based ther­a­pies to the world.”

Ovid Tri­fan

Mean­while, TRex’s clin­i­cal pro­gram will be led by Ovid Tri­fan, most re­cent­ly CMO and VP of de­vel­op­ment at Apex­i­gen. Pri­or to that, Tri­fan held se­nior roles in clin­i­cal re­search at Bris­tol My­ers Squibb and J&J, fo­cus­ing on the on­col­o­gy space. Tri­fan will gear up to bring TRex’s lead pro­grams in­to the clin­ic by the end of the year.

The found­ing team is al­so joined by CSO Melanie Klein­schek, who will dri­ve the boat on TRex’s dis­cov­ery plat­form.

Tap­ping in­to im­muno­sup­pres­sant reg­u­la­to­ry T cells, which con­trol the pro­lif­er­a­tion of cy­tokines and T cells to main­tain what’s called tis­sue home­osta­sis, has seen a wealth of in­ter­est in re­cent years as com­pa­nies look to tamp down over­ac­tive im­mune sys­tems.

Melanie Klein­schek

In Feb­ru­ary, Mer­ck signed away $1.85 bil­lion to ac­quire Pan­dion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and its pipeline of drugs tar­get­ing Tregs for au­toim­mune con­di­tions with the lead com­pound look­ing to bind with IL-2. That lead drug, dubbed PT101, will go af­ter ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis and scored a win in a Phase Ia tri­al ear­li­er this year. In that 56-pa­tient study, PT101 in­creased Treg lev­els by 260% and in­creased the lev­el of high CD25-ex­press­ing Tregs, known as CD25 bright Tregs, by a whop­ping 6,250%, Pan­dion said. The drug al­so hits its marks on safe­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty.

On a much small­er scale, No­var­tis and RA Cap­i­tal backed a $20 mil­lion seed round back in Au­gust for a com­pa­ny called Gen­tiBio, which is al­so look­ing to de­vel­op Treg can­di­dates. But those cer­tain­ly aren’t the on­ly two play­ers in that race.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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