Bill Haney be­lieves there’s a bet­ter way to build a biotech — and now he has $100M more at Sky­hawk to prove it

Bill Haney

Bill Haney want­ed to do things dif­fer­ent­ly when he launched Sky­hawk Ther­a­peu­tics at the be­gin­ning of the year with $8 mil­lion in seed cash from some un­con­ven­tion­al biotech back­ers.

Now he has a $100 mil­lion more to fo­cus the team on step 3: 

“I think we start dri­ving drugs in­to the clin­ic,” he says.

Cel­gene — which has had more than its share of woes this year — will have a lot to do with that. The big biotech has un­corked one of its clas­sic start­up col­lab­o­ra­tions with Sky­hawk, drawn by the emerg­ing field of drug­ging RNA and the team of sci­en­tists at the biotech who are rac­ing to get out front with the new plat­form play. 

Cel­gene is pay­ing Haney and co-founder Kath­leen Mc­Carthy $60 mil­lion up­front to get them fo­cused on a line­up of new neu­ro­sciences pro­grams. The dis­ease tar­gets in­clude amy­otroph­ic lat­er­al scle­ro­sis — ALS — and Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease. And the com­pa­ny is buy­ing an eq­ui­ty stake as well, con­tribut­ing to­ward a $40 mil­lion raise along­side a group of in­vestors that in­cludes the Duke of Bed­ford, tech in­vestor Great­point and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments.

Kath­leen Mc­Carthy

Mile­stones? There Haney isn’t be­ing spe­cif­ic, but he did vol­un­teer that it’s big­ger than the $2 bil­lion pack­age Cel­gene hand­ed to Prothena when their ex­ecs aligned on a part­ner­ship aimed at con­struct­ing a new neu­ro­sciences pipeline.

Ex­cit­ed much? You could say that.

“I just love these guys,” says Haney, sin­gling out long­time de­vel­op­ment vet Richard Har­g­reaves and his team at Cel­gene for the ad­vice they’re get­ting. 

“You don’t want 4 hands on the wheel and co-dri­ve,” he adds. But gain­ing ad­vice to speed up the pre­clin­i­cal ef­fort comes in mighty handy, along with Cel­gene’s en­dorse­ment of a tech­nol­o­gy that al­so in­cludes key play­ers like Mike Gilman’s Ar­rakis, Ex­pan­sion Ther­a­peu­tics and Ri­bometrix.

Haney is back­ing the work of Mc­Carthy and her group of 25 staffers and FTEs work­ing on the start­up project. The Roche vet worked on the SMA drug RG7916 — a project that has now wound its way in­to piv­otal tri­als. 

Richard Har­g­reaves

“We will do more part­ner­ships,” says the CEO, “maybe one more this year.” He has some term sheets to look at and con­sid­er. In the mean­time, the com­pa­ny has kept on­col­o­gy for it­self so far, look­ing to build its own pipeline.

Haney is still quite new to biotech, ar­riv­ing with his oth­er com­pa­ny Drag­on­fly, which he found­ed with MIT’s Tyler Jacks and David Raulet out of Berke­ley. A doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er and chair­man of Blu Homes, Haney isn’t a fan of the Se­ries A-B-C-D ap­proach to rais­ing mon­ey through the ven­ture back­ers that fu­el much of the work. Why hand out com­mon shares to staff and pre­ferred stock to these in­vestors? And you have to con­sid­er that the VCs’ in­ter­ests may not align so well with longterm com­pa­ny build­ing.

So he’s been in­volved with fam­i­ly of­fices, work­ing with in­vestors like long­time friend and col­league Tim Dis­ney and oth­ers when rais­ing seed mon­ey. Haney has blazed a trail in the Boston/Cam­bridge biotech hub in short or­der. And he isn’t slow­ing down.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Per­cep­tive's fourth — yes, fourth — SPAC jumps to Nas­daq as the blank check tree con­tin­ues to ripen

The biotech SPAC boom has gone almost hand-in-hand with the industry’s IPO gold rush, and this week saw more blank check companies hop aboard the train.

Leading the way is Perceptive Advisors’ fourth SPAC, appropriately named Arya Sciences Acquisition IV, which priced Friday morning after raising $130 million. And on top of that, new Ziopharm executive chair James Huang is launching his own SPAC with MSD Partners and Panacea Venture, filing S-1 paperwork Thursday with plans to raise $200 million.

CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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