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.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Samit Hirawat (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Af­ter bruis­ing re­jec­tion, blue­bird and Bris­tol My­ers Squibb land ide-cel pri­or­i­ty re­view. But will it mat­ter for the CVR?

With the clock all but up, the FDA accepted and handed priority review to Bristol Myers Squibb and bluebird bio’s BCMA CAR-T, keeping a narrow window open for Celgene investors to still cash in on the $9 CVR from the $63 billion Celgene merger.

The acceptance comes five months after the two companies weres slammed with a surprise refuse-to-file that threatened to foreclose the CVR entirely. Today’s acceptance sets the FDA decision date for March 27, 2021 – or precisely 4 days before the CVR deadline of March 31. Given the breakthrough designation and strong pivotal data — 81.5% response rate, 35.2% complete response rate — priority review was largely expected.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicx­i's David Grainger and Francesco De Ru­ber­tis pump €200M in­to six com­pa­nies and what they say is a first-of-its kind fund

In what they’re billing as a first for biotech, David Grainger, Francesco De Rubertis and their team at Medicxi have put down €200 million to sweep up stakes in six companies from their predecessor VC and pump new money into them.

Medicxi didn’t disclose which companies it was investing in but the portfolio draws from Index Ventures Life VI, one of the last funds the Medicxi team launched while they were still part of the multinational, tech-focused VC firm Index Ventures. That team kept advising Index on their life sciences portfolio even after they spun out to form their own firm in the middle of 2016.

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President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists. HHS con­tin­ues to claim Azar “will de­fer com­plete­ly to the FDA"

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a Covid-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

Can a mag­net­ic cell ther­a­py re­place corneal trans­plan­ta­tion? As eight-year jour­ney leads to the clin­ic, two broth­ers un­veil bold vi­sion

Jeff Goldberg was getting acquainted with a brand new way to do corneal transplants when an even newer, even bolder idea hit him.

It was almost 10 years ago, and Goldberg was in his first faculty position at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. Scientists had developed a new way to do cornea transplants where instead of sewing a whole donor cornea — a decades-old practice — they were just engrafting the inner layer of cells.

News brief­ing: Tiny Vac­cinex's drug flops in PhII Hunt­ing­ton's tri­al, stock craters; Siol­ta nabs $30M Se­ries B to de­vel­op mi­cro­bio­me drug

Siolta Therapeutics, a microbiome company targeting allergic diseases, raked in a $30 million Series B to develop its lead candidate, STMC-103H. The drug, which has been FDA fast-tracked, is headed for proof-of-concept trials, according to the company. Its various indications include allergic asthma, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, and allergy prevention.

The news comes just after the California-based biotech added a prominent biopharma veteran as an advisor: 20-year Gilead CEO John Martin. The biotech also gained Richard Shames as CMO, who came by way of Protagonist Therapeutics.

Embattled CDC director Robert Redfield (AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: CDC ad­vi­so­ry com­mit­tee de­lays pri­or­i­ty dis­tri­b­u­tion vote; EU re­port­ed­ly in­dem­ni­fy­ing vac­cine mak­ers

A federal committee that advises the CDC was expected to hold a vote Tuesday on a plan regarding the distribution for initial doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines. But that vote has been scrapped.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, won’t be voting until the committee members learn more about which vaccines become available first, the Wall Street Journal reported. The vote could potentially wait until a specific vaccine is authorized before recommending how to dole out the first doses.

Anthony Coyle (Repertoire)

Flag­ship's merged biotech Reper­toire nets ex-Pfiz­er CSO An­tho­ny Coyle as R&D chief

Flagship is building a big-name C-suite at its new, $220 million merged biotech.

Repertoire Immune Medicines, which already boasts former Bioverativ chief John Cox as its CEO, announced yesterday that Anthony Coyle, the former Pfizer CSO and the founding CEO of Pandion, will join as their head of R&D.

“As we progress clinical trials for our multi-clonal T cell candidates in immuno-oncology, Tony’s deep expertise in cellular immunology and novel therapeutic development will help us achieve our vision of creating a new class of transformative medicines for patients,” Cox said in a statement.

Zai Lab hauls in $761M from Hong Kong IPO to push Ze­ju­la, more bud­ding can­di­dates in Chi­na — re­port

Zai Lab is set to net more than $761 million from its secondary listing in Hong Kong after pricing the IPO at $72.51 (HKD$562) — just a hair below its Nasdaq closing price on Monday, Bloomberg and Nikkei Asian Review reported.

A pioneer in bringing Western drugs to China, co-founder and CEO Samantha Du has more than tripled Zai Lab’s market cap in the three years it’s been public in the US. The HKEX listing is designed to fund R&D and commercialization for the current portfolio while fueling new in-licensing pacts, the biotech wrote in a filing.