BioN­Tech rais­es mam­moth $270M A round, near­ing $1B mark as in­vestors con­tin­ue a love af­fair with mR­NA

Of all the star­tups on both con­ti­nents over the past decade, few could ri­val the growth of BioN­Tech af­ter it got start­ed with seed cash back in 2008. The mR­NA com­pa­ny has fund­ed much of its rapid ex­pan­sion with part­ner­ship cash, reach­ing more than 700 staffers at the end of 2017 with the con­sid­er­able sup­port of some big al­liances with the likes of Genen­tech and Sanofi and Gen­mab.

Un­til to­day.

This morn­ing the Mainz, Ger­man-based biotech took the wraps off a mega-raise of $270 mil­lion — an ‘A’ round de­signed to com­plete the rapid ramp-up of its con­sid­er­able man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tions as it looks to ad­vance an ear­ly-stage per­son­al­ized mR­NA can­cer vac­cine de­signed to mob the anti­gens of in­di­vid­ual pa­tients.

Add up all the cash from the seed mon­ey of­fered by the bil­lion­aire Strüng­mann broth­ers through col­lab­o­ra­tion cash, grants and so on, says COO Sean Marett, and the to­tal comes to about $950 mil­lion, near­ing a block­buster bil­lion. Even by US stan­dards, that’s huge. By Eu­ro­pean stan­dards, it’s al­most un­heard of for a pri­vate life sci­ences com­pa­ny, com­ing close to the $320 mil­lion record set by Im­muno­core in the UK in 2015.

The round high­lights one of the busiest weeks I’ve ever seen for biotech ven­ture in­vest­ing. By the end of Thurs­day, End­points News will have re­port­ed on more than $700 mil­lion in new biotech in­vest­ments an­nounced over a 72-hour pe­ri­od. Even for the week ahead of JP­Mor­gan, that’s ex­tra­or­di­nary.

The Red­mile Group led the round, joined by Janus Hen­der­son In­vestors, In­vus, Fi­deli­ty Man­age­ment & Re­search Com­pa­ny and sev­er­al Eu­ro­pean fam­i­ly of­fices. The Strüng­mann Fam­i­ly Of­fice — op­er­at­ed by iden­ti­cal twins Thomas and An­dreas Strüng­mann, who found­ed the big gener­ics com­pa­ny Hexal and sold it to No­var­tis ($NVS) for $7.5 bil­lion — al­so came back in to in­vest again.

Ugur Sahin

The fo­cus now is ex­pand­ing clin­i­cal work on new ther­a­peu­tic pro­grams, says the COO, where BioN­Tech — helmed by CEO Ugur Sahin — has been en­gaged as a 50/50 part­ner with Genen­tech and oth­er gi­ants.

The lat­est round in­di­cates just how much in­vestor in­ter­est there is in mR­NA, with con­sid­er­able en­thu­si­asm for a tech­nol­o­gy that’s still very much in its in­fan­cy — but promis­ing to move fast. A few months ago, for ex­am­ple, BioN­Tech boast­ed of its abil­i­ty to de­liv­er mR­NA en­cod­ing for any an­ti­body bis­pe­cif­ic, spurring cells to cre­ate an an­ti-can­cer ther­a­py that worked against an­i­mal tu­mors. And there’s been some en­cour­ag­ing ear­ly snap­shots of im­muno­log­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty.

Two oth­er com­pa­nies, Cure­Vac and Mod­er­na, have al­so gath­ered huge amounts of sup­port for their own work in mR­NA, al­so look­ing at can­cer vac­cines in par­tic­u­lar and siz­ing up their po­ten­tial in com­bi­na­tion with PD-1/L1 in­hibitors.

By the end of the year, says Marett, BioN­Tech will like­ly have close to 850 em­ploy­ees, with ex­pand­ed ca­pac­i­ty to make its can­cer vac­cine as well as a CAR-T for one pa­tient at a time.

Hal Barron and Rick Klausner (GSK, Lyell)

Ex­clu­sive: GSK’s Hal Bar­ron al­lies with Rick Klaus­ner’s $600M cell ther­a­py start­up, look­ing to break new ground blitz­ing sol­id tu­mors

LONDON — Chances are, you’ve heard little or nothing about Rick Klausner’s startup Lyell. But that ends now.

Klausner, the former head of the National Cancer Institute, former executive director for global health at the Gates Foundation, co-founder at Juno and one of the leaders in the booming cell therapy field, has brought together one of the most prominent teams of scientists tackling cell therapy 2.0 — highlighted by a quest to bridge a daunting tech gap that separates some profound advances in blood cancers with solid tumors. And today he’s officially adding Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline as a major league collaborator which is pitching in a large portion of the $600 million he’s raised in the past year to make that vision a reality.

“We’ve being staying stealth,” Klausner tells me, then adding with a chuckle: “and going back to stealth after this.”

“Cell therapy has a lot of challenges,” notes Barron, the R&D chief at GSK, ticking off the resistance put up by solid tumors to cell therapies, the vein-to-vein time involved in taking immune cells out of patients, engineering them to attack cancer cells, and getting them back in, and more. “Over the years Rick and I talked about how it would be wonderful to take that on as a mission.”

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First place fin­ish: Eli Lil­ly just moved to fran­chise leader with their sec­ond mi­graine drug OK in 1 year

In a rare twist for Eli Lilly’s historically slow-moving R&D group, the pharma giant has seized bragging rights to a first-in-class new drug approval. And all signs point to an aggressive marketing followup as they look to outclass some major franchise rivals hobbled by internal dissension.

The FDA came through with an OK for lasmiditan on Friday evening, branding it as Reyvow and lining it up — once a substance classification comes through from the DEA — for a major market release. The oral drug binds to 5-HT1F receptors and is designed to stop an acute migraine after it starts. That makes it a complementary therapy to their CGRP drug Emgality, which has a statistically significant impact on preventing attacks.

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Court green-lights Clo­vis case af­ter de­tail­ing ev­i­dence the board ‘ig­nored red flags’ on false safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta

Clovis investors have cleared a major hurdle in their long-running case against the board of directors, with a Delaware court making a rare finding that they had a strong enough case against the board to proceed with the action.

In a detailed ruling at the beginning of the month that’s been getting careful scrutiny at firms specializing in biotech and corporate governance, the Delaware Court of Chancery found that the attorneys for the investors had made a careful case that the board — a collection of experts that includes high-profile biotech entrepreneurs, a Harvard professor and well-known investigator as well as Clovis CEO Patrick Mahaffy — repeatedly ignored obvious warnings that Mahaffy’s executive crew was touting inflated, unconfirmed data for their big drug Roci. Serious safety issues were also reportedly overlooked while the company continued a fundraising campaign that brought in more than a half-billion dollars. And that leaves the board open to claims related to their role in the fiasco.

The bottom line:

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Allogene HQ Open House on September 17, 2019 in South San Francisco. (Jeff Rumans, Endpoints News)

The next 10 years: Where is biotech head­ed?

The last 10 years have seen a revolution in drug development. Timelines have shortened, particularly in oncology. Regulators have opened up. Investment has skyrocketed. China became a player. Biotechs have multiplied as gene and cell therapy has exploded — offering major new advances in the way diseases are treated, and sometimes cured.

So where are we headed from here? I journeyed out to San Francisco in September to discuss the answer to that question at Allogene’s open house. If the last 10 years have been an eye-opener, what does the next decade hold in store?

George Scangos / Credit: Cornell University

ARCH, Soft­Bank-backed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy un­der­whelms with $143 mil­lion IPO

George Scangos went back to Wall Street, and came back 700 million pennies short.

Scangos’ vaunted startup Vir Biotechnology raised $143 million in an IPO they hoped would earn $150 million. Shares were priced at $20, the low-end of the $20-$22 target.

Launched with backing from ARCH Venture’s Robert Nelsen, Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Vision Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the infectious disease startup was one of a new wave of well-resourced biotechs that emerged with deep enough coffers to pursue a full R&D line rather than slowly build their case by picking off a single lead program.

Bill Gates backs Gink­go Biowork­s' $350M raise to fu­el the buzzy syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy 'rev­o­lu­tion'

If you want to understand Ginkgo Bioworks, the name should suffice: Bioworks, a spin off “ironworks,” that old industrial linchpin devoted to leveraging scale as a wellspring for vast new industries capable of remaking society. Ginkgo wants to be the ironworks for the revolution it’s heralded with as much fanfare as they can, playing off of one of the buzziest technologies in biotech.

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UCB bags a ri­val to Soliris in $2.1B buy­out deal — but will an in­creas­ing­ly vig­i­lant FTC sign off?

UCB is buying out Ra Pharma $RARX, announcing an acquisition deal that rings up at $48 a share, or $2.1 billion net of cash, and puts them toe-to-toe with Alexion on a clinical showdown.

Ra shares closed at $22.70 on Wednesday.

There’s a small pipeline in play at Ra, but UCB is going for the lead drug — a C5 inhibitor called zilucoplan in Phase III for myasthenia gravis (MG) looking to play rival to Alexion’s Soliris. Soliris has the market advantage, though, with a much earlier approval in MG in late 2017 that UCB feels confident in challenging.

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A new play­er is tak­ing the field in a push for a he­mo­phil­ia A gene ther­a­py, and it’s a big one

BioMarin, the execs at Spark (and buyer-to-be Roche) as well as the Sangamo/Pfizer team have a new rival striding onto the hemophilia block. And it’s a big one.

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Stuck with a PhI­II gene ther­a­py fail­ure at 96 weeks, Gen­Sight prefers the up­beat as­sess­ment

Two years after treatment, the best thing that GenSight Biologics $SIGHT can say about their gene therapy for vision-destroying cases of Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy is that it’s just a bit better than a placebo — just maybe because one treatment can cover both eyes.

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