Biotech backer Ver­sant arms it­self with record $400M fund, tar­gets a new wave of up­starts

Brad Bol­zon

Ver­sant Ven­tures has once again racked up a record new biotech fund. Fund VI has land­ed, weigh­ing in at $400 mil­lion, well ahead of the ini­tial $350 mil­lion goal and Fund V’s $305 mil­lion to­tal.

That’s enough cash to back some two dozen up­starts in the biotech world, and you can ex­pect a siz­able amount to be di­rect­ed at the emerg­ing com­pa­nies be­ing forged in its dis­cov­ery in­cu­ba­tors in Cana­da and the US: Blue­line Bio­science in Toron­to, High­line Ther­a­peu­tics in New York, and In­cep­tion Sci­ences in San Diego, Van­cou­ver and Mon­tre­al.

Ver­sant likes to work in places where oth­er ven­ture groups are re­luc­tant to fol­low. That’s once of the rea­sons why the VC has been par­tic­u­lar­ly ac­tive in Cana­da. But the ven­ture team al­so has ex­ten­sive con­nec­tions in Eu­rope, an­oth­er re­gion that has been tra­di­tion­al­ly un­der­served by in­vestors.

The for­mu­la has been ef­fec­tive, with IPOs or buy­outs for Quan­ti­cel, Novi­ra, Okairos, Clo­vis, CRISPR, Au­dentes and Gen­Sight. And while IPOs have been on the wane for more than a year now, in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors ap­pear hap­py to wait it out for the next wave of of­fer­ings and M&A.

More mon­ey, more in­vest­ing in more places means Ver­sant will al­so be grow­ing its team this year, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Brad Bol­zon tells me to­day. So look for some an­nounce­ments on that score soon. And while the ba­sic strat­e­gy re­mains the same, he adds, you can ex­pect to see even more ear­ly-stage in­vest­ing as Ver­sant stays fo­cused on tap­ping in­to aca­d­e­m­ic ad­vance­ments “off the beat­en track.”

“Val­u­a­tions in­flate when there’s com­pe­ti­tion for deals,” adds Bol­zon,  “and the com­pe­ti­tion is most fierce in the Bay Area and Boston. We’re tak­ing a dif­fer­ent tack” while the VC group will stay in­volved in both big hubs.

“Clear­ly we rec­og­nize that you can’t de­pend on the IPO win­dow,” he says. “It’s a cycli­cal phe­nom­e­non,” so Ver­sant will shift more fo­cus to M&A and build-to-buy deals like Quan­ti­cel, which was ac­quired by Cel­gene.

The grow­ing re­sources has po­si­tioned Ver­sant to jump in­to some am­bi­tious part­ner­ships as well. Most no­tably, the VC and Bay­er have teamed up on a $225 mil­lion stem cell ven­ture, Blue­Rock, con­vinced that af­ter more than a decade of set­backs in the field, the tech­nol­o­gy and the ex­perts are ready to make a land­mark break­through in the clin­ic, point­ing to a wave of com­mer­cial prod­ucts.

Ver­sant now has more than $2 bil­lion un­der man­age­ment.

George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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New stan­dard of care? FDA hands Pfiz­er, Mer­ck KGaA an OK for Baven­cio in blad­der can­cer

The breakthrough therapy designation Pfizer and Merck KGaA notched for Bavencio in bladder cancer has quickly paved way for a full approval.

The PD-L1 drug is now sanctioned as a first-line maintenance treatment for patients with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinoma, applicable in cases where cancer hasn’t progressed after platinum-containing chemotherapy.

Petros Grivas, the principal investigator of the supporting Phase III JAVELIN Bladder 100, called the approval “one of the most significant advances in the treatment paradigm in this setting in 30 years.”

Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Anthony Johnson, Goldfinch Bio CEO (Goldfinch via YouTube)

Gilead-part­nered Goldfinch Bio lands $100M as it piv­ots to clin­i­cal stage biotech

A year after landing $109 million in cash for an early-stage discovery deal with Gilead, Goldfinch Bio has scored a similar bounty from investors, raising $100 million in the biotech’s first financing round since its 2016 launch.

The new round, led by Eventide Asset Management and joined by 8 other firms, confirms that last year’s Gilead deal began a new, busier, more vocal era for the company. After launching out of Third Rock with $55 million and a plan to tackle kidney disease, they focused on preclinical research and made few material announcements. But the latest press release is full of plans, including their first Phase II study and a new therapy scheduled to enter the clinic next year.