Biotech vet Gould lands $55M start­up round for a new Third Rock plat­form biotech

Af­ter leav­ing the helm of Epizyme last fall, Robert Gould took some time off, then took some more time to look over some biotech star­tups in the Third Rock pipeline. Tak­ing them out for a spin, so to speak.

Then he got a close­up of Ful­crum Ther­a­peu­tics, a new mod­el plat­form com­pa­ny tak­ing shape on Third Rock’s back­yard in Cam­bridge, MA, look­ing to use small mol­e­cules to reg­u­late genes, turn­ing them on and off in pur­suit of con­trol­ling a dis­ease.

It had all the right el­e­ments:

— Great sci­ence board dri­ving a cut­ting-edge ap­proach? Check.

— Prod­uct en­gine tuned for a va­ri­ety of ther­a­peu­tic tracks? Check.

— Enough fu­el to re­al­ly get some­place? Check and dou­ble check.

Third Rock has now seen to that last part with a $55 mil­lion start­up round.

“I just like build­ing stuff,” Gould tells me, with the kind of en­thu­si­asm you’d ex­pect to hear in the voice of an en­tre­pre­neur drawn to biotech.

Robert Gould

There’s noth­ing new about ex­plor­ing the ge­net­ic dri­vers of dis­ease. That work has been pil­ing up new tar­gets for years. The big idea at Ful­crum is that you can use new tech­nolo­gies, like CRISPR Cas9 gene edit­ing, stem cell tech and more, to dis­sect the prob­lem and find the best treat­ments that can most ef­fec­tive­ly reg­u­late tar­gets of gene ex­pres­sion.

Po­ten­tial­ly, there are hun­dreds of tar­gets to go af­ter, but Gould’s new crew is go­ing to start with two: Frag­ile X syn­drome and a form of mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy called fa­cioscapu­lo­humer­al mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy. Both of these dis­eases are trig­gered by a sin­gle is­sue in gene reg­u­la­tion; the si­lenc­ing of the FMR1 gene for Frag­ile X and the ac­ti­va­tion of a gene called DUX4 for FSHD.

“We’re about 10 peo­ple cur­rent­ly,” says Gould, who plans to grad­u­al­ly dou­ble that in the not dis­tant fu­ture. “We ex­pect that we’ll be in the clin­ic a few years from now,” he adds, “but we’re still at the ear­ly stages of drug dis­cov­ery.”

Each of the two ini­tial dis­eases arise from a sin­gle gene mu­ta­tion that cre­ates an er­ror in gene reg­u­la­tion. Gould wants to use them as test cas­es to demon­strate how they can turn genes on and off. In the case of Frag­ile X, the si­lenc­ing of the FMR1 gene elim­i­nates the cell’s abil­i­ty to make a pro­tein need­ed for brain func­tion. In FSHD, the pre­cip­i­tat­ing cause is the ac­ti­va­tion of a gene called DUX4 that should be silent in adult­hood. This ac­ti­va­tion leads to mus­cle wast­ing as cells die.

In clas­sic Third Rock stye, Gould will be work­ing with a sci­en­tif­ic cab­i­net which in­cludes:

  • Michael Green, Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Med­ical School; The Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute; Na­tion­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences; pro­vid­ing ex­per­tise in gene reg­u­la­tion
  • Dan­ny Rein­berg, New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine; The Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute; pro­vid­ing ex­per­tise in chro­matin struc­ture and func­tion
  • Rudolf Jaenisch, White­head In­sti­tute for Bio­med­ical Re­search; Mass­a­chu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy; In­sti­tute of Med­i­cine; Na­tion­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences; pro­vid­ing ex­per­tise in stem cell bi­ol­o­gy
  • Jean­nie Lee, Har­vard Med­ical School; The Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute; pro­vid­ing ex­per­tise in gene reg­u­la­tion and X chro­mo­some ge­net­ics
  • And Brad Bern­stein, Har­vard Med­ical School; Broad In­sti­tute of MIT and Har­vard; pro­vid­ing ex­per­tise in genome-wide char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of gene reg­u­la­tion
Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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