Andrew Schiermeier, Intellia COO

Black­stone throws $250M be­hind In­tel­lia-Cellex quest to com­bine CRISPR and con­trol­lable CAR-Ts

So here’s how Black­stone is spend­ing its $4.6 bil­lion bio­phar­ma pot.

The pri­vate eq­ui­ty firm an­nounced Tues­day they were team­ing with the CRISPR biotech In­tel­lia and the lit­tle-known Ger­man CAR-T start­up GEMoaB to launch a new — and so far un­named — CAR-T com­pa­ny. Black­stone, the sole in­vestor, will pour $250 mil­lion in­to the joint ven­ture and take a third own­er­ship. In­tel­lia and Cellex, GEMoaB’s par­ent com­pa­ny, will each take an­oth­er third.

The com­pa­ny will fo­cus on build­ing off-the-shelf CAR-Ts that can be ma­nip­u­lat­ed and con­trolled even af­ter they’re ad­min­is­tered to pa­tients — two of the ma­jor goals that oth­er CRISPR and cell ther­a­py com­pa­nies are now try­ing to at­tain.

“This launch rep­re­sents the first of many steps to ad­dress­ing the var­i­ous lim­i­ta­tions that cur­rent­ly ex­ist in the cell ther­a­py space,” In­tel­lia COO An­drew Schier­meier, who will be­come pres­i­dent and CEO of the new com­pa­ny, said in a state­ment.

Olivi­er Brandi­court

Olivi­er Brandi­court, the for­mer Sanofi CEO who joined Black­stone as an ad­vi­sor this year, will chair the board.

The new com­pa­ny will start out with two pro­grams al­ready in the clin­ic. A sub­sidiary of Cellex, GEMoaB al­ready put two con­trol­lable CAR-Ts in Phase I: one for leukemia and one for prostate can­cer.

Both pro­grams re­ly on GEMoaB’s con­trol­lable CAR-T tech­nol­o­gy. In­stead of arm­ing T cells with re­cep­tors that bind to pro­teins on can­cer cells, they put on re­cep­tors that bind to a “tar­get­ing mod­ule.” When the mod­ules are in­fused in­to a pa­tient, they bind to a pro­tein on can­cer cells and the CAR-Ts bind to the mod­ules. They then, hope­ful­ly, de­stroy the can­cer cells. If the mod­ules are ever tak­en away, GemOAB says — for ex­am­ple, be­cause the pa­tients are start­ing to show ma­jor side ef­fects — the CAR-Ts stop work­ing with­in four hours.

The ap­proach, they say, al­lows them to go af­ter tar­gets that would prove tox­ic un­der tra­di­tion­al CAR-T ap­proach­es. That in­cludes CD123, a promis­ing leukemia tar­get that oth­er de­vel­op­ers avoid­ed be­cause it al­so sits on healthy cells. Carl June’s Tmu­ni­ty Ther­a­peu­tics saw two deaths last month go­ing af­ter the same tar­get, PS­MA, that GEMoaB is pur­su­ing in can­cer.

It’s a sim­i­lar ap­proach to the one Ar­cel­lx is now pur­su­ing pre­clin­i­cal­ly and the one now-de­funct Unum pur­sued dis­as­trous­ly be­fore its col­lapse. But GEMoaB dis­tin­guished it­self with proof-of-con­cept hu­man da­ta at ASH last month.

Those pro­grams both re­ly on a pa­tients’ own cells, but the new com­pa­ny will al­so look to de­vel­op off-the-shelf ther­a­pies. There are few de­tails yet for the rest of the com­pa­ny’s ap­proach, ex­cept that it could al­so cov­er au­toim­mune dis­eases as well as can­cer. The new com­pa­ny will co-de­vel­op a CAR-T for can­cer with In­tel­lia and has an op­tion to co-de­vel­op a sec­ond one for a dif­fer­ent in­di­ca­tion.

In­tel­lia has been large­ly tight-lipped around its can­cer pipeline so far, dis­clos­ing on­ly one of sev­er­al ther­a­pies they’re de­vel­op­ing. But the deal comes at a time when more CRISPR com­pa­nies are push­ing in­to CAR-T. Large­ly, they’ve used CRISPR to en­gi­neer cells that can per­sist longer or that can be giv­en off-the-shelf.

Af­ter mak­ing progress on their sick­le cell ther­a­pies, CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics’ next ma­jor batch of da­ta will come from a pair of can­cer cell ther­a­pies. In March, Cari­bou Bio­sciences raised $115 mil­lion as they pushed to de­vel­op CAR-Ts for the first time.

For Black­stone, the deal rep­re­sents one of their largest in­vest­ments in a start­up since they closed their $4.6 bil­lion fund last year, al­though they do not have a per­fect score­card on their pre­vi­ous bets. Fer­ring, a gene ther­a­py de­vel­op­er they gave $400 mil­lion, im­plod­ed this year.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Who’s spend­ing and who’s cut­ting from Big Phar­ma’s $127B R&D bud­get? Here are the top 15 play­ers

A couple of the Big 15 biopharma companies in R&D hit the gas on research spending last year. Merck and Sanofi still have lots to prove in the pipeline, and they’re willing to gamble large sums to make a better future for themselves.

Doing nothing would be infinitely worse.

But collectively, the top players rang up a modest 2.4% increase in spending in 2022, which didn’t cover inflationary pressures. And that set the tone for an extraordinarily cautious year for the industry — even as it laid out about $127 billion to advance new drugs or up the ante on approved therapies.

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Jeff Bluestone (R), Sonoma Biotherapeutics CEO

Jef­frey Blue­stone brings his start­up haul to $400M+, join­ing forces with Re­gen­eron on cell ther­a­pies

These days, when Jeffrey Bluestone gets together with his contemporaries in science, the conversation often turns to retirement plans.

But a little more than three years ago, Bluestone reached a momentous turning point in his career, exiting a prestigious post at UCSF, where he had spent decades in the scientific pursuit of new therapies. And it had nothing to do with retirement anytime in the near future.

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Kevin Lee, Bicycle Therapeutics CEO

No­var­tis rides with Bi­cy­cle for new pact on tar­get­ed ra­dio­ther­a­pies

Novartis has inked a three-year deal with Bicycle Therapeutics to develop new targeted radiotherapies for cancer.

Novartis will pay Bicycle $50 million upfront, with downstream milestones adding up to a potential $1.7 billion. In exchange, Bicycle will use its virus-based platform to discover new bicyclic peptides, which it calls bicycles, that would be used for radiotherapies. Those bicycles would act as a homing beacon for radioactive isotopes, delivering them to cancer cells to kill the cells while limiting radiation to healthy tissue.

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Covant acting CEO Matt Maisak (L) and CSO Iván Cornella

With Boehringer In­gel­heim’s help, Roivant churns out an­oth­er Vant to go up against En­deav­or, Im­pact founders

Roivant Sciences has added another branch to its family tree, unveiling Covant Therapeutics with a $10 million upfront commitment from Boehringer Ingelheim to turn up the heat in cancer.

The Boston-based drug discovery startup will jointly create a new small molecule immunotherapy with the private German pharma giant. The deal, made public Tuesday morning, includes up to $471 million in future payments and tiered royalties, should the product make it to market.

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Richard Murray, Jounce Therapeutics CEO

Jounce nix­es Redx of­fer as I/O biotech in­stead goes with Con­cen­tra Bio­sciences’ takeover bid

A minority shareholder has won out in the Jounce Therapeutics takeover battle, with the once-ambitious immunotherapy biotech now choosing to be acquired by Kevin Tang’s Concentra Biosciences rather than follow through with an already-announced deal that would have brought the UK’s Redx onto Nasdaq.

Via its new merger partner, Jounce is expected to get $1.85 per share from Concentra, which was formed by Tang Capital Partners, the owner of about 10% of Jounce shares. Two weeks ago, Concentra laid out a $1.80 per share proposal plus more for the ability to swoop up 80% of proceeds from licenses of legacy programs out of Jounce’s pipeline.

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Mihael Polymeropoulos, Vanda Pharmaceuticals CEO

Van­da wins court case against FDA over dis­clo­sure of CRL de­tails for sleep drug

DC District Court Judge Christopher Cooper today granted Vanda Pharma’s request to require the FDA to disclose more info on the complete response letter for its sleep disorder drug Hetlioz.

The melatonin receptor agonist is approved by the FDA to treat non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder, a circadian rhythm disorder. But in 2018 Vanda filed a supplemental application to market Hetlioz as a treatment for jet lag, which the FDA rejected in August 2019, with few details on what Vanda needed to correct course, according to the company.

Sally Susman, Pfizer EVP and chief corporate affairs officer

Q&A: Pfiz­er cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief Sal­ly Sus­man dis­cuss­es book craft­ed in pan­dem­ic and per­son­al lessons

From the political arena to the finance and beauty industries to pharmaceuticals, Pfizer’s Sally Susman has broken barriers, stereotypes and conventions. And now the chief communicator is “Breaking Through,” the title of her first book about effective and innovative communications launching today. The full official title is “Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World.”

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Werner Lanthaler, Evotec CEO

Evotec’s CNS deal with Bris­tol My­ers gets $50M in­fu­sion and eight-year ex­ten­sion

Bristol Myers Squibb is upping the ante on its neurodegeneration partnership with German biotech Evotec. The Big Pharma will dole out $50 million upfront to expand the seven-year collaboration by another eight years.

Originally inked with Celgene, the partnership will now balloon to a potential $4 billion as the partners look at precision medicines across a variety of modalities. The first program in-licensed by BMS, EVT8683 for $20 million in 2021, is a small molecule in a Phase I study. Low double-digit tiered royalties are also on the table.