Bound for the clin­ic with a new ap­proach to syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty, Cyteir bags $29M

As an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at The Jack­son Lab­o­ra­to­ry, Kevin Mills ze­roed in on the sup­port­ing role that the RAD51 pro­tein played in re­pair­ing the DNA dam­age caused by el­e­vat­ed lev­els of ac­ti­va­tion-in­duced cy­ti­dine deam­i­nase, or AID.

Kevin Mills

Trip­ping up RAD51 with a small mol­e­cule, he thought, would throw a mon­key wrench in the whole DNA re­pair path­way, al­low­ing mu­tat­ed can­cer cells and oth­er stressed cells in­volved in au­toim­mune dis­eases to die, play­ing an as­sist­ing role in syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty.

Mills would go on to found a biotech in Cam­bridge, MA called Cyteir. And to­day a group of high pro­file ven­ture back­ers are com­ing up with the $29 mil­lion that Mills and his team need to get in­to the clin­ic with a lead can­cer drug. The CSO is al­so be­ing joined by Cel­gene vet Markus Ren­schler, who’s now the new CEO.

“My whole ca­reer has been spent on DNA dam­age and DNA dam­age re­spons­es,” Mills tells me. The work on RAD51 goes back a decade, and Cyteir was spun out of The Jack­son Lab in 2012, pa­tient­ly do­ing the pre­clin­i­cal work need­ed to ad­vance a lead pro­gram.

Markus Ren­schler

If their first Phase I/II study goes well, Ren­schler says there are a num­ber of op­tions for de­vel­op­ing the pro­gram. “We can de­vel­op it as a monother­a­py for over-ex­pressed AID,” he notes, as well as in com­bi­na­tion with plat­inum-based chemo, PARP in­hibitors (which al­so trig­ger syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty), ra­di­a­tion as well as the pop­u­lar new gen­er­a­tion of check­point in­hibitors.

Ren­schler, though, wants to re­tain rights to the drug for now, look­ing to part­ner lat­er as they get deep­er in­to the clin­ic. With enough mon­ey to nab proof-of-con­cept hu­man da­ta, he has op­tions on rais­ing more cash lat­er. Right now he wants to ex­plore just how much val­ue is here be­fore dick­er­ing any of it away.

Start­ing in hema­tol­ogy just makes sense, he adds. Tu­mors that arise from B cells have this ac­ti­vat­ed path­way, he says, high­light­ing DL­B­CL, non-Hodgkin lym­phoma and mul­ti­ple myelo­ma as prime tar­gets. That’s where it’s eas­i­est to find a high num­ber of pa­tients with the AID bio­mark­er.

But Mills and Ren­schler are al­so pumped about their prospects in au­toim­mune dis­eases, not­ing that the same tar­get­ed ap­proach could pro­vide plen­ty of added up­side.

It’s ear­ly days for clin­i­cal work at Cyteir, which will now grow from a vir­tu­al staff of 6 to 20. But they have big plans.

Ven­rock led the round, joined by re­turn­ing in­vestors in­clud­ing Cel­gene. New in­vestors in­clud­ed Light­stone Ven­tures and DROIA On­col­o­gy Ven­tures.

Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Covid-19 roundup: J&J and BAR­DA agree to $1 bil­lion for 100 mil­lion dos­es; Plas­ma re­duces mor­tal­i­ty by 50% — re­ports

J&J has become the latest vaccine developer to agree to supply BARDA with doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, signing an agreement that will give the government 100 million doses in exchange for $1 billion in funding.

The agreement, similar to those signed by Novavax, Sanofi and AstraZeneca-Oxford, provides funding not only for individual doses but to help J&J ramp up manufacturing. Pfizer, by contrast, received $1.95 billion for the doses alone. Still, if one looked at each agreement as purchase amounts, J&J’s deal would be $10 per dose, slotting in between Novavax’s $16 per dose and AstraZeneca’s $4 per dose.

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President Trump speaks with members of the media before boarding Marine One (AP Images)

'Oc­to­ber is com­ing,' and every­one still wants to know if a Covid-19 vac­cine will be whisked through the FDA ahead of the elec­tion

Right on the heels of a lengthy assurance from FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn that the agency will not rush through a quick approval for a Covid-19 vaccine, the President of the United States has some thoughts on timing he’d like to share.

In an exchange with Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera on Thursday, President Trump allowed that a vaccine could be ready to roll “sooner than the end of the year, could be much sooner.”

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Yvonne Greenstreet, incoming Alnylam president (Alnylam)

Al­ny­lam pres­i­dent Bar­ry Greene leaves af­ter 17 years, hand­ing po­si­tion over to Yvonne Green­street as biotech looks to­ward prof­itabil­i­ty

After 17 years helping Alnylam steer control of buzzy but unproven science they promised could change medicine, president Barry Greene is leaving the RNAi biotech just as that technology is beginning to hit prime time.

Leaving to “pursue outside interests in the biopharmaceutical industry,” the longtime executive will hand over the reins on October 1 to current COO Yvonne Greenstreet. Greenstreet, a former Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline executive, inherits the high-profile spot at a company that’s proven its tech can work in rare diseases but now faces the daunting task of turning a couple successes and a new mountain of cash into drugs that are broadly applicable and, crucially, profitable.

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Sean Nolan and RA Session II

Less than 3 months af­ter launch, the AveX­is crew’s Taysha rais­es $95M Se­ries B. Is an IPO next?

The old AveXis team is moving quickly in Dallas.

Three months ago, they launched Taysha with $30 million in Series A funding and a pipeline of gene therapies out of UT Southwestern. Now, they’ve announced an oversubscribed $95 million Series B. And the biotech is declining all interview requests on the news, the kind of broad silence that can indicate an IPO is in the pipeline.

Biotechs, including those relatively fresh off launch, have been going public at a frenzy since the pandemic began. Investors have showed a willingness to put upwards of $200 million to companies that have yet to bring a drug into the clinic. Still, if Taysha were to go public in the near future, it would be perhaps the shortest path from launch to IPO in recent biotech memory.

Covid-19 roundup: 34 AGs call for ‘march-in’ rights on remde­sivir; Hahn pleads with pub­lic to trust FDA's vac­cine re­view

A bipartisan group of 34 attorneys general have asked the federal government to bypass Gilead’s patent rights on remdesivir and begin scaling and distributing the Covid-19 antiviral, or to allow the states to do it themselves.

In a letter to HHS secretary Alex Azar, the AGs expressed frustrations over the $3,250 price tag Gilead placed on the the drug, citing the federal funding that went into its developments. And they noted the sustained difficulties hospitals have faced in getting supplies from either the California biotech or their contract manufacturer AmerisourceBergen.

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Douglas Fambrough, Dicerna CEO (Boehringer Ingelheim via YouTube)

Roche-backed Dicer­na push­es in­to the pack rac­ing to­ward the block­buster hep B goal line, armed with PhI da­ta

Dicerna has lined up a set of proof-of-concept data from a small cohort of hepatitis B patients in a match-up against some heavyweight rivals which got out in front of this race. And right in the front row you’ll find a team from Roche, which paid $200 million in cash and offered another $1.5 billion in milestones to partner with Dicerna $DRNA on their RNAi program for hep B.

Right now it’s looking competitive, with lots of big challenges ahead.

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Elisa Kieback (T-knife)

Ver­sant funds TCR ther­a­py biotech T-knife's $78M+ Se­ries A to boost hu­man­ized T cell mice plat­form

Just a day after announcing the formation of a startup in Switzerland that will develop alternative TCR cell therapies, Versant is keeping its foot on the gas.

The multibillion dollar life sciences VC announced Thursday morning it is leading the Series A funding of T-knife, a German biotech that plans to use its proprietary humanized T cell receptor (HuTCR) mouse platform to treat solid tumors. T-knife raised about $78.4 million in the round and hopes to not only develop its own pipeline but also license out its mice for use by other companies.

UP­DAT­ED: No­vavax her­alds the lat­est pos­i­tive snap­shot of ear­ly-stage Covid-19 vac­cine — so why did its stock briefly crater?

High-flying Novavax $NVAX became the latest of the Covid-19 vaccine players to stake out a positive set of biomarker data from its early-stage look at its vaccine in humans.

Their adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine was “well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody responses numerically superior to that seen in human convalescent sera,” the company noted. According to the biotech:

All subjects developed anti-spike IgG antibodies after a single dose of vaccine, many of them also developing wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses, and after Dose 2, 100% of participants developed wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses. Both anti-spike IgG and viral neutralization responses compared favorably to responses from patients with clinically significant COVID‑19 disease. Importantly, the IgG antibody response was highly correlated with neutralization titers, demonstrating that a significant proportion of antibodies were functional.

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