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.

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

Philipp Spycher

Promis­ing bet­ter link­er tech to ADC field, Araris has 'very, very am­bi­tious' plans for the clin­ic

A couple months after raising CHF 2.5 million ($2.76 million) in initial seed funding, one-year-old Araris Biotech is topping off the round with another CHF 12.7 million ($14 million).

The Paul Scherrer Institute and ETH Zurich spinout now has CHF 15.2 million to work with, and CEO Philipp Spycher has big plans. He hopes to bring one of the company’s antibody-drug conjugates (ADC) to the clinic by late 2022 or early 2023. “It’s very, very ambitious, but we are very optimistic that we actually can make it,” he said.

Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

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David Hung (file photo)

Mas­ter deal­mak­er David Hung re­tools a SPAC sedan in­to a fi­nanc­ing mus­cle ve­hi­cle that leaves his can­cer start­up with $850M and a place on Wall Street

It’s only right that one of the industry’s top dealmakers just completed one of the biggest SPAC-related deals in the pipeline.

David Hung, of Medivation fame, has completed a back flip into the market, merging with EcoR1 Capital’s SPAC Panacea and landing neatly on Wall Street with an $NUVB stock ticker after filling out the blank check in his name. In addition to the $144 million held in the SPAC — provided none of the investors opt out — Hung is getting ahold of $500 million more being chipped in by a slate of institutional investors who feel that Hung could have the keys to another Medivation-style success.

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Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er is on the verge of claim­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar first-mover ad­van­tage with their Covid-19 vac­cine — an­a­lyst

From the beginning, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla eschewed government funding for his Covid-19 vaccine work with BioNTech, willing to take all the $2 billion-plus risk of a lightning-fast development campaign in exchange for all the rewards that could fall its way with success. And now that the pharma giant has seized a solid lead in the race to the market, those rewards loom large.

SVB Leerink’s Geoff Porges has been running the numbers on Pfizer’s vaccine, the mRNA BNT162b2 program that the German biotech partnered on. And he sees a $3.5 billion peak in windfall revenue next year alone. Even after the pandemic is brought to heel, though, Porges sees a continuing blockbuster role for this vaccine as people around the world look to guard against a new, thoroughly endemic virus that will pose a permanent threat.

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CEO Grace Colón (InCarda)

Look­ing to re­pur­pose an old drug to treat ir­reg­u­lar heart­beats, In­Car­da rais­es $30M in first Se­ries C close

A little less than two years after completing its $42 million Series B round, InCarda has returned to the venture well.

The San Francisco-based biotech announced the first portion of its Series C on Wednesday, pulling in $30 million in new funding. Most of the money will give enough runway for InCarda’s InRhythm program, an inhaled therapeutic aiming to treat sudden episodes of irregular heartbeats, through its Phase II trials and prepare it for Phase III.

UP­DAT­ED: CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics gets a snap­shot of off-the-shelf CAR-T suc­cess in B-cell ma­lig­nan­cies — marred by the death of a pa­tient

Just days after scientific founder Emmanuelle Charpentier shared the Nobel prize for her work on CRISPR/Cas9, CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP is showing off a snapshot of success in their early-stage study for an off-the-shelf CAR-T approach to CD19+ B cell malignancies — a snapshot marred by the death of a patient who had been given a high dose of the treatment.

Using their gene editing tech, researchers for CRISPR engineered cells from healthy donors into an attack vehicle aimed at cancer, something that has been achieved with great success using patients’ own cells — the autologous approach. But autologous CAR-T is hampered by the more complex vein-to-vein requirement that delays treatment, and now CRISPR Therapeutics along with other players like Allogene are determined to replace the pioneers with CAR-T 2.0.

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Steve Chen, Cellis Therapeutics president and CMO (Cellics)

UC San Diego spin­out award­ed up to $15M for nanosponge de­signed to soak up sep­sis-caus­ing tox­ins

CARB-X, a global partnership looking to spur the development of new antibacterial drugs, is awarding Cellics Therapeutics $3.94 million to do what president and CMO Steve Chen calls “looking at traditional drug development upside down.”

Instead of going after a target directly — in this case bacterial toxins and inflammatory cytokines that cause sepsis — Cellics researchers “flip it around” to examine the host cells being attacked. The UC San Diego spinout then creates what it calls “nanosponges” — nanoparticles cloaked in the fragments of macrophage cell membranes. Chen says the “sponges” are designed to trap the sepsis-causing endotoxins and cytokines on their cell membranes, neutralizing them.