Bernat Olle, Vedanta Biosciences CEO (Vedanta)

Build­ing off Pfiz­er in­vest­ment, mi­cro­bio­me-fo­cused Vedan­ta ex­pands new fundraise to launch 2 stud­ies

A lit­tle more than six months af­ter win­ning an en­dorse­ment from Pfiz­er for its IBD mi­cro­bio­me pro­gram, Vedan­ta Bio­sciences is ready to step on the gas.

Vedan­ta wrapped up a $68 mil­lion Se­ries D raise Wednes­day morn­ing, which in­clud­ed the $25 mil­lion eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment Pfiz­er plunked down back in Jan­u­ary. With the biotech con­tent with its ear­ly-stage re­sults and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Vedan­ta is get­ting ready to po­ten­tial­ly launch mul­ti­ple mid- to late-stage stud­ies and need­ed the ex­tra cash, CEO Bernat Olle tells End­points News.

“With the last fi­nanc­ing, we al­ready start­ed to delve in­to our first pa­tient stud­ies, in­clud­ing our lead pro­gram in­to Clostrid­ioides dif­fi­cile in­fec­tion, which is in Phase II,” Olle said. “Now that we’re look­ing at the end of that study, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the re­sults we’re start­ing to pre­pare for the late-stage study.”

The Phase II study is ex­pect­ed to read out da­ta by the end of Sep­tem­ber, and Vedan­ta plans to have its Phase III man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty up and run­ning at the end of 2021. Should every­thing pro­ceed ac­cord­ing to plan, the Phase III tri­al will be­gin in mid-2022.

On top of this lead can­di­date, known as VE303, Vedan­ta is an­tic­i­pat­ing ad­vanc­ing a sec­ond pro­gram for IBD with Wednes­day’s funds. That’s Pfiz­er’s fo­cus, and the biotech ex­pects to launch the Phase II study for the can­di­date, known as VE202, in the sec­ond half of this year.

Vedan­ta is aim­ing to shake up the field of mi­cro­bio­me treat­ments, which thus far has typ­i­cal­ly seen com­pa­nies de­vel­op ther­a­peu­tics based on fe­cal trans­plants to re­store bal­ance of healthy mi­crobes in the gut. The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, how­ev­er, uti­liz­ing clon­al cell banks to make their ex­per­i­men­tal drugs rather than re­ly on donor sam­ples.

It’s a method Olle says is sim­i­lar to how the biotech in­dus­try evolved over the years from mak­ing drugs based on plas­ma do­na­tions to fo­cus­ing more on mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies. The old ap­proach be­came a par­tic­u­lar thorn in biotech’s side sev­er­al decades ago, Olle said, when the rise of HIV and he­pati­tis C — which could be passed through trans­fu­sions — made the treat­ments high­ly risky.

Look­ing out at the rest of the mi­cro­bio­me field, Olle thinks sim­i­lar is­sues are pop­ping up again. Vedan­ta hopes to elim­i­nate the vari­abil­i­ty seen among donor sam­ples and de­vel­op­ing ther­a­pies that are all the same.

With their cell banks, Vedan­ta can “cre­ate a cell line, store it in a freez­er and es­sen­tial­ly have un­lim­it­ed sup­ply in the fu­ture,” Olle said. “We can go back to the freez­er stock and start the fer­men­ta­tion process where every cap­sule has the ex­act same com­po­si­tion every time, in con­trast to those based on trans­plants.”

In­vestors large­ly fled the mi­cro­bio­me treat­ment space af­ter a key late-stage flop in 2016 from Seres Ther­a­peu­tics sent VCs run­ning. But cash has slow­ly start­ed to trick­le back in as new suc­cess­es emerge. In May 2020, Re­bi­otix pre­sent­ed pos­i­tive da­ta from a place­bo-con­trolled study for its own C. diff trans­plant ther­a­py, and ear­li­er this month, af­ter Seres found promis­ing re­sults with a new tack, Nestlé dropped $525 mil­lion to fund de­vel­op­ment for their lead mi­cro­bio­me treat­ment.

The round al­so marks an­oth­er win this week for PureTech, which found­ed Vedan­ta in 2010. On Mon­day, the PureTech-backed en­ti­ty Gele­sis, de­vel­op­ing a weight man­age­ment cap­sule that makes pa­tients feel fuller, shuf­fled to Nas­daq through a SPAC merg­er.

Wednes­day’s fi­nanc­ing was led by af­fil­i­ates of Mag­ne­tar Cap­i­tal. Oth­er par­tic­i­pants in­clud­ed new and ear­li­er in­vestors such as Veri­tion Fund Man­age­ment, Fo­s­un Health Cap­i­tal, co-founder PureTech Health, Rock Springs Cap­i­tal, Skyviews Life Sci­ence, JSR Cor­po­ra­tion, Sym­Bio­sis LLC, Shumway Cap­i­tal and Health for Life Cap­i­tal, among oth­ers.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

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Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO20 (Jeff Rumans)

'Al­tos was re­al­ly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty': Hal Bar­ron re­flects on his big move

By all accounts, Hal Barron had one of the best jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He made more than $11 million in 2020, once again reaping more than his boss, Emma Walmsley, who always championed him at every opportunity. And he oversaw a global R&D effort that struck a variety of big-dollar deals for oncology, neurodegeneration and more.

Sure, the critics never let up about what they saw as a rather uninspiring late-stage pipeline, where the rubber hits the road in the Big Pharma world’s hunt for the next big near-term blockbuster, but the in-house reviews were stellar. And Barron was firmly focused on bringing up the success rate in clinical trials, holding out for the big rewards of moving the dial from an average 10% success rate to 20%.

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Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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FDA+ roundup: FDA's neu­ro­science deputy de­parts amid on­go­ing Aduhelm in­ves­ti­ga­tions; Califf on the ropes?

Amid increased scrutiny into the close ties between FDA and Biogen prior to the controversial accelerated approval of Aduhelm, the deputy director of the FDA’s office of neuroscience has called it quits after more than two decades at the agency.

Eric Bastings will now take over as VP of development strategy at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, the company said Wednesday, where he will provide senior clinical and regulatory leadership in support of Ionis’ pipeline.

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Sec­ondary patents prove to be key in biosim­i­lar block­ing strate­gies, re­searchers find

While the US biosimilars industry has generally been a disappointment since its inception, with FDA approving 33 biosimilars since 2015, just a fraction of those have immediately followed their approvals with launches. And more than a handful of biosimilars for two of the biggest blockbusters of all time — AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel — remain approved by FDA but still have not launched because of legal settlements.

Hal Barron (GSK via YouTube)

GSK R&D chief Hal Bar­ron jumps ship to run a $3B biotech start­up, Tony Wood tapped to re­place him

In a stunning switch, GlaxoSmithKline put out word early Wednesday that R&D chief Hal Barron is exiting the company after 4 years — a relatively brief run for the man chosen by CEO Emma Walmsley in late 2017 to turn around the slow-footed pharma giant.

Barron is being replaced by Tony Wood, a close associate of Barron’s who’s taking one of the top jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He’ll be closer to home, though, for GSK. Barron has been running a UK and Philadelphia-based research organization from his perch in San Francisco.

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Chamath Palihapitiya and Pablo Legorreta

Bil­lion­aires Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya and Pablo Legor­re­ta hatch an $825M SPAC for cell ther­a­py biotech

Three years after Royalty Pharma chief Pablo Legorreta led a group of investors to buy up a pair of biotechs and create a new startup called ProKidney, the biotech is jumping straight into an $825 million public shell created by SPAC king and tech billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya.

ProKidney was founded 6 years ago but really got going at the beginning of 2019 with the $62 million acquisition of inRegen, which was working on an autologous — from the patient — cell therapy for kidney disease. After extracting kidney cells from patients, researchers expand the cells in the lab and then inject them back into patients, aiming to restore the kidneys of patients suffering from CKD.

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Troy Wilson, Kura CEO

FDA lifts par­tial hold on Ku­ra's Phase Ib AML pro­gram as biotech re­dou­bles mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts

Kura Oncology is clear to resume studies for its early-stage leukemia program after the FDA lifted a clinical hold Thursday afternoon.

Regulators had placed the hold on a Phase Ib study of KO-539, an experimental oral treatment for some genetic subsets of acute myeloid leukemia last November after a patient died while taking the drug. Kura expects to begin enrolling patients again imminently, CEO Troy Wilson told Endpoints News.