Cam­bridge spin­out Cell­Cen­tric gets $26M for sin­gle-as­set epi­ge­net­ics ap­proach to prostate can­cer

Can a biotech de­vel­op­ing an epi­ge­net­ics drug squeeze in­to J&J and Pfiz­er’s turf fight in prostate can­cer? Cam­bridge, UK-based Cell­Cen­tric now has $26 mil­lion to find out.

Morn­ing­side Ven­ture In­vest­ments pro­vid­ed all of the fund­ing, con­tin­u­ing to throw its weight be­hind UK-based Cell­Cen­tric’s lead and on­ly as­set, CCS1477. The mon­ey is ex­pect­ed to car­ry the p300/CBP in­hibitor through Phase IIb in prostate can­cer and al­low the small vir­tu­al team to es­tab­lish sep­a­rate pro­grams in hema­to­log­i­cal or oth­er can­cers.

“The idea is to stay very as­set cen­tric, very fo­cused on one pro­gram, but look for mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties now to use it,” CEO Will West tells me.

Ja­son Dinges

And he’s con­fi­dent CCS1477 is the as­set to cen­ter around. As re­cent­ly as five years ago, Cell­Cen­tric was a “knowl­edge com­pa­ny” that helped oth­er com­pa­nies ex­plore epi­ge­net­ic path­ways and cel­lu­lar re­pro­gram­ming. When it tran­si­tioned in­to an R&D op­er­a­tion in 2013 — thanks to ma­jor sup­port from Morn­ing­side — the team hand picked p300/CBP out of 50 po­ten­tial epi­ge­net­ic-re­lat­ed drug tar­gets.

Giv­en the role of hor­mones in fu­el­ing prostate can­cer cell growth, an­dro­gen re­cep­tors are a pop­u­lar tar­get for drug de­vel­op­ers — but even sec­ond gen­er­a­tion an­ti-an­dro­gen treat­ments have proven sus­cep­ti­ble to re­sis­tance. Down­reg­u­lat­ing the twin tar­gets of p300/CBP, West ex­plains, dri­ves down not on­ly an­dro­gen re­cep­tors but al­so all its vari­ants. That po­si­tions them as a fol­low up, com­pan­ion, or even pos­si­ble re­place­ment for block­busters like J&J’s Zyti­go and Er­lea­da as well as Pfiz­er/Astel­las’ Xtan­di.

“For the prostate in­di­ca­tion, it’s very clear and clean what we’re try­ing to do,” West says.

While Cell­Cen­tric’s drug be­longs to the BET in­hibitor fam­i­ly, it’s dis­tinct in both its speci­fici­ty and (based up­on pre­clin­i­cal stud­ies) du­ra­tion of ef­fect — al­low­ing for flex­i­bil­i­ty in dos­ing sched­ule, which is “ab­solute­ly key.” That means while the cur­rent plan is for pa­tients to take the oral cap­sule once a day, they could switch to an in­ter­mit­tent sched­ule or a “three week on, one week off hol­i­day ap­proach” if nec­es­sary.

The prostate can­cer clin­i­cal pro­gram is slat­ed to be­gin this sum­mer. By the end of the year West hopes to have a hema­to­log­i­cal can­cer pro­gram run­ning, with par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on acute myeloid leukemia and mul­ti­ple myelo­ma. Look­ing down the road, he al­so sees the drug treat­ing sub-pop­u­la­tions of blad­der can­cer and small cell lung can­cer pa­tients.

West has four col­leagues spread be­tween Cam­bridge, Ox­ford and Man­ches­ter to man­age 10 times as many con­sul­tants work­ing on the drug. And he doesn’t see the core team chang­ing much — un­less a big­ger play­er comes in to snap them up.

For now, New­ton, MA-based Morn­ing­side con­tin­ues to be Cell­Cen­tric’s largest share­hold­er, fol­lowed by Prov­i­dence In­vest­ment Com­pa­ny.

“On­col­o­gy prod­uct de­vel­op­ment is high­ly com­pet­i­tive. There are few gen­uine first-in-class new drug op­por­tu­ni­ties which have a large but spe­cif­ic pa­tient pop­u­la­tion to treat,” said Morn­ing­side’s Ja­son Dinges, who’s al­so on Cell­Cen­tric’s board. “We are de­light­ed to sup­port the Cell­Cen­tric team with their con­tin­ued mo­men­tum.”

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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Arc­turus ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion, adding $30M cash; Ku­ra shoots for $100M raise

→  Rare dis­ease play­er Ul­tragenyx $RARE is ex­pand­ing its al­liance with Arc­turus $ARCT, pay­ing $24 mil­lion for eq­ui­ty and an­oth­er $6 mil­lion in an up­front as the two part­ners ex­pand their col­lab­o­ra­tion to in­clude up to 12 tar­gets. “This ex­pand­ed col­lab­o­ra­tion fur­ther so­lid­i­fies our mR­NA plat­form by adding ad­di­tion­al tar­gets and ex­pand­ing our abil­i­ty to po­ten­tial­ly treat more dis­eases,” said Emil Kakkis, the CEO at Ul­tragenyx. “We are pleased with the progress of our on­go­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion. Our most ad­vanced mR­NA pro­gram, UX053 for the treat­ment of Glyco­gen Stor­age Dis­ease Type III, is ex­pect­ed to move in­to the clin­ic next year, and we look for­ward to fur­ther build­ing up­on the ini­tial suc­cess of this part­ner­ship.”

UP­DAT­ED: Chica­go biotech ar­gues blue­bird, Third Rock 'killed' its ri­val, pi­o­neer­ing tha­lassemia gene ther­a­py in law­suit

Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.

Dave Barrett, Brian Chee, Amir Nashat, Amy Schulman. Polaris

Bob Langer's first port of call — Po­laris Part­ners — maps $400M for ninth fund

Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

Gilead baits new al­liance with $45M up­front, div­ing in­to the busy pro­tein degra­da­tion field

Gilead is jump­ing on board the pro­tein degra­da­tion band­wag­on. And they’re turn­ing to a low-pro­file Third Rock start­up for the ex­per­tise. But if you were look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion­al deal to kick up fresh en­thu­si­asm for Gilead, you’ll have to re­main pa­tient.

This one will have a long way to go be­fore they get in­to the clin­ic.

The big biotech said Wednes­day morn­ing that it is pay­ing $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing a whop­ping $2.3 bil­lion in biotech bucks if San Fran­cis­co-based Nurix can point the way to new can­cer ther­a­pies, as well as drugs for oth­er, un­spec­i­fied dis­eases.

A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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