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.”

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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The path to NASH: un­der­stand­ing the role of se­vere obe­si­ty in a com­plex, mul­ti-sys­tem dis­ease

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

We often think a person’s transition from a healthy to a diseased state is binary. But that’s often not the case. In reality, the onset of a disease is not something that occurs overnight, and the majority lie on a continuum that is impacted by a multitude of factors. Some of these factors are in a patient’s control. Others are not.

This is the case in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), two of the most complex diseases that “live” on this proverbial continuum. The clinical onset of NAFLD — and ultimately NASH — is a complex process that is closely related to obesity, insulin resistance and impaired adipose tissue metabolism.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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