Cam­bridge spin­out grabs $23M round to launch a new cam­paign to tack­le pro­tein mis­fold­ing

A spin­out biotech with sci­en­tif­ic roots that ex­tend in­to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge and Lund Uni­ver­si­ty has just raised a $23 mil­lion A round aimed at a com­mon tar­get in drug de­vel­op­ment cir­cles: mis­fold­ed pro­teins.

Samuel Co­hen

Fold­ing mal­func­tions are be­hind a long ros­ter of tough dis­eases, but have so far re­sist­ed ef­forts at re­solv­ing them in a way that can pre­vent dis­eases. Wren Ther­a­peu­tics, based in Cam­bridge, UK, says the se­cret to this sauce lies in un­der­stand­ing the “chem­i­cal ki­net­ics” be­hind mis­fold­ing.

They’ve turned to these sci­en­tif­ic co-founders to help lead the way to a pipeline of their own:

  • Sir Chris Dob­son at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge will serve as vice-chair­man of the board
  • Michele Ven­dr­us­co­lo, pro­fes­sor of bio­physics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, is the CSO
  • Tuo­mas Knowles, pro­fes­sor of chem­istry and physics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge
  • Sara Linse, pro­fes­sor of mol­e­c­u­lar pro­tein sci­ence and phys­i­cal chem­istry at Lund Uni­ver­si­ty

The mon­ey is com­ing from The Bau­post Group with par­tic­i­pa­tion from Life­Force Cap­i­tal and “a num­ber of high net worth in­di­vid­ual in­vestors.” And the game plan is to use the cash to cre­ate new small mol­e­cules and an­ti­bod­ies for neu­rol­o­gy, oph­thal­mol­o­gy and meta­bol­ic dis­eases.

“Cur­rent strate­gies — in par­tic­u­lar those dri­ven by tra­di­tion­al drug dis­cov­ery and bi­o­log­i­cal ap­proach­es — have proven, at least to date, to be in­ef­fec­tive,” not­ed com­pa­ny co-fun­der Samuel Co­hen. “Wren’s new and unique ap­proach is in­stead built on con­cepts from the phys­i­cal sci­ences and fo­cus­es on the chem­i­cal ki­net­ics of the pro­tein mis­fold­ing process, cre­at­ing a pre­dic­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive­ly dri­ven plat­form that has the po­ten­tial to rad­i­cal­ly ad­vance drug dis­cov­ery in this class of dis­eases.”

Im­age (clock­wise from top left): Chris Dob­son, Michele Ven­dr­us­co­lo, Tuo­mas Knowles, Sara Linse.
Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology

ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development

CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at with any issues.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca’s Imfinzi/treme com­bo strikes out — again — in lung can­cer. Is it time for last rites?

AstraZeneca bet big on the future of their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with the experimental CTLA-4 drug tremelimumab. But once again it’s gone down to defeat in a major Phase III study — while adding damage to the theory involving targeting cancer with a high tumor mutational burden.

Early Wednesday the pharma giant announced that their NEPTUNE study had failed, with the combination unable to beat standard chemo at overall survival in high TMB cases of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We won’t get hard data until later in the year, but the drumbeat of failures will call into question what — if any — future this combination can have left.

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Ted Ashburn. Oncorus

Cowen, Per­cep­tive lead $79.5M Se­ries B for 's­tand­out' biotech shep­herd­ing on­colyt­ic virus to clin­ic

As several Big Pharma players secure biotech partners in the oncolytic virus space for new immuno-oncology combos, Cowen and Perceptive Advisors have come out with their own bet on a startup that promises to shine.

The marquee investors are joining MPM, Deerfield, Celgene, Astellas, Arkin and UBS in backing the drug developer, Oncorus, which will now deploy the $79.5 million in Series B cash toward clinical development of its lead program. Other new investors include Surveyor Capital, Sphera Funds, IMM Investment, QUAD Investment Management, UTC Investment, SV Investment Corp and Shinhan Investment-Private Equity, the last five of which are Korean-based funds.

Fu­til­i­ty analy­sis au­gurs de­feat in piv­otal tri­al test­ing of Nu­Cana's lead drug in metasta­t­ic pan­cre­at­ic can­cer

Nearly two years after making its public debut, UK-based NuCana’s mission to make chemotherapies more potent and safer was dealt a blow, after a pivotal study testing its lead experimental drug halted enrollment in a hard-to-treat advanced form of cancer, following a futility analysis.

The drug, Acelarin, is being evaluated for use in metastatic pancreatic cancer patients who were not considered suitable for combination chemotherapy. In the late-stage ACELARATE study — which compared the experimental drug against the chemotherapy gemcitabine — 200 patients had been enrolled by the sponsor, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, before an analysis from an independent safety and data monitoring panel suggested the study’s main goal would not be met.

UP­DAT­ED: Pay­back? An­a­lysts say Sarep­ta was blind­sided by an FDA re­jec­tion dri­ven by reg­u­la­to­ry re­venge

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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