Can B cells break the bound­aries of cell ther­a­py? Long­wood start­up has $52M to prove a new en­gi­neer­ing tech

Back in De­cem­ber 2017, as the cell ther­a­py world was still bask­ing in the vir­tu­al­ly back-to-back ap­provals of two pi­o­neer­ing CAR-Ts, re­searchers at Seat­tle Chil­dren’s Re­search In­sti­tute re­port­ed a sci­en­tif­ic first in a dif­fer­ent cor­ner of the field: en­gi­neer B cells to treat dis­ease.

Aleks Radovic-Moreno

The team, led by David Rawl­ings and Richard James, even­tu­al­ly worked with Long­wood Fund to start a biotech around those find­ings. And now At­las Ven­ture and RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment are com­ing on board to lead a $52 mil­lion launch round, joined by Al­ta Part­ners, for Be Bio­phar­ma.

“B cells have been such an at­trac­tive cell type,” Aleks Radovic-Moreno, an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence who co-found­ed the biotech, told End­points News. “It just wasn’t their time yet. But now we feel con­fi­dent that it’s their time to step in­to the lime­light.”

The two clas­sic stum­bling blocks, he added, are fig­ur­ing out how to en­gi­neer them ef­fi­cient­ly and cul­ture them in suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties.

David Rawl­ings

But once Rawl­ings and James cracked the code through ho­mol­o­gy-di­rect­ed re­pair, it opened up po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tions be­yond what cur­rent cell ther­a­pies can do. While T cells are de­signed to kill cells marked by cer­tain anti­gens, B cells’ unique func­tion is that they make “un­be­liev­able quan­ti­ties of pro­teins” — from an­ti­bod­ies to im­mune mod­u­lat­ing fac­tors.

You can al­so pro­gram a B cell to go to a spe­cif­ic tis­sue, with­out the need for con­di­tion­ing or lym­phode­ple­tion, while re­tain­ing an op­tion to titrate and re­dose if you don’t get it right the first time.

“If you think about what dis­ease you want where you want a pro­tein to be se­cret­ed in a tar­get­ed fash­ion, that’s ac­tu­al­ly a re­al­ly big list,” Radovic-Moreno said, list­ing can­cer, au­toim­mune dis­eases, mono­genic dis­or­ders and in­fec­tious dis­eases as ar­eas be­ing ex­plored.

Richard James

In a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view, James al­so gave he­mo­phil­ia B as an ex­am­ple of a pro­tein de­fi­cien­cy dis­ease where a B cell ther­a­py can po­ten­tial­ly cure pa­tients.

Be Bio ben­e­fits from the trail that hun­dreds of T cell ther­a­py play­ers have now trav­eled, step­ping in­to a world where lo­gis­tics, ge­net­ic mod­i­fi­ca­tion and cell pu­rifi­ca­tion tools are read­i­ly avail­able. But its core area of ex­per­tise — map­ping out the bi­ol­o­gy of B cells and ma­nip­u­lat­ing them — re­mains one that’s on­ly hous­ing aca­d­e­m­ic groups so far.

David Stein­berg

Cur­rent­ly man­aged by an in­ter­im team con­sist­ing of Radovic-Moreno as pres­i­dent and David Stein­berg as CEO, the team is grow­ing every week at the Alexan­dria Launch­Labs in Kendall Square. In ad­di­tion to the sci­en­tif­ic founders, it’s al­so guid­ed by an il­lus­tri­ous sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board, con­sist­ing of Frances Eun-Hyung Lee, an asth­ma ex­pert at Emory, as well as Har­vard’s Shiv Pil­lai and UCSF’s Ja­son Cys­ter, who bring years of ex­pe­ri­ence study­ing B cells.

He may not be ready to dis­cuss con­crete drug tar­gets or time­lines yet, but for Radovic-Moreno, who played a lead­ing role in get­ting Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee’s en­gi­neered hematopoi­et­ic stem cells off the ground at Vor Bio, it’s all rem­i­nis­cent of the ear­ly days of T cell work.

“I wouldn’t be sur­prised if we see a sim­i­lar tra­jec­to­ry 5 years from to­day,” he said. “I don’t think there will be hun­dreds of B cell com­pa­nies, but I’m gonna bet it’s more than one.”

The top 100 bio­phar­ma VCs, Bob Brad­way places $2B bet in can­cer, gene edit­ing pi­o­neer's new big idea, and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Before diving in, we had some news to share: Endpoints is launching a premium weekly report focusing on all things regulatory. Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan, who joins us from POLITICO. Arsalan Arif has more details in his Publisher’s Note.

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Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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UP­DAT­ED: Not 3 weeks af­ter tak­ing Hu­ma­cyte pub­lic, Ra­jiv Shuk­la launch­es an­oth­er blank check com­pa­ny

One of biotech’s earliest SPAC investors is back with another blank-check company, less than a month after his last effort announced its intent to merge.

Rajiv Shukla is intending to take a third lucky winner public with Alpha Healthcare Acquisition III, filing to go public Thursday with a $150 million raise penciled in. The move comes just a couple of weeks after Shukla’s second SPAC said it would jump to Nasdaq in tandem with Laura Niklason’s Humacyte in a $255 million new investment.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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Bruce Cozadd, Jazz CEO (Jazz Pharmaceuticals)

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd cam­paigned for 6 months to buy GW Phar­ma. A 90% pre­mi­um sealed the deal — along with $17.6M in ‘re­ten­tion’ in­cen­tives

Jazz CEO Bruce Cozadd didn’t beat around the bush.

In his first video meeting with GW Pharma chief Justin Gover last July 8, he offered to pay $172 a share to get the company, which had beaten the odds in getting its remarkable cannabinoid drug Epidiolex across the regulatory finish line for epilepsy. GW’s stock closed at $129 that day.

Cozadd had already done his homework on the financing to make sure he could swing it the way he wanted. He just needed to do some due diligence before making the non-binding bid firm.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

How does Paul Hud­son's $13.5M comp pack­age stack up against oth­er CEOs? He's in the 'first quar­tile'

Paul Hudson arrived at Sanofi like a hurricane, chopping off duds in the pipeline, shaking up the C-suite, striking big M&A deals and jumping into the Covid-19 vaccine race — all in an attempt to reboot a pharma giant notorious for its setbacks.

Now, we’re getting a look at what the CEO brought home in his first year on the job.

When all is said and done, Hudson will have made about $6.7 million in 2020, about $2.5 million of which has already been paid. The bigger figure includes a $2.3 million bonus that’s subject to approval at an April meeting, and another $1.8 million in variable compensation that has yet to be paid.

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Ab­b­Vie of­floads UK site for $119M in sale to Chi­nese cell and gene ther­a­py play­er Phar­maron

With its Allergan buyout now long in the books, AbbVie has been taking a hard look at its suddenly expansive global ops to find space for a deal. Now, working with a Chinese cell and gene therapy player hungry for more elbow room abroad, AbbVie has taken one UK facility off its books.

AbbVie has offloaded its Liverpool manufacturing site as part of a $118.7 million sale to Chinese cell and gene therapy player Pharmaron, which is pitching the purchase as the next step in its global expansion plans, the companies said last week.

An Ar­ray co-founder re-emerges as CEO of a small aca­d­e­m­ic spin­out, look­ing to re­make an old class of can­cer drugs

Tony Piscopio hadn’t worked as a bench scientist in years when, around 2011, he got put in touch with a team at the University of Colorado trying to revitalize an old approach to treating cancer.

Piscopio, who had co-founded Array Biopharma before heading to South Korea to launch a new company, was back in the states, unattached and intrigued. He founded a three-person company with two professors, Xuedong Liu and Gail Eckhardt, and while they worked on the biology side, he returned to his old chemist chair and began drawing up potential compounds on a computer, along with manufacturing processes to make them. Outsourcing companies synthesized or analyzed the results.

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