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.”

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Vipin Suri, Catamaran Bio CSO

Cata­ma­ran Bio sails in­to the CAR-NK wa­ters with a $42M launch round

Catamaran Bio’s founding members decided to jump into the CAR-NK game last December over drinks at a trendy bar in Boston.

They were sitting around a table, discussing an MD Anderson study which provided some of the first clinical proof that natural killer (NK) cells can be reengineered to attack tumors, much like CAR-T therapies. It was a “long and lively” discussion, COO Mark Boshar recalls. And by the time it was over, they had a starting point to launch a company.

Simeon George, SR One CEO (SR One)

Scoop: SR One crew com­pletes a com­pli­cat­ed spin­out from Glax­o­SmithK­line. And now they have a $500M fund to in­vest on their own

It’s taken close to 2 years, but Simeon George and his team at SR One have completed their spinout from GlaxoSmithKline, ending a saga as one of the longest running venture arms of Big Pharma as they go out on their own to forge the next chapter with a new and independent $500 million fund.

GSK is sticking with the spinout, this time as a minority investor — though a big one. And I’m told that the R&D group at GSK will remain involved in evaluating their new plays, helping with the scientific due diligence involved in scouting the world for new opportunities during a period of explosive growth in biotech investing.

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Peter Thiel (Riccardo Savi/Sipa via AP Images)

Tech bil­lion­aire Pe­ter Thiel backs a lead­ing psy­che­del­ic drug de­vel­op­er

Right on the heels of investing in antibody drug developer AbCellera, Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel has jumped into a syndicate putting up $125 million for a company with a portfolio of psychedelic drugs in the clinic for mental health.

The C round — which includes a $32 million conversion of notes to equity — will fuel the development programs at ATAI Life Sciences, a Berlin-based biotech that has assembled a portfolio of companies with psychedelic and non-psychedilc approaches to depression, anxiety and addiction.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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