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.

“The ‘ide­al’ cell ther­a­py ap­proach would come from a holis­tic ap­proach — not a sin­gle linch­pin tech­nol­o­gy — in or­der to make progress be­yond the lim­i­ta­tions of ear­ly gen­er­a­tion prod­ucts,” Boshar wrote in a state­ment.

On Mon­day, Cata­ma­ran Bio emerged from stealth with $42 mil­lion in Se­ries A and seed fund­ing to de­vel­op what Boshar called the “holy grail” of cell ther­a­pies: off-the-shelf CAR-NK drugs made with donor cells to treat sol­id tu­mors.

Cata­ma­ran’s ther­a­pies will do two key things: at­tack sol­id tu­mor cells and the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, which sur­rounds the cells like a force field, CSO Vipin Suri told End­points News. In the hopes of get­ting around the cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing bot­tle­neck, the biotech is us­ing a non-vi­ral trans­po­son sys­tem to de­liv­er the ge­net­ic pay­loads, rather than vi­ral vec­tors.

Un­like CAR-T treat­ments — which re­quire the long and cost­ly process of draw­ing a pa­tient’s own cells, treat­ing them and rein­ject­ing them — CAR-NK ther­a­pies can be made with donor cells. That’s be­cause donor T cells would like­ly trig­ger graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease, while for­eign NK cells don’t. The end goal is a cell ther­a­py that doesn’t look like a trip to the hos­pi­tal, Suri said.

“The idea is very much to have an off-the-shelf ther­a­py such that … when a physi­cian de­ter­mines that a pa­tient can ben­e­fit from cell ther­a­py, it is avail­able to be ad­min­is­tered as a ther­a­py right then, or short­ly there­after,” he told End­points News. 

Cata­ma­ran cur­rent­ly has two pro­grams, dubbed the TAIL­WIND Plat­form, which Suri ex­pects to en­ter the clin­ic in the next few years. De­vel­op­ment will be fund­ed by the Se­ries A, which was led by Sofinno­va Part­ners and Light­stone Ven­tures, with help from found­ing in­vestor SV Health In­vestors, as well as Take­da Ven­tures and Astel­las Ven­ture Man­age­ment.

The CAR-NK field is abound with new play­ers, led by MD An­der­son and Take­da, who said they’re look­ing to ini­ti­ate a piv­otal tri­al next year. Then there’s J&J-backed Fate Ther­a­peu­tics, which was cleared for its first CAR-NK clin­i­cal tri­al in Sep­tem­ber; Nkar­ta re­cent­ly dosed the first par­tic­i­pant in a clin­i­cal tri­al, and says a sec­ond IND is com­ing in Q1 of 2021; and ONK Ther­a­peu­tics, which said in Oc­to­ber that it’s about two years out from an IND.

“All these com­pa­nies have great teams, but we re­al­ly be­lieve that the team that Kevin (Po­jasek), Mark and Vipin put to­geth­er is a tru­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed com­pa­ny,” SV Health man­ag­ing part­ner Houman Ashrafi­an told End­points

Houman Ashrafi­an

The team of sci­en­tif­ic founders in­cludes George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor Cather­ine Bol­lard, who’s di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Can­cer Im­munol­o­gy Re­search at the Chil­dren’s Na­tion­al Re­search In­sti­tute, and Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Bran­den Mo­ri­ar­i­ty, who holds patents in key ar­eas, in­clud­ing for tech­nolo­gies us­ing DNA trans­po­son sys­tems. There’s al­so CMO Chris Car­pen­ter, who pre­vi­ous­ly served as CMO of Ru­bius Ther­a­peu­tics af­ter spend­ing time at GSK and Mer­ck, and se­nior VP of re­search Ce­leste Richard­son, who hails from Ob­sid­i­an Ther­a­peu­tics and No­var­tis.

“Cata­ma­ran to us sym­bol­izes the jour­ney. Our jour­ney is to broad­en the reach of cell ther­a­py for pa­tients in more in­di­ca­tions,” Suri said.

This sto­ry has been up­dat­ed to clar­i­fy that Nkar­ta has re­cent­ly dosed the first pa­tient in its clin­i­cal tri­al.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; 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.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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UP­DAT­ED: Three biotechs price hefty IPOs just be­fore the week­end, while a fourth and a SPAC seek spots on Wall Street

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A handful of biotechs are hitting Wall Street just before the start of the weekend, with three companies — Caribou Biosciences, Sophia Genetics and Absci — all pricing big raises Wednesday and Thursday. Gamma delta T cell-focused IN8bio relaunched its IPO campaign months after postponing it last November, seeking a slightly lower raise. And another SPAC has filed for a public debut.

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Victor Perlroth, Kodiak Sciences CEO

Ko­di­ak turns down $125M pay­ment from Bak­er Bros. deal, slash­es roy­al­ty cap by 55%

Following a massive public raise last November, Kodiak Sciences has re-worked a royalty sale agreement with an old partner — and declined new funds in the process.

Kodiak is turning down a planned $125 million payment from Baker Bros. Advisors, according to an SEC filing, cutting short an agreement that saw the biotech hand over a 4.5% stream of royalty sales on its experimental anti-VEGF therapy KSI-301 for retinal vascular diseases. In conjunction with the move, Kodiak is shrinking the royalty cap from just over $1 billion to $450 million.

EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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Laurent Fischer, Adverum CEO

Ad­verum faces murky fu­ture af­ter re­view turns up deep­er safe­ty is­sues for gene ther­a­py

Three months after revealing that a patient lost significant vision in one eye after receiving its experimental gene therapy, Adverum announced it found the safety issues were more widespread: Five of 12 patients who received a high dose of the therapy saw “similar clinically-relevant events.”

Three required surgery on their treated eye. And all 12 are being recommended “aggressive immunomodulatory treatments” to prevent further injury.

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