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.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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IPO track­er: 2021 gets start­ed with a flur­ry of new of­fer­ings

A global pandemic couldn’t slow down what turned out to be a record year for biotech IPOs. With the calendar turning toward 2021, the Endpoints News team is prepped to track each new filing this year, and the outcome. We’re off to another hot start at least.

Below, you’ll find the companies that have filed to go public, in addition to those that have already priced. Through the first two business weeks of January, there have already been 9 biotechs that have filed or priced, and the number is only expected to grow. We’ll keep the tracker updated as it does.

Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Scoop: Vivek Ra­maswamy is hand­ing the CEO job to a top lieu­tenant at Roivant — but he’s not ex­act­ly leav­ing the biotech scene

Over the past 7 years since founding Roivant, Vivek Ramaswamy has been a constant blur of biotech building motion.

He launched his first biotech with an Alzheimer’s drug he picked up cheap, and watched the experiment implode in one of the highest profile pivotal disasters seen in the last decade. But it didn’t slow the 30-something exec down; if anything, he hit the accelerator. Ramaswamy blazed global paths and went on to raise billions to spur the creation of a large lineup of little Vants promising big things at a fast pace. He sold off a section of the Vant brigade to Sumitomo Dainippon for $3 billion. And more recently the relentless dealmaker has been building a computational discovery arm to add an AI-driven approach to kicking up new programs and companies, supplementing the in-licensing drive while pursuing advances that have created more than 700 jobs at Roivant, with $2 billion in reserves.

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Ron Cooper, Albireo CEO

Al­bireo just ad­vanced down to the 10-yard line at the FDA. And Ron Coop­er’s team is get­ting prepped for the next big play

When Albireo Pharma’s board $ALBO moved to bring in Ron Cooper as the CEO more than 5 years ago, the development-stage company went with an experienced commercial player who had a big-time position on his resume after running Bristol Myers’ commercial ops in Europe.

Now, after successfully navigating a pivotal study, putting them in a foot race with a rival toward an FDA OK, Cooper is getting a boost from regulators on the last drive back to an arena he understands completely.

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David Southwell (L) and Christoph Westphal

Har­vard spin­out kicks off 2021 with a crossover round and sights set on the clin­ic

Several months after striking an alliance with Novartis, TCR therapy-focused TScan Therapeutics has reeled in a crossover round that should hold it over for the next two years as it eyes a public debut.

The Christoph Westphal portfolio company had been arranging the crossover for the last few months, CEO David Southwell said. Just before Christmas, they nailed down what he called a “really blue-chip” syndicate of four new investors, including BlackRock, RA Capital Management and two undisclosed funds. They closed on the $100 million Series C just over a week ago, and waited until Monday morning to announce it.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Can strug­gling Iterum turn the cor­ner to an an­tibi­ot­ic suc­cess sto­ry? They will know in six months

More than five years after Corey Fishman and Michael Dunne dusted sulopenem off Pfizer’s shelves — the second castoff antibiotic they’ve brought out of the pharma giant — and founded Iterum Therapeutics around that single drug, they have lined up a quick shot at approval with priority review from the FDA.

The decision, six months from now, will mark a make-or-break moment for a struggling biotech that has just enough cash to keep the lights on until the third quarter.

Bahija Jallal, Immunocore

Buried in Im­muno­core's IPO fil­ings? A kick­back scheme from a now for­mer em­ploy­ee

Immunocore spent much of 2019 dealing with the fallout of the Neil Woodford scandal, as the former star investor’s fall crashed the biotech’s valuation out of unicorn range. Now it turns out that the company spent 2020 dealing with another internal scandal.

The longtime UK biotech darling disclosed in their IPO filing last week that they had fallen victim to an alleged kickback scheme involving one of their employees. After a whistleblower came forward, they said in their F-1, they spent the summer and spring investigating, finding fraud on the part of an employee and two outside vendors.