Cel­gene, Ver­sant back a biotech merg­er, build­ing an an­ti­body pipeline and lin­ing up for the clin­ic

Ver­sant Ven­tures and Cel­gene have ex­tend­ed their deal to fos­ter a Toron­to-based biotech called North­ern Bi­o­log­ics, bring­ing in a Phase I-ready can­cer drug through a merg­er with a small biotech in Barcelona and pump­ing in fresh funds to dri­ve its piv­ot in­to the clin­ic.

The Span­ish biotech is called Mo­sa­ic Bio­med­icals, co-found­ed by Joan Seoane, the di­rec­tor of trans­la­tion­al re­search at the Vall d’He­bron In­sti­tute of On­col­o­gy in Barcelona. He’s been work­ing on an an­ti­body that tar­gets leukemia in­hibito­ry fac­tor, or LIF, a cy­tokine that is over ex­pressed on cer­tain sol­id tu­mors. The drug is de­signed to block a path­way in­volved in can­cer pro­gres­sion.

Ste­fan Lar­son

“Mo­sa­ic Bio­med­icals has a very ex­cit­ing mol­e­cule — which is the first an­ti­body tar­get­ing LIF — to go in­to the clin­ic next year,” says North­ern CEO Ste­fan Lar­son, whose com­pa­ny was seed­ed by Ver­sant Ven­tures. “North­ern Bi­o­log­ic has a larg­er in­fra­struc­ture and we saw an op­por­tu­ni­ty to bring that in­to North­ern Bi­o­log­ic to ac­cel­er­ate our pipeline.”

“Ver­sant in­creased its Se­ries A,” he adds, “and un­der a built-to-buy deal, af­ter the merg­er Cel­gene ex­er­cised op­tions to rights to MSC1 that comes with ad­di­tion­al fund­ing.”

The com­pa­ny and its back­ers are keep­ing the terms for the ad­di­tion un­der wraps for now, but it’s not a triv­ial amount. Aside from Ver­sant’s ini­tial $10 mil­lion round, Cel­gene has al­ready sunk $30 mil­lion in­to the com­pa­ny in the spring of 2015, when it first ac­quired the op­tion to buy.

Now North­ern has a staff of about 30, in­clud­ing the new group in Barcelona, which was ID’d by Ver­sant’s Eu­ro­pean team. Gui­do Mag­ni, a part­ner, sits on the board at Mo­sa­ic.

Ver­sant has been build­ing up its pres­ence in Cana­da over the last few years. And this lat­est deal fits in­to their strat­e­gy to find new biotech op­por­tu­ni­ties that can be every bit as valu­able as any­thing you’d find in Boston/Cam­bridge or San Fran­cis­co.

Brad Bol­zon

“Ba­si­cal­ly, this is our fifth ma­jor in­vest­ment in Cana­da,” says Brad Bol­zon, a man­ag­ing part­ner at Ver­sant, in­clud­ing the re­cent $225 mil­lion launch of Blue­Rock with Bay­er a few days ago. “I’m Cana­di­an. We know there was re­al ca­pa­bil­i­ty and tal­ent, and very lit­tle biotech in­fra­struc­ture to ex­ploit that.”

“Our strat­e­gy is to in­vest in Cana­da dif­fer­ent­ly, build­ing glob­al­ly com­pet­i­tive com­pa­nies an­chored on Cana­di­an soil,” says Jer­el Davis, an­oth­er man­ag­ing part­ner who al­so sits on the North­ern board.

Ver­sant has al­so been busy in Eu­rope in find­ing new port­fo­lio com­pa­nies, which al­so sets it aside from the run-of-the-mill US VC fo­cused on the megahubs. And be­gin­ning in 2017, North­ern will start look­ing to back up their promise with the first round of clin­i­cal da­ta, part­nered with one of the most pro­lif­ic Big Biotechs in the busi­ness.

That’s not to say that the VC ig­nored the US. Ver­sant backed CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics, one of the pi­o­neers in gene edit­ing, which is based in Basel with an R&D op­er­a­tion in Cam­bridge. So they be­came a nat­ur­al part­ner for Bay­er, which part­nered with CRISPR on a joint ven­ture, when Bay­er’s Ax­el Bou­chon fol­lowed up on plans to found a new play­er op­er­at­ing in stem cells.

Af­ter years of glo­be­trot­ting, Bol­zon and Davis are part of a glob­al net­work. And their com­pa­ny cre­ation work is now in full stride. North­ern is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of that.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (Moderna via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: NI­AID and Mod­er­na spell out a 'ro­bust' im­mune re­sponse in PhI coro­n­avirus vac­cine test — but big ques­tions re­main to be an­swered

The NIAID and Moderna have spelled out positive Phase I safety and efficacy data for their Covid-19 vaccine mRNA-1273 — highlighting the first full, clear sketch of evidence that back-to-back jabs at the dose selected for Phase III routinely produced a swarm of antibodies to the virus that exceeded levels seen in convalescent patients — typically in multiples indicating a protective response.

Moderna execs say plainly that this first stage of research produced exactly the kind of efficacy they hoped to see in humans, with a manageable safety profile.

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Trans­port Sim­u­la­tion Test­ing for Your Ther­a­py is the Best Way to As­sure FDA Ex­pe­dit­ed Pro­gram Ap­proval

Modality Solutions is an ISO:9001-registered biopharmaceutical cold chain engineering firm with unique transport simulation capabilities that support accelerated regulatory approval for biologics and advanced therapeutic medicinal products (ATMP). Our expertise combines traditional validation engineering approaches with regulatory knowledge into a methodology tailored for the life sciences industry. We provide insight and execution for the challenges faced in your cold chain logistics network.

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Who are the women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D and lead­ing the fight against Covid-19? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' spe­cial re­port

One of the many inequalities the pandemic has laid bare is the gender imbalance in biomedical research. A paper examining Covid-19 research authorship wondered out loud: Where are the women?

It’s a question that echoes beyond our current times. In the biopharma world, not only are women under-represented in R&D roles (particularly at higher levels), their achievements and talents could also be undermined by stereotypes and norms of leadership styles. The problem is even more dire for women of color.

Jeff Albers, Blueprint CEO

Di­ag­nos­tic champ Roche buys its way in­to the RET ti­tle fight with Eli Lil­ly, pay­ing $775M in cash to Blue­print

When Roche spelled out its original $1 billion deal — $45 million of that upfront — with Blueprint to discover targeted therapies against immunokinases, the biotech partner’s RET program was still preclinical. Four years later, pralsetinib is on the cusp of potential approval and the Swiss pharma giant is putting in much more to get in on the commercial game.

Roche gains rights to co-develop and co-commercialize the drug, with sole marketing responsibility for places outside the US and China (where CStone has staked its claim).

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Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca R&D chief (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

A day af­ter Mod­er­na vac­cine re­sults, ru­mors swirl of pend­ing As­traZeneca da­ta

A day after Moderna and the NIH published much-anticipated data from their Phase I Covid-19 vaccine trial, attention is turning to AstraZeneca which, according to a UK report, is expected to publish its own early data tomorrow.

ITV’s Robert Peston reported that AstraZeneca will publish the Phase I data in The Lancet. 

AstraZeneca and Moderna represent the two most ambitious Covid-19 vaccine efforts, having set the quickest timelines for approval (though they were recently joined in that regard by the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership) and some of the loftiest goals in total doses. Yet there is even less known about AstraZeneca’s vaccine’s effect on humans than there was about Moderna’s before yesterday. Although, in a controversial move, Moderna released some statistics from its Phase I in May, AstraZeneca has yet to say anything about what it saw in its Phase I trial — a move consistent with the scientific convention to withhold data until it can be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

‘Plan­ning to vac­ci­nate every­one in the US,’ Mod­er­na out­lines ef­forts to sup­ply their Covid-19 vac­cine as man­u­fac­tur­ing ramps up ahead of PhI­II

Twelve days from the planned start of their Phase III pivotal trial, the executive crew at Moderna has set up the manufacturing base needed to begin production of the first 500,000 doses of their Covid-19 vaccine with plans to feed it into a global supply chain. But the initial batches will likely be ready in the US first, where company CEO Stéphane Bancel plans to be able to vaccinate everyone.

“We have started making commercial product at-risk, and will continue to do so every day and every week of the month,” Bancel told analysts during their morning call on the Phase I data just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Carolyn Loew, Glympse Bio CEO

Gilead-part­nered Glympse snares $46.7M for their NASH-snoop­ing biosen­sors

Since its emergence at JP Morgan six years ago, the NASH field has been held back not only by the question of how to treat the disease, but also by the question of how you diagnose it. It’s simply not that difficult to tell if a liver is fatty or scarred or in full-on cirrhosis.

The method used in most trials is needle biopsy, where you take a hollow needle, stick it through someone’s skin and into their liver and suck out some cells. You stain those cells and examine them under the microscope. It’s safe but very painful, and that pain limits how often you can test a patient in a trial, and, down the line, how many of the millions of Americans suspected to have NASH would actually be tested for the disease and potentially prescribed an approved drug.

Covid-19 roundup: Vac­cine by end of 2020? Ken Fra­zier warns hype do­ing 'grave dis­ser­vice'

When it comes to setting expectations about a Covid-19 vaccine, Ken Frazier does not mince words.

Over a month after first casting doubts on the aggressive 12- to 18-month timeframe championed by the US government and his biopharma peers, the Merck CEO again cautioned against any hype around a quick vaccine approval.

In a wide-ranging interview with Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley that touched other big topics such as race, Frazier emphasized that vaccines take a long time to develop. He would know: Out of the seven new vaccines introduced around the world in the past 25 years, four came from Merck.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP Images)

A top an­a­lyst turns the spot­light on Mod­er­na, fu­el­ing a fast-and-fu­ri­ous Street race over the fu­ture of mR­NA

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

Four months ago, one of the favorite talking points on the biopharma social media wave length was whether Moderna shares $MRNA were priced right or were wildly inflated.

After all, said the naysayers, the company had never actually pushed a treatment to an approval. Did messenger RNA really work, coding cells to make a drug or a vaccine? And how about all that chatter about how ‘secretive’ they are, or were?

Now, as CEO Stéphane Bancel and the top execs push the company to the forefront of a frantic race to develop the first vaccine to fight against the reignited wildfire spread of Covid-19, all those questions have been magnified — along with the stock price.

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