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.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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UP­DAT­ED: Stay tuned: Bio­gen’s num­bers are great — it’s their wor­ri­some fu­ture that leaves an­a­lysts skit­tish

Biogen came out with an upbeat assessment of their Q2 numbers today, discounting the arrival of a key rival for its blockbuster Spinraza franchise. But the top execs remain grimly determined to not say much anything new about the sore points that have dragged down its stock, including the future of its big investment in Alzheimer’s or how it plans to invest the considerable cash that the big biotech continues to reap.

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Why wait? Cel­gene re­struc­tures a big Jounce pact — ze­ro­ing in on new I/O path­way with $530M deal and bump­ing ICOS

Celgene’s business team isn’t waiting for the big merger with Bristol-Myers Squibb to go through before syncing its strategy with the new mother ship.

Tuesday evening the big biotech unveiled a $530 million deal — $50 million in upfront cash — to amend their alliance with Jounce Therapeutics $JNCE to gain worldwide rights to JTX-8064, an antibody that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages. Their old, $2.6 billion deal is being scrapped, leaving Jounce with a pipeline that includes the lead drug, the ICOS-targeting vopratelimab.

PACT Phar­ma says it's per­fect­ed the tech to se­lect neoanti­gens for per­son­al­ized ther­a­py — now on­to the clin­ic

At PACT Pharma, the lofty goal to unleash a “tsunami” of T cells personalized for each patient has hinged on the ability to correctly identify the neoantigens that form something of a fingerprint for each tumor, and extract the small group of T cells primed to attack the cancer. It still has a long way to go testing a treatment in humans, but the biotech says it has nailed that highly technical piece of the process.

UP­DAT­ED: My­ovan­t's uter­ine fi­broid drug looks com­pet­i­tive in PhI­II — but can they van­quish mighty Ab­b­Vie?

Vivek Ramaswamy’s Myovant $MYOV has closely matched its positive first round of Phase III data for their uterine fibroid drug relugolix, setting up a head-to-head rivalry with pharma giant AbbVie as the little biotech steers to the market with a planned filing in Q4.

Here’s how Myovant plans to prevail over the AbbVie $ABBV empire.

In the study, 71.2% of women receiving once-daily relugolix combination therapy achieved the clinical response they were looking for, compared to only 14.7% in the control arm. The data comfortably reflected the same outcomes in the first Phase III — 73.4% of women receiving once-daily oral relugolix combination therapy achieved the responder criteria compared with 18.9% of women receiving placebo — which will reassure regulators that they are getting the carefully randomized data that qualifies for the FDA’s gold standard for success.

Lit­tle Mar­i­nus sees its shares eclipsed as the Sage ri­val fails to com­pare on PPD in PhII

The executive team at Sage $SAGE have skirted another potential pitfall on its way to racking up a big future for its depression drug Zulresso.

Little Marinus Pharmaceuticals $MRNS had sought to challenge the Sage drug with an IV formulation — followed by an oral version — of ganaxolone for postpartum depression. But researchers say their Phase II study failed to positively differentiate itself from a placebo at 28 days — leaving them to hold up “clinically meaningful” data within the first day of administration compared to the control arm.

Roche cuts loose Tam­i­flu OTC rights, hand­ing Sanofi the keys as the phar­ma gi­ant dou­bles down on Xofluza

Roche set out to make a better flu medicine than Tamiflu as that franchise was headed to a generic showdown. Now they’ll see just how well Xofluza stacks up against the mainstay drug after handing off over-the-counter rights in the US to Sanofi.

Sanofi $SNY says it will now step in to negotiate a deal with the FDA to steer Tamiflu into the OTC market, a role that could well involve new studies to ease passage of the drug out of doctor’s hands and into the consumer end of the market. And the French pharma giant will have first dibs over “selected” OTC markets around the world as they push ahead.

Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.