Cel­gene vet Daniel takes a start­up role at Vi­vid­ion, with $50M in hand for plat­form con­struc­tion

Tom Daniel

You can count Tom Daniel as the lat­est big bio­phar­ma ex­ec to make the tran­si­tion to biotech.

The Cel­gene vet­er­an has tak­en on the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man’s po­si­tion at a start­up called Vi­vid­ion Ther­a­peu­tics, which has col­lect­ed $50 mil­lion in a round led by Arch and Ver­sant. And he is tak­ing a lead­ing role in cre­at­ing a new com­pa­ny that has fash­ioned a brand new plat­form tech­nol­o­gy out of the lab of Scripps re­searcher Ben Cra­vatt.

Af­ter he left Cel­gene as pres­i­dent of re­search and ear­ly de­vel­op­ment last sum­mer, Daniel head­ed west to San Diego. And Daniel, who has a glob­al ros­ter of con­nec­tions sec­ond to none af­ter that ex­pe­ri­ence, was ea­ger to fol­low up on some longterm dis­cus­sions he’d been hav­ing with Cra­vatt, who had col­lab­o­rat­ed with Cel­gene at an­oth­er one of his star­tups called Abide Ther­a­peu­tics.

“We lit­er­al­ly talked about this two years ago,” Daniel tells me. And there was a lot to catch up on.

The big pic­ture at Vi­vid­ion in­volves go­ing af­ter a whole new sphere of drug R&D, pur­su­ing a new class of lig­and­able pro­teins and open­ing up a fron­tier of drug tar­gets.

At Cra­vatt’s Scripps lab, re­searchers used frag­ment lig­ands at­tached to a class of chap­er­one mol­e­cules that re­acts with cys­teine amino-acids on pro­teins, lock­ing the lig­ands to the pro­teins with co­va­lent bonds. Some of the pro­tein class­es they ex­plored in­clud­ed pre­vi­ous­ly un­drug­gable tran­scrip­tion fac­tors, open­ing up their view of the lig­and­able pro­teome. And they’ve tried it suc­cess­ful­ly with hun­dreds of pro­teins.

Since their study was pub­lished by Na­ture last sum­mer, says Daniel, the new com­pa­ny has been tak­ing added shape, mov­ing be­yond cys­teines to lysines and oth­er projects. In broad terms, Daniel is fo­cused on rare ge­net­ic dis­eases, im­muno/on­col­o­gy,  in­flam­ma­tion and on­col­o­gy, “to name a few.” And Scripps’ Phil S. Baran and Jin-Quan Yu have added cru­cial pieces of their plat­form tech.

Daniel knows the play­book on star­tups as well as any­one in the busi­ness. So it will come as no sur­prise to hear that he’s al­ready start­ed a few con­ver­sa­tions with some po­ten­tial part­ners who could see the val­ue of us­ing Vi­vid­ion’s plat­form to solve an R&D chal­lenge. He plans to strike up a cou­ple of part­ner­ships to help build the com­pa­ny, which will start out with a core team of some 25 to 30 staffers.

It’s still ear­ly days at the fledg­ling com­pa­ny, which on­ly re­cent­ly went in­to dou­ble dig­its on its em­ploy­ee ros­ter. Like a lot of start-ups, Daniel isn’t ready to dis­cuss spe­cif­ic drug tar­gets. Like a lot of star­tups, he isn’t ready to re­view R&D time­lines. But he has a long­time re­la­tion­ship with Agios CEO David Schenkein – one of a mul­ti­tude of Cel­gene part­ners – and an in­ter­est in see­ing if he can match Schenkein’s quick ramp up.

To put that in some per­spec­tive, Schenkein is fond of telling peo­ple how he start­ed with a blank sheet of pa­per at Agios and in 7 years cre­at­ed a plat­form and brought 5 drugs in­to the clin­ic. Their lead drug was part­nered with Cel­gene, by Daniel.

“If the dream we be­lieve can be true is ren­dered we’ll go fast,” he says.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

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Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

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Peter Greenleaf, Aurinia CEO

Af­ter pass­ing on Ac­celeron, Bris­tol My­ers eyes bolt-on ac­qui­si­tion of au­toim­mune spe­cial­ist — re­port

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to beef up its autoimmune portfolio by scooping up Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg reported.

The recent overtures to Aurinia, relayed by anonymous insiders, came just as Bristol Myers turned down buyout talks with partners at Acceleron — which Merck ultimately struck a deal to acquire for $11.5 billion. Bristol Myers has reportedly decided to cash out on its minority stake, likely bagging $1.3 billion in the process, while keeping the royalty deals on two of Acceleron’s blood disorder drugs.

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So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; 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.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Beth Bulik, seasoned pharma marketing reporter, to the team. You can find much of her work in our new Marketing channel — and in her weekly newsletter, Endpoints PharmaRx, which will launch in early November. Add it to your subscriptions here.

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NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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