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.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

David Baker working with a student on their protein design (Jason Mast)

Sci­en­tists are fi­nal­ly learn­ing how to de­sign pro­teins from scratch. Drug de­vel­op­ment may nev­er be the same

SEATTLE — It’s a cloudy Thursday afternoon in mid-July and David Baker is reclining into the futon in his corner office at the University of Washington, arms splayed out like a daytime talk show host as he coaches another one of his postdocs through the slings and arrows of scientific celebrity.

“Be jealous of your time,” he says, before plotting ways of sneaking her out of Zooms. “It’s this horrible cost to science that you’re tied up in some stupid meeting.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

Patty Murray, D-WA (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­ate user fee reau­tho­riza­tion bill omits ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval re­forms, shows wide gaps with House ver­sion

The Senate health committee on Tuesday released its first version of the bill to reauthorize all the different FDA user fees. But unlike the House version, there are only a few controversial items in the Senate’s version, which does not address either accelerated approval reforms or clinical trial diversity (as the House did).

While it’s still relatively early in the process of finalizing this legislation (the ultimate statutory deadline is the end of September), the House and Senate, at least initially, appear to be starting off in different corners on what should be included.

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Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO

Berk­shire Hath­away pulls out of Ab­b­Vie, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb in­vest­ments

It looks like Warren Buffett is sticking to ice cream and railroads for the moment.

The billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway backed out of two major holdings in the pharma industry, Forexlive first reported, including a $410 million investment in AbbVie and a $324.4 million stake in Bristol Myers Squibb.

The move comes after Berkshire abandoned its Teva shares just last quarter, Bloomberg reported.

Long-ex­pect­ed UK lay­offs im­mi­nent for No­var­tis fol­low­ing sale

Nearly a year ago, more than 200 workers at Novartis’ Grimsby, UK, facility were able to hang on to their jobs after the pharma closed a Switzerland site as a part of its workforce restructuring plan. Now, it looks like those employees’ time is up, as the site has been sold, Grimsby Telegraph reported today.

The manufacturing site has been sold to Humber Industrials, a subsidiary of International Process Plants. None of the current staff members will be working with the new owners, however.

FDA lob­bies Con­gress over rare dis­ease court rul­ing with wide im­pli­ca­tions

Usually reserved for making decisions on drug applications or enforcing what Congress stipulates, the FDA is now dipping its toe into the wild world of congressional politics as it attempts to fix a major court decision that could have a chilling effect on rare disease R&D.

The case in question from last October saw a US appeals court overturn a prior FDA court win, saying that the agency never should’ve approved a rare disease drug because a previously approved but more expensive drug with the same active ingredient has orphan drug exclusivity barring such an approval.

Peter Marks (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Even FDA's Pe­ter Marks is wor­ried about the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­i­ty of gene and cell ther­a­pies

When bluebird bio’s gene therapy to treat beta thalassemia won European approval in 2019, the nearly $2 million per patient price tag for the potential cure seemed like a surmountable hurdle.

Fast forward two years later, and bluebird has withdrawn Zynteglo, the beta thal drug, along with the rest of its gene therapy portfolio from Europe, which the company said is generally unwilling to pay a fair price for the treatment.

Pri­cy in­halers re­main ex­pen­sive due to de­vice tweaks that keep com­peti­tors at bay, re­searchers find

New research published in Health Affairs today highlights the way in which the FDA’s inhaler regulations have rewarded incremental adjustments to older products, thereby enabling companies to skirt around cheaper competition.

A DC appeals court clerk and researchers from Harvard and the University of Calgary dug through all the patents and regulatory exclusivities granted to inhalers approved by the FDA between 1986 and 2020, finding that of the 62 inhalers approved, 53 (or 85%) were brand-name products, with a median of 16 years of protection from generic competition.