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.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

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Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.

The key dates for KRAS watch­ers through the end of the year — the trail is nar­row and risks are ex­treme

There’s nothing quite like a big patent win when it comes to burnishing your prospects in the pipeline. And for Amgen, which seems to have rescued Enbrel for a run to 2029, the cheering section on Wall Street is now fixed on AMG 510 and a key rival.

And it didn’t take much data to do it. 

There was the first snapshot of a handful of patients, with a 50% response rate. Then came word that Amgen researchers are also tracking responses in different cancers, at least one in colorectal cancer and appendiceal too. 

Bain's Or­ly Mis­han joins Pfiz­er's neu­ro spin­out Cerev­el; On­colyt­ic virus biotech taps Sil­la­Jen ex­ec He­le­na Chaye as CEO

→ Bain Capital is deploying one of its top investors to Cerevel Therapeutics, steering a $350 million-plus neuro play carved out of Pfizer. Orly Mishan — a co-founder and principal of Bain’s life sciences unit — was involved in the partnership that birthed the biotech spinout in the first place. As Cerevel’s first chief business officer, she is tasked with corporate development, program management as well as technical operations. 

UP­DAT­ED: Watch out Bay­er, Roche is com­ing for you with a dis­count price ri­val to the tu­mor ag­nos­tic drug you got from Loxo

Just ahead of schedule the FDA has come through with a key approval for Genentech’s tumor agnostic entrectinib — now headed to the market as Rozlytrek.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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