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Af­ter fac­ing a 16-month so­journ dur­ing Covid to over­come a stun­ning CRL, lit­tle En­zy­vant says it's back on track — ex­pects mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion lat­er this year

Back in late 2019, Enzyvant CEO Rachelle Jacques was shocked when the FDA issued a CRL for its therapy to treat ultra-rare cases of pediatric congenital athymia — a condition marked by extreme immune deficiency and an early death. Like a lot of older, bigger organizations, Jacques discovered that regulators were not eager to OK the CMC setup at Enzyvant, though she told me at the time that she believed that with no demands for new clinical data, she felt that it could all be resolved in “a few months.”

Jeff Engelman (L) and Josh Bilenker

Loxo founder Josh Bilenker, No­var­tis on­col­o­gy leader Jeff En­gel­man join forces to de­but can­cer R&D play­er

Josh Bilenker has been busy since leaving Eli Lilly at the end of January.

Earlier on Monday he put out word on LinkedIn that he and Novartis’ global head of oncology, Jeff Engelman, have launched a new cancer R&D biotech — and they’ve already banked the A round to fund ops.

In a statement, the two founders noted that they were going after difficult but validated molecular targets in oncology, zeroing in on proteins such as kinases and other enzymes that can now be pipeline fodder due to a laundry list of every buzzy biotech tool you can throw in a paragraph: CRISPR, machine learning/AI, X-ray crystallography and so on.

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From left: James Brown, Michael Chambers, John Ballantyne

Alde­vron founders back a biotech start­up that's look­ing to end the moral de­bate over cell lines once and for all

For millions of Catholics around the world, the development of new vaccines to combat Covid-19 has sparked a moral dilemma. All the approved vaccines in use relied — in some fashion — on cell lines that were derived from aborted fetal tissue.

While church leaders accepted the vaccines and recommended their use to end the pandemic, a number also highlighted their preference for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna over the J&J and AstraZeneca shots, which they noted were more heavily dependent on cell lines that they found morally objectionable.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Vik Bajaj (Foresite)

Ex­clu­sive: Vik Ba­jaj set out al­most 2 years ago to hatch new com­pa­nies that would shake up health­care with da­ta sci­ence. Here are 5 di­rec­tions he's tak­ing at Fore­site Labs

If it was clear in late 2019 that the US healthcare system is poised for transformation, Vik Bajaj believes the Covid-19 pandemic rammed the gas pedal by laying bare the “fundamental inefficiencies and inequalities.”

Take, for instance, the idea that the most cost-effective way to treat disease is to catch it early. That was the mission at Grail, the high-flying cancer detection startup that he had been CSO of. But at Foresite, where he’s now managing director, they expected widespread emphasis on preventative care would take about a decade to achieve — as with many of the changes in business models that they were hoping for.

Alise Reicin (L) and Tim Springer

Har­vard bil­lion­aire Tim Springer has lined up his lat­est biotech launch. And he's re­cruit­ed a star R&D ex­ec to man­age their break­through game plan

Tectonic Therapeutic isn’t your average biotech startup story. For all sorts of reasons.

There’s your billionaire Harvard scientist and philanthropist who’s personally bankrolling much of the operation. The CEO is one of the most prominent women involved in the global drug hunting business. And they have enough collective cachet between them to command virtually as much cash as they might dream of, at a time that biotech dreams are running beyond the fantastic.

But this story isn’t about them right now, so much as it is about a scientist who’s never quite been center stage in the floodlights of biostardom. There’s a whole group of prominent players, though, who believe that’s about to change. Players perfectly happy to gamble some significant coin to give that hope every chance possible of becoming a reality.

Andrew Kruse may not be an immediately recognizable name to you. But to his Harvard colleague Tim Springer, he’s a rock star. They co-founded the Institute for Protein Innovation together, a non-profit that the internationally renowned Springer has been funding with a fortune earned from a remarkable run of successful startups, from his first $100 million out of Millennium to the gusher of wealth that followed his decision to back Stéphane Bancel and the crew at mRNA pioneer Moderna.

Kruse has specialized in work revolving around GPCRs, or G protein-coupled receptors, that make up about a third of all — while still only scratching the surface of potential targets. He was a student of Brian Kobilka at Stanford, who won the Nobel Prize in 2012 for his contribution on the work on GPCRs. And Kruse has published extensively on his lab’s structural analysis of GPCRs, which Springer believes will open the door to a whole new field of drug R&D that can crack open a slew of currently “undruggable” targets to biologics — covering a gamut of both agonists and antagonists.

“We just have unparalleled experience in the biochemistry and biophysics of GPCRs,” says Springer about this new venture of his. “Andrew Kruse is a real star. He went from being a PhD student at Stanford to an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School — he had many papers out of his PhD — and he’s gone on to full professor at Harvard Medical School in 7 years. That is a record at least in modern times. The guy is just amazing. And he’s a nice guy.”

Springer is so convinced by the potential of Kruse’s research that he put up the first $5 million to seed the company 18 months ago. Terry McGuire — the co-founder at Polaris who goes back a long way with Springer — chipped in a million.

Which brings us to the nut of today’s news story.

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Launched by MIT grads, a small start­up gets $20M to back a ro­bot­ics rev­o­lu­tion in cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing

As co-director of an experimental cellular therapy process development and manufacturing group at UCSF specializing in T cell therapies for autoimmune conditions, Jonathan Esensten has learned a lot about the challenges involved when his group hand-fashions a cell therapy. Esensten — who was a postdoc in Wendell Lim’s lab and counts the legendary Jeffrey Bluestone as a mentor — gives them all high marks at being great at what they do, but time and again there are variations in the treatments they construct.

CEO Virginia Burger (New Equilibrium Biosciences)

Bet­ting ear­ly on an AI niche, RA Cap­i­tal seeds a young founder's quest to un­lock 'Holy Grail' tar­gets

Artificial intelligence, with its grandiose claims and sweeping promises to revolutionize drug discovery, may seem omnipresent in biopharma now. But Virginia Burger and RA Capital believe there are niches it has yet to touch.

After taking up residency at the star-studded Boston accelerator Petri, Burger’s startup — named New Equilibrium Biosciences — has scored $10 million in seed cash from the VC firm to prove that by reaching into those corners, they could uncover drugs against “Holy Grail” targets in everything from cancer to neurodegenerative diseases.

Wild Biotech co-founder Neta Raab

Two Church lab vets, a se­cre­tive in­sti­tute and an Is­raeli bil­lion­aire hunt for drugs in the guts of wild an­i­mals

Over the last four years, Neta Raab and Ido Bachelet have received hundreds of padded cardboard boxes containing frozen poop from wild animals on five different continents.

The packages came regularly to their lab outside Tel Aviv, sent from a squad of zoologists and specialized Israeli army veterans who tracked enough animals to fill a Rudyard Kipling novel, rushing to collect vulture and rhino and frog samples within an hour of extrusion. Raab and Bachelet carefully opened the boxes, removing the samples from plastic-wrapped tubes and then using specialized magnetic beads to fish out the bacterial DNA inside for sequencing.

Koenraad Wiedhaup (file photo)

GV wa­gers on sea­soned team's in­tranasal 'tem­po­rary' pre­ven­ta­tive ap­proach to virus­es — with ex-Gilead CEO John Mar­tin jump­ing on board

Last May, during the first lockdown in Europe, Koenraad Wiedhaup found himself in a socially distanced meeting with Jaap Goudsmit, Ronald Brus and Dinko Valerio.

The trio had worked together at Crucell and created a vaccine platform that J&J has made its single-shot Covid-19 vaccine on, a decade after the pharma giant inked a $2.4 billion buyout. Impressed with the speed of vaccine development, the group however pondered if future pandemics called for a different kind of product: a nasal spray that can protect people from a whole range of viruses for a few days, before vaccines become available or when they need to venture out to a particularly risky situation.