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Neu­ro up­start launch­es out of RA Cap­i­tal’s low-pro­file in­cu­ba­tor with Big Phar­ma vets, clin­i­cal drugs and $80M

As a pain researcher of 20-plus years, Valerie Morisset doesn’t get excited about new drug ideas easily.

So when Andrew Levin from RA Capital called to talk about a prodrug of the endocannabinoid palmitoylethanolamide, she was skeptical. Morisset had just swapped out a career in biotech — most recently heading up biology and translational medicine for Convergence Pharmaceuticals through its acquisition by Biogen — for a VC perch at Bridge Valley Ventures , and together with Simon Tate, the managing director of Intermediate Capital Group, they dived in for three months of due diligence.

Jen Nwankwo, 1910 Genetics CEO

Ex­clu­sive: Mi­crosoft, Sam Alt­man back a new AI biotech up­start

Most artificial intelligence biotechs start with a computer scientist or two and an algorithm. Jen Nwankwo started from the other side of the spectrum.

She had just gotten her PhD from Tufts in 2016, a dyed-in-the-wool pharmacologist who had received an HHMI fellowship and worked on sickle cell drug discovery at Boston Children’s Hospital, and was working at Bain Capital when she started reading up on artificial intelligence. She’d pour over every news article she saw on self-driving cars or image recognition, wondering with each word how she could apply the same technology to the problems that plagued her as a drug developer.

Lonnie Moulder

Ex­clu­sive: Two M&A deals and $9B lat­er, Lon­nie Moul­der is ramp­ing up his lat­est biotech start­up. And this one comes with glob­al vi­sion built in

Lonnie Moulder may have been in silent running mode in the 2 years since he closed the $5 billion sale of Tesaro to GlaxoSmithKline. But he hasn’t been idle.

Today during the China Healthcare Investment Conference in Shanghai, where Endpoints News is playing a co-sponsor role, Moulder’s taking the wraps off a biotech startup he’s put together that has assembled a pipeline with 7 drugs in it, a plan to add several more therapies and a quick vault into the clinic for a company with a small but fast-expanding team that is growing roots in China and the US — with Europe soon to be added to its global frame.

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Ana Moreno and Prashant Mali

Can a CRISPR start­up suc­ceed where Pfiz­er, Glax­o­SmithK­line, Bio­gen and Genen­tech failed and cure chron­ic pain?

A few years ago, when Ana Moreno was doing her PhD work at the San Diego lab of one of the early CRISPR gene editing researchers, she came across a paper that made national headlines a decade prior.

Researchers in the UK followed up on stories of a Pakistani boy who could walk on coals and pass knives through his arms and determined that rare mutations in one gene, called Nav1.7, made him and several relatives unable to feel pain. The finding, the New York Times reported, raises “hopes of developing novel drugs that would abolish pain by blocking the gene’s function.”

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Claire Mazumdar (L) and Ryan Cohlhepp (Bicara)

Backed by In­di­an biosim gi­ant Bio­con, bis­pecifics play­er Bicara de­buts with $40M and sol­id tu­mors on the radar

Best known stateside for its biosimilars pact with Mylan, Indian generics player Biocon has long run a much smaller R&D unit for in-house oncology drugs. Now, with at least one of those candidates showing promise, Biocon is propping up a US-based biotech to get things off the ground.

Biocon will shell out $40 million and spin off bispecific antibody player Bicara — headquartered in Cambridge, MA — which is currently testing its lead compound alongside Merck’s Keytruda against solid tumors, the company said Monday.

Ex­clu­sive: Ready to ex­it 'qui­et mode,' joint en­ti­ty Ven­tyx de­buts its im­mune mod­u­la­tor pipeline with $114M round

In the crazy world of biotech financing, precocious startups are scoring big checks from investors with some often laughably early data. Now, a California immune modulation player is ready to uncloak with a nine-figure down payment in hand and an unusually advanced pipeline.

Encinitas-based Ventyx Biosciences has scored a $114 million equity investment to try three different immune modulator targets in the clinic, one of which is already squared up for a Phase II study in ulcerative colitis.

Michael Shpigelmacher

Khosla joins bet on un­con­ven­tion­al start­up look­ing to send drug de­liv­er­ing ro­bots in­to the brain

When Michael Shpigelmacher started the project, he knew he’d have to fund it himself. Every other effort of its kind was academic, rejected as too risky by investors.

Shpigelmacher, a robotics geek and entrepreneur who had drifted into consulting for pharma, wanted to build the real-life equivalent of technology from the 1960s film “Fantastic Voyage,” the one where a submarine crew is shrunk to “about the size of a microbe” and sent on a mission to repair a scientist’s brain. He scanned the literature, found the lab that was working on the most advanced project — at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, it turned out — and started funding them with money from his and his co-founders’ own accounts, along with some seed cash from friends and family.

Joe Nolan, Jaguar

Sean Nolan gath­ers AveX­is alum­ni to launch an­oth­er biotech. Is it an­oth­er race-to-IPO?

The old AveXis crew is launching another company. And they may once again look to cash in quick.

Armed with patents and a steady stream of cash from Deerfield Management, Sean Nolan and five ex-AveXis executives have launched Jaguar Gene Therapy to develop AAV9 gene therapies for a small constellation of disparate disorders, from autism to diabetes. Jaguar remains over a year from the clinic, but CEO Joe Nolan hinted they could look to follow a pace set by Tasyha, the biotech Sean Nolan and other AveXis alumni launched last year and took from Series A to IPO in less than 6 months.

CEO Fabrice Chouraqui (Cellarity)

Flag­ship up­start Cel­lar­i­ty gath­ers $123M to fi­nance its ex­plo­ration of cell be­hav­ior, blaz­ing a new path to build­ing a broad pipeline

Right from the start, the discovery plan at Flagship-spawned Cellarity was to take their cues from cell biology and follow them to new drugs. Rather than start with a target and develop a drug to hit it, they’d use new technology to digitally map cell behavior and then develop new drugs from what they learned.

“Over the past decades it has always been about finding a target, about reducing a disease to a single molecular target,” says Fabrice Chouraqui, the Novartis vet who was recruited to run the operation about 9 months ago. “And that approach has produced thousands of life-saving medicines. Yet, this approach has limitations. A molecular target approach is fine when you talk about a simple disease, but for very complex diseases like neurodegeneration, like metabolic disease, like cancer, you hope to really harness the complexity of human biology.

Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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