Chi­nese in­vestors back Refuge Bio’s $25M B round as it steers gene en­gi­neer­ing tech to an IND

A group of Chi­nese in­vestors led by 3SBio and Se­quoia Chi­na are bankrolling the next leg of de­vel­op­ment at Refuge Biotech­nolo­gies, a Bay Area biotech that’s been us­ing CRISPR tech­nol­o­gy to con­trol gene ex­pres­sion.

Stan­ley Qi

The syn­di­cate is pro­vid­ing $25 mil­lion in a Se­ries B as Refuge fine tunes a tech­nol­o­gy ini­tial­ly de­vel­oped in the lab of Stan­ley Qi at Stan­ford. Qi mu­tat­ed the Cas9 pro­tein so it couldn’t do the cut­ting used in gene edit­ing. That way it can be used to de­liv­er a tran­scrip­tion­al ac­ti­va­tor or re­pres­sor to turn a gene off or on.

“We don’t seek to com­pete against CAR-T,” he tells me. “We make every­body’s CAR-T that much bet­ter.”

Bing Wang

CEO Bing Wang says that us­ing the tech, Refuge can si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly tack­le a range of, say, check­point in­hibitors like PD-1 or CT­LA-4 or LAG-3. And he ex­pects the biotech, which had ear­li­er raised $9.5 mil­lion in seed cash and Se­ries A mon­ey, is at least a year and a half away from the clin­ic.

The two co-lead in­vestors have a first right of re­fusal for the Chi­na li­cense to the tech, but he’s free to work with part­ners in the rest of the world.

Francesco Mar­in­co­la

The new round gets Refuge right up to the IND stage, adds Wang, a for­mer in­vest­ment banker at Bar­clays — where he was di­rec­tor of health­care in­vest­ment bank­ing — who says flu­en­cy in Man­darin helped line up the syn­di­cate at a time Chi­nese VCs have been ac­tive­ly seek­ing out US biotechs to in­vest in.

In ad­di­tion to the co-leads new in­vestors Dan­hua Cap­i­tal, San­gel Cap­i­tal and Ocean Pine Health­care Fund jumped in. Refuge’s ex­ist­ing in­vestors, 3E Bioven­tures, WuXi Health­care Ven­tures, and Shang­Bay Cap­i­tal, al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed.

Zhen­ping Zhu of 3SBio and Tren­cy Gu of Se­quoia Chi­na are jump­ing on­to the board of di­rec­tors. And along with the round Refuge an­nounced the ar­rival of Francesco Mar­in­co­la, a vet­er­an of the NIH and Ab­b­Vie, as the biotech’s new chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Is­raeli biotech rais­es $57M to go where cur­rent BRAF in­hibitors can't, with back­ing from No­var­tis, SR One

For the blockbuster potential of Novartis’ Tafinlar and Pfizer’s Braftovi, all the BRAF inhibitors on the market so far only target V600 mutations — which accounts for roughly 50% of patients.

Israeli biotech Novellus now has $57 million to develop a drug that they say can help the other 50% who have everything else.

The Series C will fund a Phase II trial for PLX-8394, a “paradox breaker” that could block RAF without activating MAPK signaling. In a Phase I trial, a patient with a BRAF fusion saw their tumor go away after taking the drug, allowing Novellus to hit the ground running.

Jonathan Rigby, Immune Regulation group CEO

Im­mune Reg­u­la­tion, tak­ing two clin­i­cal pro­grams to 're­set' the im­mune sys­tem, nets $53M+ Se­ries B

A little under two years after a company rebranding, Immune Regulation is taking an even bigger step toward advancing its goals.

Formerly known as Peptinnovate, the British biotech announced a $53.4 million Series B early Monday morning, helping to further advance two clinical programs in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Though those are the two initial indications the company is focusing on, CEO Jonathan Rigby told Endpoints News he hopes the candidates can be applied to a broad swath of autoimmune disorders.

UP­DAT­ED: Two wild weeks for Grail end in $8B Il­lu­mi­na buy­out

Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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#ES­MO20: Bris­tol My­ers marks Op­di­vo's sec­ond ad­ju­vant win — eye­ing a stan­dard of care gap

Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.

Donald Trump, AP

Covid-19 roundup: Trump sug­gests Pfiz­er vac­cine could be first ap­proved; VBI Vac­cines inks de­vel­op­ment deal with Cana­da

President Donald Trump commented Monday morning that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate could be the first to win approval by regulators.

During an interview on a Fox News’ morning show, the president said Pfizer was doing “very well” when asked which candidate could be approved, according to a Reuters report. He added that J&J could follow up afterward, saying “they’ll probably be a little later.”