Clarus spear­heads a big, $150M raise so Galera can flip the PhI­II card on its new drug to treat ra­di­a­tion ef­fects

Any­one look­ing for sol­id ev­i­dence of the kind of im­pact the new, flush fund­ing en­vi­ron­ment — along with a more ac­com­mo­dat­ing FDA — is hav­ing on biotech need look no fur­ther than Galera Ther­a­peu­tics this morn­ing.

Mel Sorensen

Armed with pos­i­tive Phase IIb da­ta for a new can­cer-re­lat­ed ther­a­py, the small, 18-per­son crew at Galera has pieced to­geth­er a whop­ping $150 mil­lion raise; $70 mil­lion in an am­bi­tious Se­ries C with an $80 mil­lion roy­al­ty deal com­ing from one of its biggest back­ers. And CEO Mel Sorensen says that com­bo gives the com­pa­ny all the mon­ey it needs to get through a piv­otal study in the next cou­ple of years that could put them on the thresh­old of a mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion from the FDA.

“This fund­ing al­lows us to get all the way through the process,” Sorensen tells me, “to turn over the Phase III card.”

The “beach­head” in­di­ca­tion for Malvern, PA-based Galera is se­vere oral mu­cosi­tis, a com­mon side ef­fect in pa­tients with head and neck can­cer. Their drug, GC4419, tar­gets the tox­ic ef­fect of ra­di­a­tion ther­a­py as su­per­ox­ide swift­ly builds up in pa­tients, af­flict­ing the sen­si­tive tis­sue in their mouths.

The FDA has helped con­sid­er­ably, giv­ing Galera a break­through drug des­ig­na­tion and get­ting the CEO’s thumbs up for help­ing with the tri­al de­sign and keep­ing things on a rel­a­tive­ly tight sched­ule. Sorensen ex­pects to get the piv­otal Phase III un­der­way in the up­com­ing quar­ter, and he adds that it will like­ly take ap­prox­i­mate­ly 18 to 24 months to com­plete once they are un­der­way.

Em­mett Cun­ning­ham

At one point not long ago, the idea of a small biotech com­pa­ny tack­ling Phase III with­out at least a ma­jor part­ner would have ter­ri­fied most in­vestors. But times have changed, and the lev­el of cash flow­ing through the in­dus­try in the last 2 years has reached an un­prece­dent­ed depth. In Galera’s case, that means push­ing through Phase III while al­so lay­ing the foun­da­tion for a com­mer­cial­iza­tion ef­fort that could re­quire 50 peo­ple. Along the way, Galera will al­so study new in­di­ca­tions for their drug to see how they can build the fran­chise. 

Pre­sum­ably, an IPO has been on the ta­ble, es­pe­cial­ly as the cur­rent wave of biotechs go­ing pub­lic is dom­i­nat­ed by pre­clin­i­cal com­pa­nies with­out any­thing like a Phase IIb da­ta set. Sorensen, though, sim­ply says the com­pa­ny is keep­ing all op­tions on the ta­ble, pre­fer­ring to fo­cus now on the big step ahead.

In this case, Clarus not on­ly led the round, the firm al­so sup­plied the roy­al­ty cash through an­oth­er spe­cial­ized fund it runs. 

Clarus is jump­ing in along­side oth­er new in­vestors: Adage Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, HBM Health­care In­vest­ments, Nan Fung Life Sci­ences, RA Cap­i­tal, Rock Springs Cap­i­tal and Tekla Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment LLC. Ex­ist­ing in­vestors Cor­re­la­tion Ven­tures, Galera An­gels, New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates, No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund, No­vo Ven­tures and Sofinno­va Ven­tures al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed. And Clarus’ man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Em­mett Cun­ning­ham is jump­ing on the board.

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Turned back at the FDA, Im­muno­Gen is ax­ing 220 staffers, sell­ing pro­grams and hun­ker­ing down for a new PhI­II gam­ble

After being stymied by FDA regulators who were unconvinced by ImmunoGen’s $IMGN desperation shot at an accelerated OK based on a secondary endpoint, the struggling biotech is slashing its workforce, shuttering R&D projects and looking for buyers to pick up some of its experimental cancer assets as it goes back into a new Phase III with the lead drug.

We found out last month that the FDA had batted back their case for an accelerated approval of their antibody-drug conjugate mirvetuximab soravtansine, which had earlier failed a Phase III study for ovarian cancer. Now the other shoe is dropping.

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Bridge­Bio takes crown for biggest biotech IPO of 2019, as fel­low uni­corn Adap­tive rais­es of­fer­ing size and price

Bridge­Bio Phar­ma and Adap­tive Biotech­nolo­gies have not just up­sized IPO of­fer­ings — the pair of uni­corns have al­so raised their of­fer­ing prices above the range, haul­ing in a com­bined $648.5 mil­lion.

Neil Ku­mar’s Bridge­Bio Phar­ma, found­ed in 2015, has a sta­ble of com­pa­nies fo­cused on dis­eases that are dri­ven by de­fects in a sin­gle gene — en­com­pass­ing der­ma­tol­ogy, car­di­ol­o­gy, neu­rol­o­gy, en­docrinol­o­gy, re­nal dis­ease, and oph­thal­mol­o­gy — and can­cers with clear ge­net­ic dri­vers. The start­up mill birthed a pletho­ra of firms such as Ei­dos, Navire, QED Ther­a­peu­tics and Pelle­Pharm, which func­tion as its sub­sidiaries.

As­traZeneca chal­lenges Roche on front­line SCLC af­ter seiz­ing an in­ter­im win — and Mer­ck may not be far be­hind

The crowded playing field in the PD-1/L1 marketing game is about to get a little more complex.

This morning AstraZeneca reported that its CASPIAN study delivered a hit in an interim readout for their PD-L1 Imfinzi combined with etoposide and platinum-based chemotherapy options for frontline cases of small cell lung cancer, a tough target which has already knocked back Bristol-Myers’ shot in second-line cases. The positive data  — which we won’t see before they roll it out at an upcoming scientific conference — give AstraZeneca excellent odds of a quick vault to challenging Roche’s Tecentriq-chemo combo, approved 3 months ago for frontline SCLC in a landmark advance.

“This is the first trial offering the flexibility of combining immunotherapy with different platinum-based regimens in small cell lung cancer, expanding treatment options,” noted AstraZeneca cancer R&D chief José Baselga in a statement.

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Image: Chris Varma. Frontier

UP­DAT­ED: Chris Var­ma un­veils MP­M's lat­est start­up — eye­ing 'un­drug­gable' can­cer tar­gets and pow­ered by ma­chine learn­ing, $67M

Two years af­ter MPM Cap­i­tal en­list­ed Chris Var­ma on its busy on­col­o­gy team, the for­mer en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence is un­veil­ing his first ven­ture project out of his new stomp­ing grounds in the Bay Area: Fron­tier Med­i­cines.

For Var­ma, who’s al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines and built com­pa­nies at Third Rock and Flag­ship, this marks an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to ap­ply some cut­ting-edge sci­ence to “sev­er­al of the most im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult tar­gets in can­cer” — tar­gets that oth­ers have tried to tack­le with more clas­si­cal meth­ods and failed. The launch round comes in at $67 mil­lion, which should go some way in scaf­fold­ing a pre­clin­i­cal pipeline and push one or more as­sets in­to the clin­ic three years from now, he tells me.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.