Clos­ing in on an­oth­er mega-raise, UK biotech star Im­muno­core grabs $40M in­vest­ment from Gates Foun­da­tion

Im­muno­core CEO Eliot Forster

As re­ports cir­cu­late that the British biotech star Im­muno­core is in the fi­nal leg of pulling to­geth­er an­oth­er mega-raise, the ex­ec­u­tive crew at the TCR com­pa­ny has lined it­self up for a $40 mil­lion in­vest­ment from the Gates Foun­da­tion to fu­el an ex­pan­sion in­to in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D while tack­ling an in­cred­i­bly elu­sive tar­get.

While Im­muno­core is known pri­mar­i­ly for its work us­ing sol­u­ble T cell re­cep­tors and com­bin­ing them with an­ti­body frag­ments to cre­ate new can­cer ther­a­pies, part of the sec­ond wave of new tech com­ing in be­hind CAR-T, the foun­da­tion is us­ing its cash to point Im­muno­core to one of the Holy Grails in HIV re­search — elim­i­nat­ing the reser­voir of virus that lies hid­den and dor­mant in­side pa­tients’ cells whose dis­ease is kept un­der wraps by the cock­tail ther­a­pies that make up a multi­bil­lion dol­lar mar­ket. Gates’ in­vest­ment is al­so fund­ing a pro­gram for tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

“We test­ed for HIV ex vi­vo,” Im­muno­core CEO Eliot Forster tells me, “demon­strat­ing “that we did elim­i­nate the dor­mant virus. That gave us con­fi­dence to press on” with the bis­pe­cif­ic ap­proach that they use to tar­get spe­cif­ic cells.

“It’s a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion from on­col­o­gy in­to an­ti-in­fec­tives,” he adds, not­ing that the chal­lenge on tar­get­ing the right anti­gens on the reser­voir cell sur­faces is much tougher, but doable. It will al­so take some time to get in­to the clin­ic.

“I don’t think we’ll see any­thing in pa­tients be­fore the end of the decade.”

Im­muno­core and its one-time sis­ter com­pa­ny Adap­ti­m­mune $ADAP, which re­cent­ly for­mal­ized a ma­jor col­lab­o­ra­tion with GSK, loom large in the UK biotech world. Im­muno­core burst out with a $320 mil­lion round a cou­ple of years ago, which has fu­eled the growth of the op­er­a­tion to 360 staffers.

“We’re pri­vate now and that’s fine for us,” adds Forster, with no plans to float an IPO like Adap­ti­m­mune’s any­time in the near fu­ture. To stay pri­vate, the com­pa­ny has been putting to­geth­er an­oth­er whop­ping round, ac­cord­ing to The Times, which will help seal a rep for biotech uni­corn sta­tus — val­ued over $1 bil­lion with no rev­enue.

It will have some all-im­por­tant da­ta in hand fair­ly soon, though, with re­searchers in a piv­otal tri­als on oc­u­lar melanoma, with or­phan drug sta­tus.

Back at AS­CO, Im­muno­core un­veiled some proof-of-con­cept da­ta from a small, sin­gle-arm dose es­ca­la­tion study which demon­strat­ed a me­di­an pro­gres­sion free sur­vival rate on oc­u­lar melanoma of 5.6 months. In­ves­ti­ga­tors said that com­pared fa­vor­ably with re­lat­ed me­di­an PFS rates they’ve seen rang­ing from 2.6-2.8 months, which is large­ly spec­u­la­tive giv­en they’re com­par­ing da­ta from dif­fer­ent stud­ies. The 6-month PFS rate hit 57%.

“Just be­hind that,” says Forster, “there’s a clin­i­cal pact with As­traZeneca on cu­ta­neous melanoma, and that is go­ing well.”

Now Im­muno­core has an­oth­er big-name al­ly to pro­vide some glob­al R&D cred­i­bil­i­ty as it looks to emerge as a big biotech in­side the Gold­en Tri­an­gle. Af­ter a se­ries of biotechs shot at big-name sta­tus on­ly to im­plode in the past, there’s a lot rid­ing on its suc­cess.

Deborah Dunsire. Lundbeck

UP­DAT­ED: Deb­o­rah Dun­sire is pay­ing $2B for a chance to leap di­rect­ly in­to a block­buster show­down with a few of the world's biggest phar­ma gi­ants

A year after taking the reins as CEO of Lundbeck, Deborah Dunsire is making a bold bid to beef up the Danish biotech’s portfolio of drugs in what will likely be a direct leap into an intense rivalry with a group of giants now carving up a growing market for new migraine drugs.

Bright and early European time Monday morning the company announced that it will pay up to about $2 billion to buy Alder, a little biotech that is far along the path in developing a quarterly IV formulation of a CGRP drug aimed at cutting back the number of crippling migraines patients experience each month. In a followup call, Dunsire also noted that the company will likely need 200 to 250 reps for this marketing task on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts were quick to note that the dealmaking at Lundbeck isn’t done, with another $2 billion to $3 billion available for more deals to beef up the pipeline.

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Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb has a new board po­si­tion to add to the re­sume — and this one is fo­cused on a fa­vorite sub­ject

Scott Gottlieb has another position to add to his lengthy roster of boards and advisory roles in the wake of his departure from the helm of the FDA.

He’ll be joining the advisory board of FasterCures, a think tank which former junk bond king Michael Milken set up to help drive more drugs to the market, looking to accelerate drug R&D. That’s a subject close to the heart of Gottlieb, who blazed a trail at the FDA focused on hustling up the process. That helped endear him to the industry, making him one of the most popular commissioners in FDA history.

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Karyopharm lines up $150 mil­lion cash in­jec­tion to back con­tro­ver­sial drug launch

Karyopharm has entered into a royalty agreement worth up to $150 million to back the launch of their multiple myeloma drug — recently approved by the FDA over the objections of a majority of the agency’s outside experts.

The deal with HealthCare Royalty Partners, worth $75 million now and $75 million once certain regulatory and commercial milestones have been reached, will fund the commercialization of Karyopharm’s oral SINE compound Xpovio (selinexor) for patients with multiple myeloma who have already had at least four prior therapies. The money will help Karyopharm as it markets its newly approved drug and pushes through clinical trials testing the drug on refractory multiple myeloma patients with one to three therapies and patients with treatment-resistant diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. It will give Karyopharm a cushion through mid-2021.

Af­ter a run of CT­LA-4 com­bo fail­ures, sci­en­tists spot­light a way to make it work — in se­lect pa­tients

CTLA-4/PD-(L)1 combinations have been one of the El Dorados of oncology, its promise forever behind that next hill but apparently unattainable after a series of pivotal clinical failures. But researchers at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Technical University of Munich think they may know how to fix what’s wrong and boost the drive to next-gen cancer combos.

In a preclinical animal research program, researchers found that within a cell, checkpoints rely on a specific molecule — RNA-sensing molecule RIG-I — to work. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it has already been identified as a target for boosting immune responses and was subject to at least one Phase I/II trial. Pfizer in December allied itself with Kineta with $15 million upfront and $505 million in potential milestones to develop RIG-I immunotherapies, and three years ago Merck purchased German upstart Rigontec for $137 million upfront and over $400 million in potential milestones for the same purpose.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Pur­due Phar­ma files for bank­rupt­cy as first step in $10B opi­oid set­tle­ment

It’s settled. Purdue Pharma has filed for bankruptcy as part of a deal that would see the OxyContin maker hand over $10 billion in cash and other contributions to mitigate the opioid crisis — without acknowledging any wrongdoing in the protracted epidemic that’s resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The announcement came two weeks after news of a proposed settlement surfaced and largely confirm what’s already been reported.

Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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