Com­put­er sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing, meet drug R&D. MIT star Tim­o­thy Lu in­ter­twines tech­nolo­gies for an off­beat biotech launch

At 37, Tim­o­thy Lu’s life and work has al­ready spanned sev­er­al sci­en­tif­ic dis­ci­plines and cul­tures. He’s lived in Asia and the US, and af­ter gath­er­ing de­grees in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing and com­put­er sci­ence at MIT, he struck out to pick up his med­ical de­gree at Har­vard Med and then a PhD at the Har­vard-MIT Health Sci­ences and Tech­nol­o­gy Med­ical En­gi­neer­ing and Med­ical Physics Pro­gram.

Knit­ting that all to­geth­er at the Syn­thet­ic Bi­ol­o­gy Group at MIT, Lu has be­come one of the pi­o­neers in the field, tack­ling dis­ease by cre­at­ing a ge­net­ic cir­cuit pro­gram­ming plat­form that could one day start fix­ing the er­rant code in our ge­net­ics that trig­gers dis­ease.

Af­ter help­ing found a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent star­tups, Lu’s fas­ci­na­tion with adap­tive ther­a­pies is push­ing him to launch a new biotech which is com­ing out for its first pub­lic bow af­ter rais­ing $53 mil­lion to cre­ate next-gen cell and gene ther­a­pies at a start­up dubbed Sen­ti Bio­sciences.

Lu is once again on the move, re­lo­cat­ing on sab­bat­i­cal to take the helm of the start­up in the Bay Area as its found­ing CEO. He’s work­ing along­side co-founder Philip Lee, a bio­engi­neer­ing ex­pert with a Berke­ley PhD and an en­tre­pre­neur­ial record at Cel­lA­SIC, a mi­croflu­idics ven­ture which was snapped up by Mer­ck KGaA. Long­time men­tor and MIT pro­fes­sor Jim Collins — who helped found Syn­log­ic with Lu — is along for the ride. And cell en­gi­neer­ing ex­pert Wil­son Wong out of Boston Uni­ver­si­ty is al­so of­fer­ing in­put on the sci­ence.

“I’ve been work­ing in this area for quite a while,” says Lu. “The field re­al­ly has evolved over the past 18 years. We are at the point where we can build fair­ly so­phis­ti­cat­ed ge­net­ic con­structs.”

Fur­ther out on the time hori­zon, it may be pos­si­ble to one day cre­ate a net­work of dis­ease sen­sors that could trig­ger a re­sponse that would stop dis­ease be­fore it ever be­gins. But Lu and his team are acute­ly aware that they’re in the prac­ti­cal prod­uct con­struc­tion phase, build­ing on ear­li­er work that, for in­stance, in­volved de­vel­op­ing an im­munomod­u­la­to­ry gene cir­cuit plat­form that “en­ables tu­mor-spe­cif­ic ex­pres­sion of im­munos­tim­u­la­tors” which could over­come the lim­i­ta­tions of anti­gen dri­ven ther­a­pies.

Lu stress­es that he has his eye on fil­ing an IND in the not too dis­tant fu­ture. Along the way he’d like to at­tract phar­ma part­ners. And the core team of 20 will now ex­pand to close to 40 staffers.

“Our goal is to pur­sue clin­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions, move to­ward an IND,” he says. And they have the fund­ing to get a lead can­di­date and get close to en­ter­ing the clin­ic in the next 2.5 to 3 years.

The team brings to­geth­er sci­en­tists and ad­vi­sors that al­so span nu­mer­ous fields, com­ing from MIT, the Wyss In­sti­tute at Har­vard, MD An­der­son, Boston Uni­ver­sityand ETH Zurich. His syn­di­cate al­so re­flects an un­usu­al blend of bio­phar­ma and some tech in­vestors you usu­al­ly don’t find mix­ing in the drug de­vel­op­ment world. New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates led the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion from 8VC, Am­gen Ven­tures, Pear Ven­tures, Lux Cap­i­tal, Men­lo Ven­tures, Allen & Com­pa­ny, Nest.Bio, Omega Funds, Good­man Cap­i­tal, and Life­Force Cap­i­tal.

“De­sign­ing ge­net­ic cir­cuits is not easy,” Lu tells me. “It re­quires a lot of en­gi­neer­ing and plat­form build­ing to build, test and learn.” The au­toma­tion and com­pu­ta­tion­al tools need­ed to make it work was the kind of sto­ry that res­onat­ed with tech in­vestors, he adds.

In the mean­time, his broth­er Jef­frey is al­so at work in the Bay Area build­ing En­gine Bio­sciences, which will fo­cus more on nat­ur­al ge­net­ic cir­cuits while Tim­o­thy Lu stays fo­cused more on syn­thet­ic tech.


Im­age: Tim­o­thy Lu. MIT CAM­PAIGN FOR A BET­TER WORLD

Dave Barrett, Brian Chee, Amir Nashat, Amy Schulman. Polaris

Bob Langer's first port of call — Po­laris Part­ners — maps $400M for ninth fund

Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Right back at you, Pfiz­er: BeiGene and a Pfiz­er spin­out launch a new­co to de­vel­op a MEK/BRAF in­hibitor that could ri­val $11.4B com­bo

A day af­ter Pfiz­er bought Ar­ray and its ap­proved can­cer com­bo, BeiGene and Pfiz­er spin­out Spring­Works have part­nered in launch­ing a new biotech that has an eye on the very same mar­ket the phar­ma gi­ant just paid bil­lions for. And they’re plan­ning on us­ing an ex-Pfiz­er drug to do it.

In a nut­shell, Chi­na’s BeiGene is toss­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal BRAF in­hibitor — BGB-3245, which cov­ers both V600 and non-V600 BRAF mu­ta­tions — for a big stake in a new, joint­ly con­trolled biotech called Map­Kure with Bain-backed Spring­Works.

Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.

Sanofi aligns it­self with Google to stream­line drug de­vel­op­ment

Tech­nol­o­gy is bleed­ing in­to health­care, and big phar­ma is rid­ing the wave. Sanofi $SNY ap­point­ed its first chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer this Feb­ru­ary, fol­low­ing the foot­steps of its peers. By May, the French drug­mak­er and some of its big phar­ma com­pa­tri­ots joined forces with Google par­ent Al­pha­bet’s Ver­i­ly unit to aug­ment clin­i­cal tri­al re­search. On Tues­day, the Parisian com­pa­ny tied up with Google to ac­cess its cloud com­put­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech to spur the de­vel­op­ment of new ther­a­pies.

Af­ter watch­ing its share price soar on a Bloomberg re­port and heat­ed ru­mors, Bio­haven stock takes a bil­lion-dol­lar bath

Back in April, Biohaven Pharmaceutical became one hot biotech stock $BHVN based on a report in Bloomberg that some “potential bidders” had been kicking the tires at the biotech, which has a lead drug for migraines. Then the rumor mill really started to smoke when execs canceled a presentation at an investor conference a little more than a week ago.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 53,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.