Con­stel­la­tion joins the mega-round club with $100M raise and plans to pur­sue can­cer stud­ies

Af­ter keep­ing a fair­ly low pro­file for the past few years, Con­stel­la­tion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals is step­ping in­to the spot­light this morn­ing, join­ing the megaround club in biotech with a broad­ened syn­di­cate of crossover in­vestors that fits the pro­file for com­pa­nies groom­ing them­selves for an IPO.

Adding in a $48 mil­lion round the com­pa­ny brought in at the end of 2016 — but didn’t spot­light — along with a $100 mil­lion round to­day, CEO Ji­gar Raythatha tells me that the com­pa­ny has now raised a to­tal of $280 mil­lion since launch­ing 10 years ago. And the sto­ry the com­pa­ny is telling now cen­ters con­sid­er­ably on a pair of ear­ly-stage can­cer stud­ies.

The biotech start­ed a Phase Ib/II study of CPI-1205, an EZH2 in­hibitor com­bined with Yer­voy, that they hope will high­light their po­ten­tial in epi­ge­net­ics, di­al­ing down gene ex­pres­sion in can­cer path­ways to en­hance im­muno-on­col­o­gy drugs that have be­come all the rage these days.  The same drug is al­so in an ear­ly study to see if it can boost the ef­fec­tive­ness of Zyti­ga and Xtan­di in prostate can­cer. And their BET drug is look­ing for proof-of-con­cept da­ta for myelofi­bro­sis.

Kei­th Dionne

Raythatha stepped in to take the helm of the Third Rock start­up a year ago af­ter a stint on the BD side of things at Jounce. He took the place of Kei­th Dionne, who went to Third Rock as an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence in­cu­bat­ing new biotechs not long af­ter Genen­tech dropped a buy­out op­tion.

The new CEO says there are no “firm plans” for go­ing pub­lic, some­thing that the pre­vi­ous team dis­cussed sev­er­al years ago, but the syn­di­cate that has now pumped in $100 mil­lion for the 10-year-old com­pa­ny brings along the kind of fi­nan­cial mus­cle need­ed to boost a com­pa­ny up to the pub­lic stage.

New in­vestors in­clude Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, Deer­field Man­age­ment, Fi­deli­ty Man­age­ment and Re­search Com­pa­ny, Hill­house Cap­i­tal, NS In­vest­ment, Or­biMed, Sirona Cap­i­tal, and Ven­rock Health­care Part­ners. Cur­rent in­vestors: The Col­umn Group, Third Rock Ven­tures, Ven­rock, SROne, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia In­vest­ment Of­fice, Top­spin Part­ners, and Cas­din Cap­i­tal.

Pol­ish­ing their I/O cre­den­tials al­so fits the pic­ture of a biotech look­ing to go pub­lic. And Con­stel­la­tion has been a long time mak­ing clin­i­cal plans.

“As you em­bark on var­i­ous busi­ness ven­tures there are twists and turns, and cer­tain­ly we’ve had out share,” the CEO tells me. When he came on board in ear­ly 2017, he adds, there was some need to think through the biotech’s strate­gic po­si­tion­ing, and re­or­ga­nize the team run­ning the com­pa­ny. Now he says he has plen­ty of time to think through things like an IPO.

What kind of an op­er­at­ing run­way does $100 mil­lion get you these days?

Raythatha isn’t say­ing. 

A decade in at Con­stel­la­tion, you still just get a peek at what’s go­ing on be­hind the big cur­tain.

The FDA will hus­tle up an ex­pe­dit­ed re­view for As­traZeneca’s next shot at a block­buster can­cer drug fran­chise

AstraZeneca paid a hefty price to partner with Daiichi Sankyo on their experimental antibody drug conjugate for HER2 positive breast cancer. And they’ve been rewarded with a fast ride through the FDA, with a straight shot at creating another blockbuster oncology franchise.

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Sean Parker, AP

Sean Park­er helps cre­ate a CRISPRed cell ther­a­py 2.0 play — and he’s got a high-pro­file set of lead­ers on the team

You can rack up one more high-profile debut effort in the wave of activity forming around cell therapy 2.0. It’s another appealing Bay Area group that’s attracted some of the top hands in the business to a multi-year effort to create a breakthrough. And they have $85 million in hand to make that first big step to the clinic.

Today it’s Ken Drazan and the team at South San Francisco-based ArsenalBio that are coming from behind the curtain for a public bow, backed by billionaire Sean Parker and a collection of investors that includes Beth Seidenberg’s new venture investment operation based in LA.
Drazan — a J&J Innovation vet with a long record of entrepreneurial endeavors — exited the stage in 2018 when his last mission ended as he stepped aside as president of Grail. It wasn’t long, though, before he was helping out with a business plan for ArsenalBio that revolved around the work of a large group of interconnected scientists supported by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology.
The biotech started by putting together an “arsenal” of technologies aimed at making cell therapies for cancer much, much better than the rather crude first-generation drugs that hit the market from Novartis and Kite.
Their drugs have become the baseline against which all others are being measured.
“The technology set we’re developing is independent of the chassis,” Drazan tells me. “It doesn’t have to be autologous (extracted from the patient) or allogeneic (off the shelf). It doesn’t have to be a T cell, it could be a B cell.” But they are starting out on the autologous side, where they have the most knowledge and insight into manufacturing techniques.
It also doesn’t have to be close to the clinic.
Drazan expects the biotech will be working its way through preclinical operations for “a few years,” with enough money from the $85 million launch round to get into humans.
By today’s superheated fundraising standards, that’s not a huge amount of cash. Lyell, another cell therapy 2.0 startup we featured last week, raised $600 million in a year, including a big chunk of cash from GlaxoSmithKline. Drazan is interested in dealmaking as well, but he also knows he has the cash necessary to support the company for a good run — a key part of what it takes to bring together a stellar team of top players.

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Eli Lil­ly’s first PhI­II show­down for their $1.6B can­cer drug just flopped — what now?

When Eli Lilly plunked down $1.6 billion in cash to acquire Armo Biosciences a little more than a year ago, the stars seemed aligned in its favor. The jewel in the crown they were buying was pegilodecakin, which had cleared the proof-of-concept stage and was already in a Phase III trial for pancreatic cancer.

And that study just failed.

Lilly reported this morning that their cancer drug flopped on overall survival when added to FOLFOX (folinic acid, 5-FU, oxaliplatin), compared to FOLFOX alone among patients suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer.

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Swamy Vijayan. Plexium

San Diego up­start de­buts dis­cov­ery en­gine that puts a twist to pro­tein degra­da­tion

For years, the idea of protein degradation — utilizing the cell’s natural garbage disposal system to mark problematic proteins for destruction — remained an elegant but technically difficult concept. But now established as a promising clinical strategy, with major biopharma players such as Bayer, Gilead and Vertex trying to grab a foothold via partnership deals, a San Diego startup is looking to exploit it and push its limits.

CSL ac­cus­es ri­val Pharm­ing of par­tic­i­pat­ing in a scheme to rip off IP on HAE while re­cruit­ing se­nior R&D staffer

Pharming has landed in the middle of a legal donnybrook after recruiting a senior executive from a rival R&D team at CSL. The Australian pharma giant slapped Pharming with a lawsuit alleging that the Dutch biotech’s new employee, Joseph Chiao, looted a large cache of proprietary documents as he hit the exit. And they want it all back.
Federal Judge Juan Sanchez in the Eastern District Pennsylvania court issued an injunction on Tuesday prohibiting Chiao from doing any work on HAE or primary immune deficiency in his new job and demanding that he return any material from CSL that he may have in his possession. And he wants Pharming to tell its employees not to ask for any information on the forbidden topics.
For its part, Pharming fired off an indignant response this morning denying any involvement in extracting any kind of IP from CSL, adding that it’s cooperating in the internal probe that CSL has underway.

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Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

UP­DAT­ED: Alex­ion pays $930M to buy out Achillion and its promis­ing com­pan­ion drug to Soliris

After a series of stock-crunching setbacks over the years, Achillion enjoyed a turn in the sun a few weeks ago as the FDA blessed their lead drug danicopan (ACH-4471) — a complementary therapy for PNH patients taking Alexion’s Soliris — with a breakthrough drug designation after taking a look at some solid supporting Phase II data.

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The $102B club: The top 15 R&D spenders in the glob­al bio­phar­ma busi­ness — 2019 edi­tion

Over the past few years, the deluge of capital into biotech has helped lead to a dramatic shift in focus on new drug approvals, as startups are now able to raise enough cash to get through a pivotal and onto the market. But the top 15 players still account for $102 billion in spending, and their successes and failures continue to determine just how productive the industry is.

Recently we’ve seen a number of new R&D chiefs take their places at the Big 15, either setting the stage for a more focused R&D strategy — often playing more heavily in oncology. That’s true for AstraZeneca, which has had some landmark successes, and GSK, which is in search of its own turnaround in pharma R&D. HIV and vaccines are separate from that group, now led by Hal Barron.

I’ve made a point of watching their track record every year for more than a decade now. What follows is intended as a broad gauge of their activity. You don’t have to have a lot of major successes to score a winning record here, but it’s virtually impossible without a blockbuster or three in the pipeline.

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