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.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; and more

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