Ted Ashburn. Oncorus

Cowen, Per­cep­tive lead $79.5M Se­ries B for 's­tand­out' biotech shep­herd­ing on­colyt­ic virus to clin­ic

As sev­er­al Big Phar­ma play­ers se­cure biotech part­ners in the on­colyt­ic virus space for new im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­bos, Cowen and Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors have come out with their own bet on a start­up that promis­es to shine.

The mar­quee in­vestors are join­ing MPM, Deer­field, Cel­gene, Astel­las, Arkin Bio Ven­tures and UBS On­col­o­gy Im­pact Fund in back­ing the drug de­vel­op­er, On­corus, which will now de­ploy the $79.5 mil­lion in Se­ries B cash to­ward clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of its lead pro­gram. Oth­er new in­vestors in­clude Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal, Sphera Funds, IMM In­vest­ment, QUAD In­vest­ment Man­age­ment, UTC In­vest­ment, SV In­vest­ment Corp and Shin­han In­vest­ment-Pri­vate Eq­ui­ty, the last five of which are Ko­re­an-based funds.

“Not all on­colyt­ic virus­es are the same and I think the in­vestors that came in­to this round clear­ly saw that we were much dif­fer­ent than oth­ers that are out there,” CEO Ted Ash­burn said.

It’s a good time to be work­ing on on­colyt­ic virus, he adds, as the in­dus­try has come to ap­pre­ci­ate its mul­ti­fold mech­a­nism of ac­tion. Not on­ly does an on­colyt­ic vi­ral in­fec­tion cause the tu­mor cell to dis­in­te­grate, the break­down it­self al­so re­leas­es anti­gens — and neoanti­gens — that in­duce an im­mune at­tack on can­cer.

Mitchell Fin­er

On­corus is de­vel­op­ing two tech plat­forms, each ad­dress­ing dif­fer­ent short­com­ings of cur­rent ap­proach­es: The first is an “armed” her­pes sim­plex virus that car­ries five trans­genes, in­clud­ing IL-12, CCL4, FLT3L and the well-known check­points CT­LA-4 and PD-L1, aimed at stim­u­lat­ing an im­mune re­sponse. The sec­ond is a syn­thet­ic virus com­posed of polynu­cleotides that en­code for on­colyt­ic virus­es en­cap­su­lat­ed with­in lipid nanopar­ti­cles.

Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb has shown in­ter­est in the “armed” ap­proach, dish­ing out $50 mil­lion up­front and promis­ing $886 mil­lion in mile­stones for PsiOxus to ex­plore the ap­proach, where the ther­a­py es­sen­tial­ly changes the phe­no­type of the tu­mor cell.

That was in 2016, just a few months af­ter On­corus got start­ed. In ad­di­tion to an “un­par­al­leled pay­load ca­pac­i­ty,” its HSV-based ON­CR-177 is al­so su­pe­ri­or in bal­anc­ing safe­ty and po­ten­cy, ac­cord­ing to Ash­burn.

Most of their com­peti­tors, he ex­plained, at­ten­u­ate their virus­es in or­der to pre­vent in­fect­ing nor­mal tis­sues. But with a mi­croR­NA tech­nique li­censed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh, On­corus are able to se­lec­tive­ly tune down the vi­ral ac­tiv­i­ty in healthy cells while al­low­ing the virus to repli­cate in full force with­in tu­mor cells.

“This is re­al­ly meant to be the de­fin­i­tive in­tra­tu­moral agent,” said Ash­burn, who jumped from Mod­er­na’s on­col­o­gy pro­gram to take the top job at On­corus.

Along with a team of 35, he’s look­ing to steer the pro­gram in­to the clin­ic ear­ly next year, start­ing with car­ci­no­ma of the head and neck, skin can­cer, liv­er metas­tases and breast can­cer. These ini­tial in­di­ca­tions are most sus­cep­ti­ble to HSV, read­i­ly in­jectable and cap­ture the largest mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties, he not­ed.

Af­ter that, On­corus al­so plans to nom­i­nate a can­di­date from its syn­thet­ic virus plat­form, which will be ad­min­is­tered in­tra­venous­ly — an at­trac­tive op­tion for lung can­cer where in­tra­tu­moral ad­min­is­tra­tion can be dan­ger­ous, or in cas­es where tu­mors are spread out. While pre­vi­ous at­tempts at dos­ing on­colyt­ic virus­es re­peat­ed­ly have been thwart­ed by neu­tral­iz­ing an­ti­bod­ies, Ash­burn said their syn­thet­ic virus, which car­ries polynu­cleotides and not pro­teins, ap­pears to suc­ceed in caus­ing an in­fec­tion in an­i­mal mod­els.

While they are fo­cused on ad­vanc­ing the in-house pro­grams with the avail­able funds, Ash­burn added the usu­al open­ness ap­plies to part­ner­ships or an IPO.

The new round is al­so bring­ing new di­rec­tors to the com­pa­ny. Robert Kirk­man, ex-CEO of On­cothyre­on, and Spencer Nam of KSV Glob­al are join­ing the board, which is chaired by co-founder and MPM part­ner Mitchell Fin­er.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Look­ing to push CAR-T in sol­id tu­mors, Bay Area biotech goes pub­lic in SPAC flip — with slight name change

SPACs might be slowly creeping back.

Monday evening, Estrella Biopharma said it was going public via a SPAC deal with TradeUP Acquisition Corp. The deal is set to close in the first half of 2023, and if all goes as planned, the public version of Estrella — dubbed Estrella Immunopharma — will be worth around $398.5 million.

The Bay Area biotech will also get around $45.4 million in cash, and TradeUp stockholders will get around 15% stock in the public biotech.