Dana-Far­ber backed Neo­morph hunts 'un­drug­gable' pro­teins with new round of in­vestor cash for hires, de­vel­op­ment

Big in­vest­ments in pro­tein degra­da­tion, the process of un­lock­ing pre­vi­ous­ly “un­drug­gable” bind­ing sites for nov­el ther­a­peu­tics, are noth­ing new with some of phar­ma’s biggest play­ers al­ready dab­bling in the field. But a new biotech backed by the Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute be­lieves its “mol­e­c­u­lar glue” plat­form could help it stand out — and it’s got the fund­ing to test its hy­poth­e­sis.

Neo­morph, a biotech spe­cial­iz­ing in the buzzy field of pro­tein degra­da­tion, has snared a $105 mil­lion Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing round to scale up its R&D team and hunt for new med­i­cines in a range of ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas, par­tic­u­lar­ly on­col­o­gy, the com­pa­ny said Tues­day.

A Deer­field Man­age­ment Com­pa­ny start­up that launched in ear­ly 2020, Neo­morph has ze­roed in on “mol­e­c­u­lar glue” de­graders, mol­e­cules that cause pro­teins to in­ter­act in ways not nor­mal­ly seen, as a po­ten­tial shot at “un­drug­gable” pro­teins that lack suit­able bind­ing pock­ets for ag­o­nist/in­hibitor use and may have an ef­fect on a range of dis­eases. The com­pa­ny’s sci­en­tif­ic brain trust, most no­tably Cel­gene vet­er­an and CSO Phil Cham­ber­lain, are ex­perts in the “mol­e­c­u­lar glue” field, Neo­morph said.

The biotech plans to use its ear­ly-stage round to help ex­pand its R&D team as well as build its dis­cov­ery plat­form and ad­vance lead can­di­dates, Neo­morph said. The rest of the com­pa­ny’s found­ing team in­cludes Er­ic Fis­ch­er, Ben­jamin Ebert and Scott Arm­strong.

Neo­morph will lean on a “close” col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dana-Far­ber’s Cen­ter for Pro­tein Degra­da­tion, in­clud­ing kick-start­ing the com­pa­ny with three Dana-Far­ber vets: Fis­ch­er, Ebert and Arm­strong.

“I am hum­bled to be a part of a team poised to make re­al strides in ad­vanc­ing the sci­ence,” said Fis­ch­er, a Dana-Far­ber in­ves­ti­ga­tor and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Med­ical School, in a re­lease. “We be­lieve we are in an ex­cel­lent po­si­tion to take our tech­nol­o­gy to the next lev­el with the ul­ti­mate goal of de­liv­er­ing trans­for­ma­tive treat­ments to pa­tients in need.”

Neo­morph will en­ter an emer­gent pro­tein degra­da­tion field with a suite of Big Phar­ma back­ers al­ready on board — all in pur­suit of nov­el path­ways to tar­get pro­tein bind­ing sites that have big im­pli­ca­tions for a raft of ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas.

Ear­li­er this month, phar­ma gi­ant Ab­b­Vie placed a $55 mil­lion up­front bet on Fron­tier Med­i­cines to de­vel­op drug can­di­dates tar­get­ing E3 lig­as­es — a key mem­ber of the body’s nat­ur­al degra­da­tion sys­tem. Fron­tier will al­so be scout­ing small mol­e­cule binders to tar­get, Ab­b­Vie said.

Mean­while, Sanofi, Roche, Bay­er, Gilead and Ver­tex have all inked their own pro­tein degra­da­tion pacts in the re­cent past, sig­nal­ing a full-out on­slaught at the field. But there have been cracks in those plans: Just last month, Roche hand­ed back the rights to an EGFR tar­get­ing pro­tein degra­da­tion pro­gram to C4 Ther­a­peu­tics, which it has part­nered with since 2016. That move came af­ter Roche sig­nif­i­cant­ly scaled back the pro­gram in 2018, lim­it­ing its in­ter­est to six po­ten­tial pro­grams.

So­cial: Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute via web­site

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

Credit: Shutterstock

How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Peter Nell, Mammoth Biosciences CBO

UP­DAT­ED: Jen­nifer Doud­na spin­out inks a Mam­moth CRISPR deal with Ver­tex worth near­ly $700M

When a company gets its start in gene editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s lab, it’s bound to make headlines. But three years in, the fanfare still hasn’t died down for Mammoth Biosciences. Now, the Brisbane, CA-based company is cheering on its first major R&D pact.

Mammoth unveiled a nearly $700 million deal with Vertex on Tuesday morning, good for the development of in vivo gene therapies for two mystery diseases. The stars of the show are Mammoth’s ultra-small CRISPR systems, including two Cas enzymes licensed from Doudna’s lab over the past couple years, Cas14 and Casɸ.

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James Peyer, Cambrian CEO

Brent Saun­ders joins $100M Se­ries C for a com­pa­ny out to be the Bridge­Bio of ag­ing

About a year ago, James Peyer, a CEO and co-founder of the little known longevity biotech Cambrian Biopharma, was trying to find some R&D talent last year when he met with more than a bit of experience in that department: David Nicholson, the former R&D chief of the erstwhile pharma giant Allergan.

It turned out Nicholson already had an interest in Peyer’s field. In their Allergan days, he and COO Brent Saunders held weekly meetups where they tried to figure out how to take the company’s dominance in aesthetics — which, until recently, was often what people meant by anti-aging science — and expertise with more traditional drug development, and use it to make drugs that extend people’s lifespan.

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An­gion's or­gan dam­age drug strikes out again, this time in high-risk kid­ney trans­plant pa­tients

After flopping a test in Covid-19 earlier this year, Angion’s lead organ damage drug has now hit the skids again in kidney transplant patients.

Angion and partner Vifor Pharma’s ANG-3777 failed to beat out placebo in terms of improving eGFR, a measure of kidney function, in patients who had received a deceased donor kidney transplant and were at high risk of developing what is known as delayed graft function, according to Phase III results released Tuesday.

(Photo courtesy Pfizer)

FDA's vac­cine ad­comm votes al­most unan­i­mous­ly in fa­vor of Pfiz­er's Covid-19 vac­cine for younger chil­dren

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Tuesday voted 17-0, with one panelist abstaining, that the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outweigh the risks for children between the ages of five and 12.

The vote will likely trigger a process that could allow the shots to begin rolling out as early as next week.

The vaccine, which is one-third of the adult Pfizer dose, proved to be about 90% effective in a placebo-controlled trial in which about 1,500 kids in this age range received the vaccine, and only about 12% of those receiving the vaccine had any adverse event. All serious adverse events in the trial were unrelated to the vaccine.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Mod­er­na chips in fur­ther on African vac­cine sup­ply — but ad­vo­cates are call­ing for even more

In a sign of its growing commitment to the continent, Moderna will supply up to 110 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the African Union, the company announced Tuesday. And CEO Stéphane Bancel said it’s just the first step.

“We believe our vaccine can play an important role in addressing the needs of low-income countries given its combination of high Phase 3 efficacy against COVID-19, strong durability in the real-world evidence, and superior storage and handling conditions. We recognize that access to COVID-19 vaccines continues to be a challenge in many parts of the world and we remain committed to helping to protect as many people as possible around the globe,” Bancel said in a statement.

An image of Alzheimer's brain tissue. The red show gingipains, a protein from P. gingivalis, intermixing with neurons (yellow) and glial cells (green)

An Alzheimer's dark­horse fails its first big tri­al, but of­fers hope for a long-over­looked hy­poth­e­sis

Three years ago, Cortexyme emerged out of obscurity with some big-name backers and an unorthodox approach to treating Alzheimer’s.

They moved their drug into a pivotal study the next year, offering one of the first major tests for a hypothesis that has fluttered on the outskirts of Alzheimer’s research for decades: that, in many cases, the disease is driven by infectious agents — the havoc they wreak in the brain and the inflammation the body uses to try to fend them off. And that quashing the infection could slow patients’ cognitive decline.

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