Dana-Far­ber’s Lau­rie Glim­ch­er helps launch a NYC biotech up­start with some key in­sights on im­muno-on­col­o­gy tech

Years be­fore Lau­rie Glim­ch­er left her job as dean at Weill Cor­nell Med­ical Col­lege and took the top job at Dana-Far­ber, the sci­en­tist was in the lab prob­ing the way in which cer­tain con­di­tions caused un­fold­ed pro­teins to clut­ter en­do­plas­mic retic­u­lum (ER) path­ways — study­ing the ways that played out in the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment.

The ER stress that sparked in turn trig­gered var­i­ous sur­vival mech­a­nisms — in par­tic­u­lar the tu­mor-pro­mot­ing IRE1α path­way — that could help these tu­mors adapt to a num­ber of threats.

“The ER stress path­way is de­signed to help cells sur­vive in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment,” Glim­ch­er tells me, the kind of hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment that fre­quent­ly be­sets tu­mors. But there was more to come. One of the for­mer post­docs in her lab, Juan Cu­bil­los-Ruiz, found that an­oth­er way they pro­mot­ed tu­mor sur­vival was by di­rect­ly tamp­ing down on the im­mune cells dis­patched for an at­tack — coun­ter­ing the im­mune re­sponse that has be­come a cen­tral fea­ture in new can­cer fight­ing com­bos.

They’ve been work­ing on a small mol­e­cule IRE1α in­hibitor with some sci­en­tif­ic proof of prin­ci­ple ev­i­dence to back them up.

“What is a lit­tle more sur­pris­ing is that we could not on­ly in­crease the death of tu­mors,” says Glim­ch­er, but al­so block a process that dis­abled im­mune cells, which “in­creased their abil­i­ty to kill off cells.”

That pa­per pub­lished in Cell in 2015, she said, “turned the field on its head.”

Michael Aber­man

Their work pro­vid­ed the sci­en­tif­ic foun­da­tion for a new im­muno-on­col­o­gy start­up fos­tered by Ver­sant Ven­tures in 2016. And now their biotech, Quen­tis Ther­a­peu­tics, is de­but­ing with a $48 mil­lion A round with plans to get in­to the clin­ic next year.

Michael Aber­man, who left his job as se­nior strate­gist for Re­gen­eron last fall to run the com­pa­ny, says Quen­tis now has 4 full time staffers, in­clud­ing him­self, and a few part-timers to help out. But that is about to change, with enough mon­ey in the launch round to staff up to 20 to 30 em­ploy­ees for the pre­clin­i­cal stretch ahead.

In the process, they are kick­ing off yet an­oth­er Big Ap­ple up­start that at­tract­ed sup­port from a large syn­di­cate that in­cludes New York Ven­tures, which is back­ing lo­cal star­tups in an ef­fort to gen­er­ate a crit­i­cal mass of life sci­ence com­pa­nies in New York. Ver­sant and Po­laris co-led the round. The rest of the in­ter­na­tion­al group al­so in­cludes LS Po­laris In­no­va­tion Fund, Ab­b­Vie Ven­tures, Tai­ho Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, Yonghua Cap­i­tal and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments.

It’s that com­bi­na­tion of glob­al cash and sci­en­tif­ic tal­ent that New York is re­ly­ing on to spur a host of new biotech star­tups with the hope that one day they can ri­val a ma­jor hub like Cam­bridge/Boston.

Glim­ch­er, mean­while, has al­so been play­ing a qui­et but promi­nent role at Lon­don-based Glax­o­SmithK­line, where she re­cent­ly joined the board to help ad­vise on its sci­en­tif­ic fo­cus at a time GSK is div­ing deep in­to new can­cer ther­a­pies and grow­ing the on­col­o­gy pipeline.

When you can start to re­pro­gram the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, she says, you have the po­ten­tial to sub­stan­tial­ly broad­en the im­pact of new ther­a­pies, reach­ing far big­ger num­bers of pa­tients.

“Won­der­ful as im­muno-on­col­o­gy has been,” says Glim­ch­er, “we’re still treat­ing a mi­nor­i­ty of pa­tients. We’re re­al­ly at the tip of the ice­berg here.”

Star­tups like Quen­tis are go­ing deep­er.

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.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of face plants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? 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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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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Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.

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.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Blue­bird sends blood dis­or­der drug to FDA for ap­proval; CG On­col­o­gy en­ters col­lab­o­ra­tion with Roche for Tecen­triq

Bluebird bio announced it completed the rolling submission of its BLA to the FDA for betibeglogene autotemcel gene therapy.

The therapy, designed for patients with beta-thalassemia who require regular red blood cell transfusions, was previously granted breakthrough therapy designation for treating transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia (TDT). If approved, beti-cel will be the first hematopoietic stem cell ex-vivo gene therapy for patients in the US.