Laurence Reid (Third Rock)

Deci­bel Ther­a­peu­tics rais­es $82M as Lau­rence Reid looks to steer gene ther­a­py piv­ot

Lau­rence Reid could have picked a bet­ter time to take his lat­est CEO job.

It was Jan­u­ary 29 when Deci­bel Ther­a­peu­tics an­nounced they were bring­ing in the for­mer Al­ny­lam and Mil­len­ni­um ex­ec, and the coro­n­avirus was still a dis­tant threat, not even yet named. The job would have been tall enough with­out a pan­dem­ic; af­ter five years and $100 mil­lion, Deci­bel was prepar­ing to piv­ot its plat­form in a new di­rec­tion, work­ing to ex­pand on gene ther­a­py and re­gen­er­a­tion. Reid would need to raise the cash to do so.

Still, de­spite the ear­ly bumps of clear­ing out labs and fig­ur­ing out how to pitch an in­vestor via Zoom, Reid says they’ve weath­ered the storm. And to­day they an­nounced they’ve raised an $82 mil­lion Se­ries D led by Or­biMed, near­ly dou­bling their cap­i­tal to date and giv­ing Reid two years of run­way to get a plat­form they hope can trans­form hear­ing in­to the clin­ic.

“March, April, when we were still learn­ing so much, [there] was so much un­cer­tain­ty and a cer­tain de­gree of fear, so for any­one man­ag­ing peo­ple through that — for any com­pa­ny in any in­dus­try but cer­tain­ly for biotech — is a com­plete­ly unique chal­lenge,” Reid told End­points News.

“But I was re­al­ly im­pressed by my new col­leagues,” he said, not­ing they’ve got­ten labs and oth­er op­er­a­tions safe­ly back on track. “It’s been re­al­ly gal­va­niz­ing to see that ac­tu­al­ly.”

Deci­bel finds it­self among three ma­jor Boston area biotechs chas­ing cures for hear­ing dis­or­ders, next to the well-heeled gene ther­a­py up­start Ak­ou­os and the stem cell re­gen­er­a­tion de­vel­op­ers at Fre­quen­cy Ther­a­peu­tics. Ak­ou­os is ahead when it comes to gene ther­a­py, with a can­di­date near­ing the clin­ic to cor­rect hear­ing in pa­tients with mu­ta­tions in the OTOF gene.

Deci­bel spent years fo­cused on pre­vent­ing hear­ing loss, but they piv­ot­ed over the win­ter. Faced with what they char­ac­ter­ized as sur­pris­ing ad­vance­ments in ge­nom­ic and re­gen­er­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy and hav­ing failed to find a bio­mark­er that could let them run a pre­ven­ta­tive tri­al, they de­cid­ed to scrap key pro­grams and fo­cus on gene ther­a­pies that can re­store hear­ing loss.

De­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with Re­gen­eron, Deci­bel’s gene ther­a­py for the same pro­tein isn’t sched­uled to hit the clin­ic un­til 2022, but Reid tout­ed the ad­van­tage of the ba­sic sci­ence plat­form they built over the last five years.

“We’ve built this plat­form for in­te­grat­ing dif­fer­ent sin­gle cell ge­nom­ic tech­nol­o­gy, to look at DNA and RNA and splic­ing of RNA and we in­te­grate that to give us a com­plete mol­e­c­u­lar pic­ture of in­di­vid­ual cell types in the in­ner ear,” he said. They fo­cus that tech on the hair cells that trans­late sig­nals from the out­side world to the brain, and use gene ther­a­pies to re­store them. “It’s the com­bi­na­tion of those plat­form pieces that unique­ly de­fine Deci­bel,” he said.

Al­though they’re be­gin­ning with fix­ing a sin­gle gene in peo­ple with the OTOF mu­ta­tions, the longer term goal is to build cures for more gen­er­al hear­ing loss and bal­ance dis­or­ders. It’s an in­creas­ing­ly com­mon line among a sub­set of gene ther­a­py com­pa­nies, but first they’ll have to prove that they can just fix a sin­gle com­mon­ly dys­func­tion­al gene.

Reid said they now have enough mon­ey to get that pro­gram in­to the clin­ic. They’ll hope to fol­low with the broad­er ap­proach be­gin­ning at the end of 2022, grab­bing more cash as they do.

“We felt that giv­en where the com­pa­ny was, we want­ed to do a pri­vate fi­nanc­ing,” Reid said. “We’ll go to the pub­lic mar­ket when we have the need.”

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

De­nali slips as a snap­shot of ear­ly da­ta rais­es some trou­bling ques­tions on its pi­o­neer­ing blood-brain bar­ri­er neu­ro work

Denali Therapeutics had drummed up considerable hype for their blood-brain barrier technology since launching over six years ago, hype that’s only intensified in the last 14 months following the publications of a pair of papers last spring and proof of concept data earlier this year. On Sunday, the South San Francisco-based biotech gave the biopharma world the next look at in-human data for its lead candidate in Hunter syndrome.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Andrea Pfeifer, AC Immune CEO (AC Immune)

Look­ing to repli­cate Covid-19 suc­cess in neu­ro, BioN­Tech back­ers bet on AC Im­mune and its new­ly-ac­quired Parkin­son's vac­cine

The German billionaires behind BioNTech have found a new vaccine project to back.

Through their family office Athos Service, twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann are leading a $25 million private placement into Switzerland’s AC Immune — which concurrently announced that it’s shelling out $58.7 million worth of stock to acquire Affiris’ portfolio of therapies targeting alpha-synuclein, including a vaccine candidate, for Parkinson’s disease.