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.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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Susan Galbraith speaking at Endpoints News' virtual EUBIO21 summit

Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo scores As­traZeneca an­oth­er OS win — this time in liv­er can­cer

Is the tide turning on AstraZeneca’s battered PD-L1/CTLA4 combo?

A single priming dose of the experimental tremelimumab, followed by Imfinzi every four weeks, beat Nexavar (sorafenib) in helping a group of liver cancer patients live longer in a Phase III study, the company reported, meeting the primary endpoint.

Specifically, the two drugs extended overall survival for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who had not received prior systemic therapy and were not eligible for localized treatment.

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FDA's vac­cine ad­comm unan­i­mous­ly sup­ports Mod­er­na's boost­er in same pop­u­la­tions as Pfiz­er's boost­er

The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee on Thursday voted 19-0 in support of expanding Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine EUA for booster doses for certain high-risk individuals. FDA is expected to authorize the Moderna booster shortly.

Similarly to the Pfizer booster shot, Moderna’s will likely be authorized for those older than 65, adults at high risk of severe Covid-19, and adults whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of Covid-19. But unlike the Pfizer adcomm, where FDA had to scramble to get the committee to vote in favor of a booster, this committee was unanimous with the Moderna shot.