Steven Kafka (Section 32)

Deer­field and ARCH back a new $200M SPAC run by Cal­i­for­nia VC firm

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Two promi­nent life sci­ences firms have teamed up to spon­sor a new SPAC that made its way to Nas­daq on Tues­day evening.

Deer­field Man­age­ment and ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners are back­ing the blank check com­pa­ny known as DA32 Life Sci­ence Tech Ac­qui­si­tion Corp., which priced at $200 mil­lion Mon­day, the firms an­nounced. The pair is team­ing up with Cal­i­for­nia-based VC firm Sec­tion 32, whose man­ag­ing part­ner Steven Kaf­ka will run the SPAC.

Ax­ios had first re­port­ed a SPAC might be in the works back in ear­ly June.

Though ARCH pre­vi­ous­ly launched a blank check com­pa­ny when Bob Nelsen and for­mer Ver­tex CEO Jeff Lei­den got a $500 mil­lion SPAC off the ground in March, Nelsen won’t be in­volved in this ef­fort. The high-pro­file in­vestor was not men­tioned in the blank check com­pa­ny’s S-1.

In­stead, it will be ARCH co-founder Kei­th Cran­dell run­ning point for the firm, as Cran­dell nabs a seat on the SPAC’s board of di­rec­tors. He’ll join Deer­field part­ner An­drew El­Bardis­si and SPAC CFO Christo­pher Wolfe, who the S-1 said has man­aged fi­nan­cials for at least three pre­vi­ous blank check com­pa­nies for Deer­field pri­or to their merg­ers.

Wolfe is the on­ly di­rec­tor with any per­son­al shares in the blank check com­pa­ny, tak­ing home a 2.5% stake.

Kaf­ka, mean­while, has com­plet­ed his meta­mor­pho­sis from his pre­vi­ous stint as a biotech CEO. Be­gin­ning in April 2019, Kaf­ka worked as founder and CEO of can­cer blood test com­pa­ny Thrive Ear­li­er De­tec­tion, be­fore Ex­act Sci­ences bought it out in an Oc­to­ber 2020 cash and stock deal for up to $2.15 bil­lion.

Pri­or to join­ing Thrive, Kaf­ka had served as COO of Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine for about five years be­fore Roche ac­quired it for $2.4 bil­lion back in 2018.

Un­like the pre­vi­ous ARCH SPAC, which hint­ed to­ward a fo­cus on “tech­nolo­gies like wear­able sen­sors, re­mote con­tin­u­ous da­ta cap­ture, point of care di­ag­nos­tics, tele­health ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence/ma­chine learn­ing tools,” the new blank check out­fit is pro­vid­ing few­er de­tails on po­ten­tial tar­gets.

The S-1 al­so in­clud­ed much of the boil­er­plate lan­guage that’s be­come com­mon through­out the SPAC boom of the last 12 to 18 months, in­clud­ing sev­er­al men­tions that the SPAC is “not pro­hib­it­ed” from pur­su­ing a merg­er with any of the di­rec­tors’ af­fil­i­at­ed com­pa­nies.

The mar­ket saw a mas­sive in­flux of SPACs at the be­gin­ning of the year, with more than 300 across all sec­tors be­ing filed or priced in the first quar­ter alone. But with that ac­tiv­i­ty came big­ger scruti­ny from reg­u­la­tors, with the SEC be­gin­ning to ask fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to vol­un­tar­i­ly pro­vide doc­u­ments over how they were in­ter­nal­ly polic­ing such blank check ef­forts.

Ac­tiv­i­ty has ramped back up since then, though not to the mar­ket’s pre­vi­ous heights. And the glut of SPACs has brought an uptick in merg­ers over the last few months, with near­ly a dozen life sci­ences re­verse merg­ers oc­cur­ring in the sec­ond quar­ter, per the End­points News tal­ly. Over­all, SPACs have brought more than $17 bil­lion to the biotech sec­tor in 2021.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

Editor’s note: This is a live story and will be updated.

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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Feng Zhang (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

In search of new way to de­liv­er gene ed­i­tors, CRISPR pi­o­neer turns to mol­e­c­u­lar sy­ringes

Bug bacteria are ruthless.

Some soil bacteria have evolved tiny, but deadly injection systems that attach to insect cells, perforate them and release toxins inside — killing a bug in just a few days’ time. Scientists, on the other hand, want to leverage that system to deliver medicines.

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, MIT CRISPR researcher Feng Zhang and his lab describe how they engineered these syringes made by bacteria to deliver potential therapies like toxins that kill cancer cells and gene editors. With the help of an AI program, they developed syringes that can load proteins of their choice and selectively target human cells.

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Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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See­los Ther­a­peu­tics 'tem­porar­i­ly' stops study in rare neu­ro dis­or­der for busi­ness rea­sons

Microcap biotech Seelos Therapeutics is halting enrollment of its study in spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 (also known as Machado-Joseph disease) because of “financial considerations,” and in order to focus on other studies, the company said today, adding that the pause would be temporary.

The study will continue with the patients who have already enrolled, and the data from them will be used to decide whether to continue enrolling others in the future.

Alec­tor cuts 11% of work­force as it dou­bles down on late-stage neu­ro pro­grams part­nered with GSK, Ab­b­Vie

A month after revealing plans to concentrate on its late-stage immuno-neurology pipeline, Alector is trimming its headcount by 11%.

The layoffs will impact around 30 employees across the organization, the company disclosed in an SEC filing, adding that the plan will “better align the company’s resources” with the new strategy. With $712.9 million in cash, cash equivalents and investments as of the end of 2022, Alector believes the reserves will now get it through 2025.

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Jeff Bluestone (R), Sonoma Biotherapeutics CEO

Jef­frey Blue­stone brings his start­up haul to $400M+, join­ing forces with Re­gen­eron on cell ther­a­pies

These days, when Jeffrey Bluestone gets together with his contemporaries in science, the conversation often turns to retirement plans.

But a little more than three years ago, Bluestone reached a momentous turning point in his career, exiting a prestigious post at UCSF, where he had spent decades in the scientific pursuit of new therapies. And it had nothing to do with retirement anytime in the near future.

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Hugo Peris, Spiral Therapeutics CEO

Hear­ing-fo­cused biotech grabs trio of pro­grams from Oton­o­my's fire sale

Otonomy may be shutting down, but the lessons learned there will live on at another biotech working on new treatments for hearing loss.

San Francisco-based Spiral Therapeutics has bought certain assets related to three of Otonomy’s programs, ranging from data, patent rights, and know-how to inventory. That includes data around Otonomy’s twice-failed lead program, OTO-104 (Otividex), a sustained-exposure formulation of dexamethasone.

Covant acting CEO Matt Maisak (L) and CSO Iván Cornella

With Boehringer In­gel­heim’s help, Roivant churns out an­oth­er Vant to go up against En­deav­or, Im­pact founders

Roivant Sciences has added another branch to its family tree, unveiling Covant Therapeutics with a $10 million upfront commitment from Boehringer Ingelheim to turn up the heat in cancer.

The Boston-based drug discovery startup will jointly create a new small molecule immunotherapy with the private German pharma giant. The deal, made public Tuesday morning, includes up to $471 million in future payments and tiered royalties, should the product make it to market.

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