De­ter­mined to build the lead­ing biotech play­er in a new R&D space, Steven Holtz­man lines up $55M for the next stage at Deci­bel

There are no big phar­mas or large cap biotechs build­ing a pipeline of drugs for hear­ing loss. So Steven Holtz­man wants to build a lead­ing play­er in the field from scratch. And now he and the team at Deci­bel have an ex­tra $55 mil­lion of cash to take the next step or two in that jour­ney.

This new round brings the Deci­bel CEO’s cash re­serves to more than $100 mil­lion at the Boston-based biotech, fund­ing plans to grow the staff from 65 to 100 or more as Holtz­man con­tin­ues his mis­sion to build out “the world’s first ful­ly in­te­grat­ed” hear­ing drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment plat­form.

Holtz­man aims to have a clear shot at first-mover ad­van­tage in grow­ing the lead­ing biotech in the field. And lack of cash isn’t go­ing to be an is­sue — at least for now.

It’s ear­ly days at Deci­bel, to be sure, but Holtz­man says their first drug — to ad­dress the hear­ing loss caused by a ther­a­py — is in Phase I, just bare­ly. IND en­abling work is com­ing up on an­oth­er drug and Holtz­man — who en­joys be­ing out­spo­ken on many top­ics — isn’t the least bit shy in say­ing that “we have put to­geth­er the lead­ing ef­fort in gene ther­a­py in the hear­ing space.”

Be­ing first in gene ther­a­py aimed at the ear isn’t go­ing to be easy, says the CEO. It re­quires plen­ty of orig­i­nal vec­tor de­sign work to build a de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle that can car­ry the nec­es­sary pack­age where it’s need­ed. And that pi­o­neer­ing ef­fort has to be done at Deci­bel.

“We think in three broad buck­ets,” says Holtz­man, tick­ing them off: Pro­tect­ing against an “in­sult” to hear­ing, like a drug; work­ing with con­gen­i­tal hear­ing loss and re­pair­ing the dam­age to hear­ing that oc­curs over a life­time.

Third Rock Ven­tures, GV and SR One, the in­vestors who got him start­ed with a Se­ries A, came back to jump in­to the ex­pand­ed syn­di­cate, along with Re­gen­eron, which added an eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment for Deci­bel when it struck a strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tion with Holtz­man and his team. The new in­vestors in­clude Lau­ra Dem­ing’s Longevi­ty, which has been lay­ing bets on com­pa­nies in­volved in an­ti-ag­ing ther­a­pies. 

Fore­site Cap­i­tal, Besse­mer Ven­ture Part­ners and Schroder Ad­veq al­so all came on board, along with some un­named in­vestors, buy­ing in­to Holtz­man’s no­tion that an epi­dem­ic of hear­ing loss has cre­at­ed the per­fect op­por­tu­ni­ty for Deci­bel to get out front and stay there.

George Scan­gos, Holtz­man’s old boss at Bio­gen who al­so moved on to launch his own biotech, is mov­ing up from his board seat to the chair­man’s role. At this stage of the game, says the CEO, it’s time to have an in­de­pen­dent chair­man guid­ing things at the board ta­ble, in­stead of a VC in clas­sic start­up fash­ion.


Im­age: Steven Holtz­man. DECI­BEL

The Avance Clinical leadership team: CEO Yvonne Lungershausen, Sandrien Louwaars - Director Business Development Operations, Gabriel Kremmidiotis - Chief Scientific Officer, Ben Edwards - Chief Strategy Officer

How Aus­tralia De­liv­ers Rapid Start-up and 43.5% Re­bate for Ear­ly Phase On­col­o­gy Tri­als

About Avance Clinical

Avance Clinical is an Australian owned Contract Research Organisation that has been providing high-quality clinical research services to the local and international drug development industry for 20 years. They specialise in working with biotech companies to execute Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials to deliver high-quality outcomes fit for global regulatory standards.

As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

As­traZeneca trum­pets the 'mo­men­tous' da­ta they found for Tagris­so in an ad­ju­vant set­ting for NSCLC — but many of the ex­perts aren’t cheer­ing along

AstraZeneca is rolling out the big guns this evening to provide a salute to their ADAURA data on Tagrisso at ASCO.

Cancer R&D chief José Baselga calls the disease-free survival data for their drug in an adjuvant setting of early stage, epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated NSCLC patients following surgery “momentous.” Roy Herbst, the principal investigator out of Yale, calls it “transformative.”

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Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Ear­ly sur­vival da­ta boost Zio­phar­m's 'con­trolled IL-12' im­munother­a­py for glioblas­toma

An unconventional pairing of a gene therapy and an oral drug that promises to attack recurrent or progressive glioblastoma with controlled release of IL-12 has turned up more promising — if early — overall survival data. On top of boosting its case as a monotherapy, the data can also bode well for a combination with Regeneron’s PD-1 inhibitor, Libtayo.

Both the treatment and its developer, Ziopharm Oncology, have come a long way. The stock price peaked in 2015 but cratered in 2016 following a patient death in a Phase I.

David Chang, Allogene CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Head­ed to PhII: Al­lo­gene CEO David Chang com­pletes a pos­i­tive ear­ly snap­shot of their off-the-shelf CAR-T pi­o­neer

Allogene CEO David Chang has completed the upbeat first portrait of the biotech’s off-the-shelf CAR-T contender ALLO-501 at virtual ASCO today, keeping all eyes on a drug that will now try to go on to replace the first-wave personalized pioneers he helped create.

The overall response rate outlined in Allogene’s abstract for treatment-resistant patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma slipped a little from the leadup, but if you narrow the patient profile to treatment-naïve patients — removing the 3 who had previous CAR-T therapy who didn’t respond, leaving 16 — the ORR lands at 75% with a 44% complete response rate. And 9 of the 12 responders remained in response at the data cutoff, offering a glimpse on durability that still has a long way to go before it can be completely nailed down.

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Sanofi brings in 4 new ex­ec­u­tives in con­tin­ued shake-up, as vac­cines and con­sumer health chief head out the door

In the middle of Sanofi’s multi-pronged race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, David Loew, the head of their sprawling vaccines unit, is leaving – part of the final flurry of moves in the French giant’ months-long corporate shuffle that will give them new-look leadership under new CEO Paul Hudson.

The company also said today that Alan Main, the head of their consumer healthcare unit, is out, and they named 4 executives to fill new or newly vacated positions, 3 of whom come from both outside both Sanofi and from Pharma.

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Fabrice Chouraqui, Cellarity CEO-partner (LinkedIn)

Drug de­vel­op­er, Big Phar­ma com­mer­cial ex­ec, now an up­start biotech chief — Fab­rice Chouraqui is ready to try some­thing new as a ‘CEO-part­ner’ at Flag­ship

Fabrice Chouraqui’s career has taken some big twists along his life journey. He got his PharmD at Université Paris Descartes and jumped into the drug development game for a bit. Then he took a sharp turn and went back to school to get his MBA at Insead before returning to pharma on the commercial side.

Twenty years later, after steadily rising through the ranks and journeying the globe to nab a top job as president of US pharma for the Basel-based Novartis, Chouraqui exited in another career switch. And now he’s headed into a hybrid position as a CEO-partner at Flagship, where he’ll take a shot at leading Cellarity — one of the VC’s latest paradigm-changing companies of the groundbreaking model that aspires to deliver a new platform to the world of drug R&D.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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