Kevin Judice

DiCE gets its 'li­brary' card ready as it speeds de­vel­op­ment of DNA data­base-de­rived mol­e­cules with more in­vestor cash

In­vestors like to see big plans, and Kevin Ju­dice has plen­ty. The DiCE Mol­e­cules CEO is plot­ting a clin­i­cal tri­al launch for the biotech’s lead small mol­e­cule for pso­ri­a­sis and wants to dou­ble the staff in the next year and a half.

On Fri­day, those big plans land­ed him an $80 mil­lion Se­ries C round.

“We’re very ex­cit­ed about it,” he said of the raise led by RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment.

The round comes around two years af­ter a $50 mil­lion Se­ries B. While the B round was used for op­ti­miz­ing tech­nol­o­gy and build­ing a pipeline, Ju­dice says the Se­ries C will pro­pel the biotech’s IL-17 an­tag­o­nist to the clin­ic and fund the de­vel­op­ment of two oth­er undis­closed pro­grams.

“This new cap­i­tal al­lows us to ex­pand our reach and get at more tar­gets and have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to make high im­pact,” Ju­dice said.

DiCE’s de­vel­op­ment process re­volves around its DNA-en­cod­ed li­brary. Such li­braries al­low re­searchers to screen mil­lions — even bil­lions — of com­pounds in par­al­lel, us­ing DNA tags that Ju­dice com­pared to bar­codes, which tell you what the con­stituent pieces of a mol­e­cule are.

“Usu­al­ly you do some kind of screen, like a high-through­put screen, or a DNA-en­cod­ed li­brary screen, some­thing like that, and you get a few hits. And then there’s a long phase of just lab chem­istry, where you’re mak­ing in­di­vid­ual com­pounds and try­ing to progress those hits, those ini­tial binders, to some­thing that’s clos­er to a drug,” Ju­dice said.

That hit-to-lead phase is typ­i­cal­ly la­bor-in­ten­sive and slow, the CEO said. But DiCE’s ap­proach ac­cel­er­ates that work by us­ing a small­er DNA-en­cod­ed li­brary — much small­er but rich­er in in­for­ma­tion, Ju­dice said — to screen in dif­fer­ent ways af­ter get­ting a hit.

“What we’re ac­tu­al­ly look­ing for is the dif­fer­ence be­tween just bind­ing and some­thing that is func­tion­al,” Ju­dice said.

DiCE’s lead pro­gram is an ag­o­nist for cy­tokine re­cep­tor IL-17, which is im­pli­cat­ed in dis­eases like pso­ri­a­sis and pso­ri­at­ic arthri­tis. Cur­rent an­ti­body treat­ments tar­get­ing IL-17 are quite ef­fec­tive at treat­ing pso­ri­a­sis, but they are in­jectable and lack in con­ve­nience. DiCE’s can­di­date would be oral, and the biotech is hop­ing to top the ef­fi­ca­cy of Am­gen’s al­ready ap­proved oral PDE4 in­hibitor Ote­zla.

“What we’re work­ing on is an oral that will work as well as the an­ti-IL-17 an­ti­bod­ies. So it com­bines the con­ve­nience and safe­ty of some­thing like Ote­zla with the ef­fi­ca­cy of an an­ti­body like Cosen­tyx,” Ju­dice said. “The an­ti­bod­ies tell us that IL-17 is ex­act­ly the right tar­get.”

Since 2017, DiCE has grown from a sev­en-per­son, “peanut-sized” com­pa­ny to a 29-per­son staff. And in the next 18 months, Ju­dice is look­ing to bring that num­ber to 58. The biotech inked a $2.3 bil­lion dis­cov­ery pact with Sanofi years ago, and is cur­rent­ly part­ner­ing with them on an I/O small mol­e­cule pro­gram that Ju­dice says isn’t far be­hind the IL-17 can­di­date.

“We should be ready to go pub­lic with more da­ta on ear­li­er pro­grams over the course of the next 12 months. And then I’m re­al­ly ex­cit­ed about the op­por­tu­ni­ty to grow the pipeline by adding new pro­grams to it,” he said. “That’s one of the things that is par­tic­u­lar­ly great, from my per­spec­tive, about hav­ing RA Cap­i­tal lead this round.”

In ad­di­tion to RA, Even­tide As­set Man­age­ment, New Leaf Ven­ture Part­ners, Soleus Cap­i­tal, Driehaus Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, Os­age Uni­ver­si­ty Part­ners and Asym­me­try Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, North­pond Ven­tures, Sands Cap­i­tal, Sanofi Ven­tures, Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments, Al­ti­tude Ven­tures and Agent Cap­i­tal al­so chipped in­to the Se­ries C.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

CEO Harith Rajagopalan (Fractyl)

Af­ter a decade in the type 2 di­a­betes game, Fractyl Lab­o­ra­to­ries recharges with a fresh $100M and a new name

Harith Rajagopalan compared the way type 2 diabetes is managed to sticking your fingers in a dam that’s leaking from a number of places.

You can take drugs to lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, but you’re not addressing what he says is the core issue — the metabolic abnormality that causes the disease.

“We’re so busy plugging the holes in the dam, we don’t have time to see that the whole infrastructure is at risk,” he said. “That infrastructure is a full-body systemic metabolic abnormality called metabolic syndrome, that we’re ignoring while we’re so busy trying to treat all of the individual symptoms of the condition.”

Barry Greene, Sage CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Sage's sec­ond chance at de­pres­sion hits the PhI­II pri­ma­ry, but ques­tions re­main over dura­bil­i­ty, side ef­fects

Looking to make a comeback after a big Phase III flop, Sage Therapeutics revealed data they believe could change the entire depression treatment landscape, given the vast array of failures in the field. But some results are spooking investors, sending Sage $SAGE shares down early Tuesday.

First, the primary: Sage and Biogen reported Phase III data for once-daily zuranolone Tuesday morning, saying the experimental drug hit its primary endpoint by spurring a statistically significant change from baseline in the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression total score. After 15 days, patients in the drug arm saw an average change of -14.1 points, compared to -12.3 on placebo.

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Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Bio­gen sig­nals a big PhI­II fail­ure as the lead gene ther­a­py in their $800M Night­star buy­out goes down in flames

That $800 million buyout of Nightstar has turned into a bust for Biogen as the lead therapy in the deal failed a pivotal study, signaling a severe setback for the biotech’s ambitions in gene therapies.

The big biotech put out the word after the market closed on Monday that the gene therapy they picked up in the deal for a degenerative blindness called choroideremia failed the Phase III study, just a month after their #2 drug in the deal also flopped in a mid-stage study.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (Endpoints News)

Hal Bar­ron gam­bles $625M cash on high-wire TIG­IT act, throw­ing Glax­o­SmithK­line in­to heat­ed race and com­plet­ing next-gen I/O trin­i­ty

Count Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline in for the TIGIT fight.

The stakes are as high as the risks: While a growing pack of Big Pharma rivals is lending credence to the hypothesis that TIGIT will be the next big immune checkpoint and cancer drug target, the first clinical trials have shown response rates that can be described as modest at best. But Barron’s bet is on the whole “axis” that the receptor sits on, with an eye on testing its new anti-TIGIT antibody not just in combo with PD-1 but also in triplets.

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As Covid-19 shifts the world's at­ten­tion to biotech, Noubar Afeyan's Flag­ship builds $3.4B fund to fu­el new in­ven­tions. Here's the plan

A little more than a year ago, Flagship Pioneering rolled out a monster fund with $1.1 billion in it to bankroll the platform companies they were creating inside their own labs. But it turns out, that was just the prelude to a much, much larger raise, as both current investors — who’ve been reaping the rewards of some booming biotech stocks — join in with new investors betting on more in the years to come.

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An­oth­er busy week for IPOs be­gins with an off-the shelf cell ther­a­py play­er sniff­ing around uni­corn sta­tus

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A flurry of biotechs are expected to hit Nasdaq this week, with two companies, Ambrx Biopharma and Century Therapeutics, setting the terms for their public debuts, with expected raises at $126 million and $200 million, respectively. Alzamend Neuro is also joining in with a $12.5 million raise and two preclinical Alzheimer’s treatments in tow.

Alexander Vos, VectorY CEO

Start­ing fresh in man­u­fac­tur­ing, For­bion start­up re­fu­els to steer next-gen gene ther­a­py ap­proach for ALS, Alzheimer's in­to clin­ic

Forbion laid out its case for a next-generation gene therapy approach when it took the wraps off VectorY Therapeutics and its vectorized antibody tech in February. Now, the Dutch VC has tapped an experienced hand at cell and gene therapy manufacturing to steer the ship — and pulled a marquee syndicate for a €31 million ($37.6 million) seed round.

Alexander Vos, the new CEO, is a venture partner at BioGeneration Ventures and jumps immediately from VarmX, a BGV portfolio company developing an anticoagulant. But before that, he had led Dutch CDMO PharmaCell for eight years until it was bought out by Lonza.