At­las ramps up a new biotech play­er fo­cused on neu­rol­o­gy, with a $30M round to fund the work

About 6 months ago, Jef­frey Mil­brandt and Aaron DiAnto­nio out of Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty pub­lished a high-pro­file pa­per in Neu­ron high­light­ing the role that SARM1 played in the degra­da­tion of ax­ons — a pathol­o­gy that push­es pa­tients with a va­ri­ety of neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions like MS and ALS down a dan­ger­ous path­way.

What they didn’t say at the time was that Ja­son Rhodes, a part­ner at At­las Ven­ture, was al­ready seed­ing the foun­da­tion­al sci­ence work on SARM1 that would go in­to a new com­pa­ny that is hav­ing its com­ing out par­ty to­day. The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech up­start is called Dis­arm Ther­a­peu­tics, and it’s leap­ing on­to the biotech stage with a $30 mil­lion round to ad­vance a pipeline of SARM1 in­hibitors for a va­ri­ety of dis­eases.

The sci­en­tif­ic ex­plo­ration goes back to 2012, Rhodes tells me, so by the time he got in­volved in the com­pa­ny-build­ing ef­fort the two in­ves­ti­ga­tors were al­ready well down the road on the dis­cov­ery work, ex­am­in­ing the role of an ac­tive en­zyme in at­tack­ing ax­ons.

“The goal is to re­duce the rate of de­cay, sta­bi­lize it,” Rhodes ex­plains. “You can ac­tu­al­ly re­verse and re­cov­er dam­aged ax­ons.” In a dis­ease like MS, adding one of their drugs to a stan­dard of care treat­ment could re­duce the mag­ni­tude and fre­quen­cy of the flares that dam­age pa­tients brains.

“Most get sec­ondary pro­gres­sive dis­ease,” says Rhodes, “which is de­fined by a loss of ax­on­al vol­ume.”

“One of the main goals was to de-risk the bi­ol­o­gy in a hu­man neu­ronal cell cul­ture, look at dam­age af­ter an acute in­sult,” says Raj De­vraj, the co-founder and CSO at Dis­arm. “That gave us a lot of con­fi­dence,” he says, adding that the group want­ed to nail down IP for a broad port­fo­lio fo­cused on mech­a­nisms of ac­tion.

Dis­arm will be pur­su­ing a fa­mil­iar, se­mi-vir­tu­al mod­el with this com­pa­ny, which Rhodes will helm through the start­up pe­ri­od. That calls for a small but ex­pert team work­ing with out­sourc­ing groups like Evotec, where they en­joy some long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ships. The Cam­bridge crowd will rec­og­nize De­vraj, the CSO at Michael Gilman’s for­mer com­pa­ny Pad­lock (be­fore it was bought out) and one of the go-to sci­en­tists at At­las.

Of note, Bio­gen’s Al San­drock is join­ing the board as an in­de­pen­dent mem­ber. Bio­gen’s MS drugs have changed the stan­dard of care in MS and he brings some deep ex­per­tise in the field.

At­las Ven­ture led the round, of course, with co-in­vestors Light­stone Ven­tures and Ab­b­Vie Ven­tures step­ping in along­side.

 

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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José Basel­ga finds promise in new class of RNA-mod­i­fy­ing can­cer tar­gets, lock­ing in 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams with $55M

Having dived early into some of the RNA breakthroughs of the last decades — betting on Moderna’s mRNA tech and teaming up with Silence on the siRNA front — AstraZeneca is jumping into a new arena: going after proteins that modify RNA.

Their partner of choice is Accent Therapeutics, which is receiving $55 million in upfront payment to steer a selected preclinical program through to the end of Phase I. After AstraZeneca takes over, the Lexington, MA-based startup has the option to co-develop and co-commercialize in the US — and collect up to $1.1 billion in milestones in the long run. The deal also covers two other potential drug candidates.

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Bris­tol-My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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