Aetna Wun Trombley, Lycia CEO

Eli Lil­ly-backed Ly­cia fu­els up on VC cash in a dis­cov­ery dri­ve to­ward pro­tein degra­da­tion 2.0

Just weeks af­ter nab­bing a mar­quee al­liance with Eli Lil­ly, the phar­ma gi­ant has come back to sup­port a $70 mil­lion B round for Ly­cia Ther­a­peu­tics de­signed to fund the next stage of dis­cov­ery at the pro­tein degra­da­tion play­er.

Founder Ver­sant Ven­tures al­so came back to add to the round, join­ing new in­vestors Red­mile Group, Cowen Health­care In­vest­ments, In­vus, RTW In­vest­ments, LP, Eli Lil­ly and Alexan­dria.

“I hope that [the $70 mil­lion] will get us to a few de­vel­op­ment can­di­dates. So it will re­al­ly progress us and sup­port us over these next few years,” Ly­cia CEO Aet­na Wun Tromb­ley told End­points News.

As part of their part­ner­ship with Eli Lil­ly, the South San Fran­cis­co-based biotech will fo­cus pri­mar­i­ly on 2 in­di­ca­tions – im­munol­o­gy and pain, with the po­ten­tial of go­ing af­ter 5 tar­gets in those two in­di­ca­tions.

Car­olyn Bertozzi

But what ex­act­ly does the com­pa­ny do, and how did they land a deal with Lil­ly worth po­ten­tial­ly $1.6 bil­lion? The com­pa­ny is not en­tire­ly that large ei­ther, with about 20 em­ploy­ees cur­rent­ly and plans to bring that up to 25 by year’s end.

The an­swer lies in pro­tein degra­da­tion – specif­i­cal­ly ex­tra­cel­lu­lar degra­da­tion as high­light­ed by Stan­ford chem­i­cal bi­ol­o­gist Car­olyn Bertozzi in 2019.

Com­pa­nies start­ed look­ing at pro­tein degra­da­tion with­in the last decade as a way to tack­le things that an­ti­bod­ies or in­hibitors could not do. Com­pa­nies start­ed launch­ing in 2013 to uti­lize pro­tein degra­da­tion via pro­te­ol­y­sis, lim­it­ing them­selves to pro­teins with­in cell struc­tures.

When Bertozzi pub­lished a preprint in 2019 on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of de­grad­ing ex­tra­cel­lu­lar pro­teins via lyso­somes, ven­ture com­pa­ny Ver­sant Ven­tures im­me­di­ate­ly threw its weight be­hind Bertozzi, go­ing al­most im­me­di­ate­ly in­to the lab and work­ing with sub­sidiary In­cep­tion Sci­ences to ver­i­fy and repli­cate her work.

That preprint ul­ti­mate­ly launched Ly­cia out of stealth with $50 mil­lion raised in a Se­ries A last year.

Clare Oza­wa

“In Ju­ly 2019, I re­mem­ber she [Car­olyn] came down to In­cep­tion and she gave a sem­i­nar, and we had a mul­ti-hour brain­storm­ing about tar­gets, and the In­cep­tion team im­me­di­ate­ly start­ed get­ting go­ing on some of the ini­tial chem­istry,” Ly­cia board mem­ber Clare Oza­wa told End­pointsShe went on to em­pha­size that Ver­sant — through In­cep­tion — was able to in­de­pen­dent­ly repli­cate Bertozzi’s work in a mat­ter of a few weeks. They start­ed out with a group of sci­en­tists from In­cep­tion to work on this plat­form.

Ly­cia’s tech­nol­o­gy cen­ters around LY­TACs, or lyso­some-tar­get­ing chimeras, rather than PRO­TACs, al­so known as pro­te­ol­y­sis tar­get­ing chimeras. The main dif­fer­ence be­tween these two tech­nolo­gies is what de­grad­ing mech­a­nism is used — for PRO­TACs, bi­func­tion­al small mol­e­cules teth­er a pro­tein of in­ter­est at one end, and at the oth­er end bind to an E3 lig­ase, a mem­ber of a fam­i­ly of sev­er­al hun­dred pro­teins that kick off that in­tra­cel­lu­lar process.

For LY­TACs, Bertrozzi’s work us­es a gly­can-an­ti­body con­struct to con­nect cel­lu­lar sur­faces to the li­po­some via a CI-M6PR re­cep­tor. The main im­prove­ment is that LY­TACs are able to go af­ter an ad­di­tion­al 40% of po­ten­tial tar­get pro­teins.

It’s still ear­ly days for Ly­cia and for the pro­tein degra­da­tion field as a whole, which has been hot in the last few years. But the in­vestors be­hind the com­pa­ny be­lieve that some of the clin­i­cal pro­grams now un­der­way at oth­er biotechs could of­fer some key val­i­da­tion for their ap­proach, as they wind up a degra­da­tion 2.0 ef­fort to take the sci­ence an­oth­er big step for­ward.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a rather narrow market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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