Senthil Sundaram, Terns CEO

Eli Lil­ly's transpa­cif­ic bo­som bud­dy Terns bags late-round fund­ing to dri­ve NASH hope­fuls through the clin­ic

In a hot mar­ket mar­ket for NASH, hav­ing big-name back­ers can help shine a spot­light on start­up play­ers look­ing to make a mark. That was cer­tain­ly the case for Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and part­ner Eli Lil­ly, which pro­vid­ed seed fund­ing and li­censed three NASH can­di­dates to the ba­by biotech back in 2018.

Now, with two of those can­di­dates in the clin­ic, Terns has bagged new fund­ing to help speed to­ward the fin­ish line.

Af­ter scor­ing $120 mil­lion in two ear­ly rounds, Terns raised an $87 mil­lion Se­ries C fund­ing round with Deer­field Man­age­ment lead­ing along­side Or­biMed Ad­vi­sors, Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures, Vi­vo Cap­i­tal, Sam­sara Cap­i­tal, Su­vret­ta Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment and sev­er­al oth­ers. Lil­ly al­so jumped aboard with a strate­gic eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment.

Terns, co-found­ed by No­var­tis vet­er­an Wei­dong Zhong, is fun­nel­ing the mon­ey in­to three of its NASH pro­grams, one of which — TERN-101 — is ex­pect­ed to pro­duce topline Phase IIa da­ta in the sec­ond half of 2021, and an­oth­er of which — TERN-501 — is head­ed for the clin­ic.

In 2018, Zhong told End­points that the idea for the com­pa­ny was to part­ner a Cal­i­for­nia-based dis­cov­ery team with a small de­vel­op­ment group in Chi­na to ef­fi­cient­ly de­vel­op new drugs pri­mar­i­ly for the Chi­nese mar­ket. Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures sunk in $30 mil­lion to get it go­ing, a move which came about a year af­ter Lil­ly closed its Shang­hai R&D base.

On Wednes­day, af­ter press time, a spokesper­son said Terns has since shift­ed its strat­e­gy, fo­cus­ing more on build­ing a head­quar­ters and de­vel­op­ment team in Cal­i­for­nia. While Terns con­tin­ues to “have an eye on ad­di­tion­al glob­al mar­kets,” their cur­rent fo­cus is on the US, where clin­i­cal tri­als for their three lead pro­grams will oc­cur, the spokesper­son said.

Wei­dong Zhong

“In 2021, we ex­pect to have three promis­ing clin­i­cal-stage ther­a­peu­tic can­di­dates with mean­ing­ful near-term mile­stones,” Terns CEO Senthil Sun­daram said in a state­ment.

TERN-101, the fur­thest along, is a liv­er-di­rect­ed non-bile acid far­ne­soid X re­cep­tor (FXR) ag­o­nist. It’s be­ing test­ed on 96 pa­tients in a Phase IIa study, dubbed LIFT. While Terns faces com­pe­ti­tion from oth­er NASH play­ers like In­ter­cept and Ab­b­Vie, which snagged an FXR ag­o­nist in the Al­ler­gan buy­out, the com­pa­ny thinks its can­di­date’s safe­ty pro­file is where it will stand out. In four Phase I tri­als, none of 119 sub­jects in the treat­ment arm re­port­ed pru­ri­tus, and their serum lipid pro­files were sim­i­lar to those in the place­bo arm at all dos­es, ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­ny’s web­site.

TERN-201, a vas­cu­lar ad­he­sion pro­tein (VAP)-1) in­hibitor, is ex­pect­ed to en­ter a Phase Ib tri­al in the first half of 2021, with a topline da­ta read­out an­tic­i­pat­ed in the first half of 2022. And TERN-501, a thy­roid hor­mone re­cep­tor (THR) be­ta ag­o­nist, is en­ter­ing a Phase I tri­al in the first half of 2021 with topline da­ta com­ing in the sec­ond half of 2021.

Terns, named af­ter the small, tough wa­ter bird, closed an $80 mil­lion Se­ries B in Oc­to­ber 2018 led by Vi­vo Cap­i­tal and Or­biMed. Zhong, who spent some time work­ing in liv­er dis­eases at Gilead, told End­points in 2018 that he liked the idea of go­ing back to the liv­er and bring­ing in on­col­o­gy as a way to dis­tin­guish the start­up in Chi­na.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech is spear­head­ing an mR­NA vac­cine de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for malar­ia, with a tech trans­fer planned for Africa

Flush with the success of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech is now gearing up for one of the biggest challenges in vaccine development — which comes without potential profit.

The German mRNA pioneer says it plans to work on a jab for malaria, then transfer the tech to the African continent, where it will work with partners on developing the manufacturing ops needed to make this and other vaccines.

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How one start­up fore­told the neu­ro­science re­nais­sance af­ter '50 years of shit­show'

In the past couple of years, something curious has happened: Pharma and VC dollars started gushing into neuroscience research.

Biogen’s controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm has been approved on the basis of removing amyloid plaque from the brain, but the new neuro-focused pharma and biotechs have much loftier aims. Significantly curbing or even curing the most notorious disorders would prove the Holy Grail for a complex system that has tied the world’s best drug developers in knots for decades.

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Why is On­col­o­gy Drug De­vel­op­ment Re­search Late to the Dig­i­tal Bio­mark­ers Game?

During the recent Annual ASCO Meeting, thousands of cancer researchers and clinicians from across the globe joined together virtually to present and discuss the latest findings and breakthroughs in cancer research and care. There were more than 5000+ scientific abstracts presented during this event, yet only a handful involved the use of motion-tracking wearables to collect digital measures relating to activity, sleep, mobility, functional status, and/or quality of life. Although these results were a bit disappointing, they should come as no surprise to those of us in the wearable technology field.

Bob Bradway, Amgen CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Am­gen bel­lies back up to the M&A ta­ble for an­oth­er biotech buy­out, this time with a $2.5B deal for an an­ti­body play­er fo­cused on PS­MA

Five months after Amgen CEO Bob Bradway stepped up to the M&A table and acquired Five Prime for $1.9 billion, following up with the smaller Rodeo acquisition, he’s gone back in for another biotech buyout.

This time around, Amgen is paying $900 million cash while committing up to $1.6 billion in milestones to bag the privately held Teneobio, an antibody drug developer that has expertise in developing new bispecifics and multispecifics. In addition, Amgen cited Teneobio’s “T-cell engager platform, which expands on Amgen’s existing leadership position in bispecific T-cell engagers by providing a differentiated, but complementary, approach to Amgen’s current BiTE platform.”

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Art Levinson (Calico)

Google-backed Cal­i­co dou­bles down on an­ti-ag­ing R&D pact with Ab­b­Vie as part­ners ante up $1B, start to de­tail drug tar­gets

Seven years after striking up a major R&D alliance, AbbVie and Google-backed anti-aging specialist Calico are doubling down on their work with a joint, $1 billion commitment to continuing their work together. And they’re also beginning to offer some details on where this project is taking them in the clinic.

According to their statement, each of the two players is putting up $500 million more to keep the labs humming.

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Andrea Pfeifer, AC Immune CEO (AC Immune)

Look­ing to repli­cate Covid-19 suc­cess in neu­ro, BioN­Tech back­ers bet on AC Im­mune and its new­ly-ac­quired Parkin­son's vac­cine

The German billionaires behind BioNTech have found a new vaccine project to back.

Through their family office Athos Service, twin brothers Thomas and Andreas Strüngmann are leading a $25 million private placement into Switzerland’s AC Immune — which concurrently announced that it’s shelling out $58.7 million worth of stock to acquire Affiris’ portfolio of therapies targeting alpha-synuclein, including a vaccine candidate, for Parkinson’s disease.

Rajiv Shukla, Constellation Alpha Holdings

Can­del gets busy IPO week mov­ing with down­sized raise as Ra­jiv Shuk­la's third SPAC goes pub­lic

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

In a week that’s expected to see several biotechs price their IPOs, Candel Therapeutics got things kicked off Tuesday with a muted opener.

The company helmed by former GlaxoSmithKline vet Paul Peter Tak made its way to Nasdaq thanks to a $72 million raise, which was downsized by about 15% than originally anticipated, according to Renaissance Capital. Candel priced at $8 per share after initially seeking to launch in the $13 to $15 range.

Busi­ness­es and schools can man­date the use of Covid-19 vac­cines un­der EUAs, DOJ says

As public and private companies stare down the reality of the Delta variant, many are now requiring that their employees or students be vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to attending school or to returning or starting a new job. Claims that such mandates are illegal or cannot be used for vaccines under emergency use authorizations have now been dismissed.

Setting the record straight, the Department of Justice on Monday called the mandates legal in a new memo, even when used for people with vaccines that remain subject to EUAs.

Gerry Brunk (Lumira)

What will Lu­mi­ra Ven­tures do with $220M? Stay out of the com­fort zone and off the beat­en biotech path

Lumira Ventures closed its largest fund on Monday, raking in $220 million to pump into the life sciences — but instead of targeting biotech hubs like San Francisco and Boston, the company is rolling the dice on “underserved geographies” in the US and Canada.

“We find oftentimes companies located in places like Montreal, or Fort Lauderdale, FL, or Kansas City or Phoenix, AZ just have more capital efficiency and better valuations, without having to compromise anything at all in the quality of the innovation and the management talent,” co-founder and managing partner Gerry Brunk told Endpoints News.