Ex-Bio­gen chief George Scan­gos to spear­head a Gates-backed start­up with big plans to fight in­fec­tious dis­eases

George Scan­gos

Ex-Bio­gen CEO George Scan­gos won’t be spend­ing much time be­tween jobs. Arch Ven­tures co-founder Robert Nelsen has re­cruit­ed Scan­gos to run an am­bi­tious new start­up of his fo­cused on amp­ing up an im­mune sys­tem at­tack on some per­ni­cious vi­ral and bac­te­r­i­al dis­eases like tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

Nelsen, who nev­er does any­thing small, has al­ready com­mit­ted $150 mil­lion to the ven­ture — dubbed Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy. He’s be­ing joined by the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion along­side “sov­er­eign wealth funds, pub­lic mu­tu­al funds and promi­nent in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­ly of­fices” that plan to put up hun­dreds of mil­lions more to back their work.

That mon­ey will be used to in-li­cense new pro­grams with an eye to quick­ly build­ing a pipeline of new ther­a­pies. For­mer Ver­tex Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals pres­i­dent and Bio­gen Vice Pres­i­dent of Re­search and Sci­en­tif­ic Board mem­ber Vic­ki Sato will take on the chair­man’s role of the San Fran­cis­co-based com­pa­ny.

They’re get­ting start­ed with vi­ral vec­tors ob­tained in a buy­out of Tomega­Va, tech­nolo­gies orig­i­nal­ly de­vel­oped by a team at Ore­gon Health & Sci­ence Uni­ver­si­ty which was led by Louis Pick­er and Klaus Frueh.

“The scale and scope we en­vi­sion for Vir will al­low us to fund tar­get­ed aca­d­e­m­ic re­search, ramp our own re­search and de­vel­op­ment ef­forts, and write in­di­vid­ual checks of up to $100 mil­lion to in-li­cense in­no­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy plat­forms and nov­el clin­i­cal as­sets from biotech and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies,” said Nelsen.

That’s all in line with Nelsen’s Big Pic­ture think­ing at Arch, which has al­so backed Uni­ty, which is look­ing to be­come a pi­o­neer in an­ti-ag­ing R&D, and oth­er high fly­ing biotechs like Juno, one of the orig­i­nal CAR-T com­pa­nies now strug­gling with a dan­ger­ous lead pro­gram.

Scan­gos had this to say:

“The op­por­tu­ni­ty to lead Vir is one I could not pass up. There is a tremen­dous glob­al need for ef­fec­tive ther­a­pies and pre­ven­tions for in­fec­tious dis­eases of con­sid­er­able pub­lic health im­por­tance. Suc­cess would mean al­le­vi­a­tion of a lot of hu­man suf­fer­ing as well as mean­ing­ful fi­nan­cial re­turns for Vir in­vestors. The sci­ence has ma­tured to a point where ex­cit­ing new ap­proach­es are at hand, and there is a need for a com­pa­ny to pur­sue those ap­proach­es with ex­cel­lence, crit­i­cal mass and scale. Vir is that com­pa­ny, and I am very ex­cit­ed to take on a lead­er­ship role.”

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock to be act­ing FDA com­mis­sion­er while Biden team fi­nal­izes nom­i­nee — re­ports

Janet Woodcock is set to be the most powerful person at the FDA in less than a week.

The veteran regulator and longtime director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has been tapped as acting commissioner of the FDA, according to reports by BioCentury’s Steve Usdin and Pink Sheet’s Sarah Karlin-Smith.

The appointment was requested by the incoming Biden team, Karlin-Smith added, as they sort out the nomination of a permanent successor to Stephen Hahn — whose one-year tenure has been defined by Covid-19.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock is in the run­ning for FDA com­mis­sion­er — what does that mean for the agen­cy's fu­ture?

Just a day after reports emerged that Janet Woodcock will serve as interim chief of the FDA, word has gotten out that she is also in the running for the permanent job.

The decision, as the initial wave of reactions suggest, could have dramatic implications for where the agency is headed in the next four years — if not beyond.

Woodcock, the longtime CDER director, is being vetted alongside former FDA principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, Bloomberg reported. Already tapped as acting head of the agency, she’s set to take over from Stephen Hahn right after Biden’s inauguration next week.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

Paint­ing by the num­bers, Sana founders carve up a gi­ant uni­corn-sized IPO — for a biotech that has­n't quite made it to the clin­ic

Sana Biotechnology is one of those startups that was sketched in on the chalkboard day one in the shape of a unicorn.

A giant unicorn.

And from the numbers the cell therapy 2.0 play spelled out in their S-1 $SANA, it’s clear that the company founders — led by a pair of major VCs aligned with some high-profile industry figures — are hunting a big chunk of that value for themselves.

The raise they penciled in — $150 million — isn’t likely what they actually have in mind, and it doesn’t do justice to the size of their ambitions.

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CEO Brett Monia (Ionis)

Can Brett Mo­nia push Io­n­is be­yond Spin­raza?

For 30 years, Brett Monia struggled as one of Ionis’ top scientists to get their antisense technology to work. Now, as CEO, he’s trying to use it to turn Ionis into one of the industry’s biggest biotechs.

Monia, one of the handful of young scientists who in 1989 followed Stanley Crooke across the country from SmithKline (now GSK) in Philadelphia to found Ionis in Northern California, replaced Crooke as CEO last January. By then, they had proven antisense, an RNA-based method for manipulating gene expression, could work dramatically well in at least some instances, transforming spinal muscular atrophy with the Biogen-partnered blockbuster Spinraza.

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David Kessler in April 2009 (Eric Risberg/AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Hack­ers start re­leas­ing 'ma­nip­u­lat­ed' Covid-19 vac­cine docs; Ex-FDA com­mish David Kessler to re­place Mon­cef Slaoui as Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed chief — re­port

There’s a new twist on the EMA Covid-19 hacking story.

Friday the European agency put out the 5th in a series of statements about the hackers who broke into their system, noting that some of the information on vaccines that was gleaned in the attack is showing up online — altered to raise questions about the Covid-19 vaccines now in use.

This included internal/confidential email correspondence dating from November, relating to evaluation processes for COVID-19 vaccines. Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines.

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Nadim Ahmed (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Bris­tol My­er­s' top hema­tol­ogy ex­ec is on his way out — right on the heels of a $6B CVR im­plo­sion

Fourteen days after the $6.3 billion CVR tied to the approval of liso-cel went up in smoke, one of the top execs in charge of the work at Bristol Myers Squibb is preparing to step out of his job.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed, who’s been following every twist and turn in the CVR saga, told investors on Thursday morning that Nadim Ahmed is on his way out. Syed’s note:

Recall, Ahmed is EVP and President of Hematology at BMY (i.e. JCAR017 and bb2121 are both hematological drugs). He’s still listed on the BMY management page. This is true — he’s still technically there. However, I have confirmed w/ BMY that his last day is tomorrow, Friday 1/15. To my best knowledge, Ahmed does not have another job lined up post his departure tomorrow.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (AP Images)

#JPM21: Al­bert Bourla pre­pares Pfiz­er to set­tle in to next phase post-Up­john, but that does­n't mean he's rul­ing out deals

One of the iconic brands in biopharma, Pfizer took a big gamble on the strength of its in-house science when it decided to offload its flagging Upjohn generics business last year. Now, a more agile Pfizer is looking to cement its identity for the future, but one thing will stay the same: M&A is still very much a part of the game plan.

With its Upjohn generics business off the books, Pfizer is looking to double down on its branded medicines with the goal of hitting 6% annual growth each year — previously unheard-of at old Pfizer — while continuing to develop its blockbuster pipeline, CEO Albert Bourla said at a JP Morgan fireside chat Tuesday.

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A long­time Pfiz­er chief's ul­tra-qui­et biotech re-emerges with new cash and plans for the clin­ic

In August 2018, a tiny biotech spinout from Cornell announced they had hired former high-ranking Pfizer executive Geno Germano as CEO. And then they said nothing else. For two years. Literally, the company, called Elucida Oncology, did not issue a single other press release until this past October, when they hired a chief medical officer.

Now, though, Elucida seems to be ready to start taking the lid off their operations. On Tuesday at JP Morgan, Germano walked investors through the nanoparticle technology they’ve been developing for cancer. And the same day, the company announced a new financing, raising $44 million in a Series “A-1” round meant to propel them into the clinic this year.

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With KRAS break­through on the hori­zon, Am­gen's David Reese re­flects on so­tora­si­b's loom­ing re­view date and murky fu­ture

After decades of failures laid waste to R&D outfits looking to solve the KRAS G12C puzzle, Amgen is as close as anyone ever has been to an approval with sotorasib. For Amgen R&D head David Reese, the drug’s looming review date is a point of reflection for his own career and a big milestone for Amgen’s blooming — if controversial — next-gen oncology pipeline.

Amgen filed its FDA application for sotorasib in December to treat metastatic non-small cell lung cancer with the KRAS mutation — once thought to be “undruggable” — months after the agency offered its breakthrough designation based on pivotal Phase I data showing previously unheard of response rates.

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