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.”

Andre Kalil, AP Images

A 9/11-era Om­a­ha fa­cil­i­ty, an old Ebo­la drug, and the ubiq­ui­tous Dr. Fau­ci: In­side the first US nov­el coro­n­avirus tri­al

The first 11 coronavirus patients who arrived in Omaha last week, airlifted across the globe after two weeks quarantined on a cruise ship, showed only minor symptoms or none at all. And then one of them — or one of the couple of Americans who arrived later — got worse. He developed pneumonia, a life-threatening complication for coronavirus patients.

In a biocontainment room at the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Friday, doctors infused him with an experimental Gilead drug once developed for Ebola, called remdesivir. Or they gave him a placebo. For the first time in the US, neither he nor the doctors knew.

The first US novel coronavirus trial was underway and with it, a mad dash for an answer. Sponsored by the NIH, the study marked a critical point in the epidemic. Since the start of the outbreak, the agency had helped lead a global effort to contain the virus. Now, as it spread worldwide and the CDC issued warnings the US could see a major internal outbreak, they were looking at home.

“We don’t have too much time,” Andre Kalil, the trial’s lead investigator, told Endpoints News. “Everything’s moving really fast.”

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Grow­ing ac­cep­tance of ac­cel­er­at­ed path­ways for nov­el treat­ments: but does reg­u­la­to­ry ap­proval lead to com­mer­cial suc­cess?

By Mwango Kashoki, MD, MPH, Vice President-Technical, and Richard Macaulay, Senior Director, of Parexel Regulatory & Access

In recent years, we’ve seen a significant uptake in the use of regulatory options by companies looking to accelerate the journey of life-saving drugs to market. In 2018, 73% of the novel drugs approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) were designated under one or more expedited development program categories (Fast Track, Breakthrough Therapy, Priority Review, and Accelerated Approval).ᶦ

Brian Stuglik (file photo)

Turn­ing fo­cus to clin­i­cal work, Ve­rastem ax­es 31 jobs, scales back can­cer drug pro­mo­tion af­ter dis­ap­point­ing sales

Months after taking the helm at Verastem Oncology, Brian Stuglik has a plan to take the biotech in a “new strategic direction” — but not before some layoffs.

Left out of an upbeat press release spelling out its clinical plans, and buried below news of a $100 million private placement in an SEC filing, is a planned restructuring that will claim 31 jobs. Alongside some other cost-saving measures, Verastem expects to cut expenses down by $70 million to $80 million per year.

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Olivier Brandicourt (AP Images)

Ex-Sanofi chief Olivi­er Brandi­court, cur­rent Black­stone ad­vi­sor, jumps on Al­ny­lam board

Former Sanofi chief Olivier Brandicourt, who departed his post with an unexpected early retirement last year, has made his move — as most C-suite executives inevitably do — to become a director on the board of a biopharma company.

RNAi player Alnylam is Brandicourt’s destination. Meanwhile, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based drugmaker — which pioneered the first approval in the field — also disclosed the retirement of Alnylam co-founder Dr. Paul Schimmel from its board.

Dan O'Day (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: A name emerges out of the Gilead M&A ru­mor mill, and it’s a can­cer biotech

After months of questions and speculation about when and if Gilead will make a major acquisition, a name has emerged.

The California-based drugmaker has approached Forty Seven Inc, a cancer biotech, with a takeover offer, Bloomberg News reports. With Forty Seven’s market cap at $2.3 billion, an acquisition would likely be Gilead’s largest since they acquired Kite Pharma for $11.9 billion in 2017.

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Biogen head of R&D Al Sandrock, Sangamo CEO Sandy Macrae

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen makes an­oth­er bold Alzheimer’s bet, drop­ping $350M up­front to part­ner with genome-edit­ing fo­cused Sang­amo

While the fate of Biogen’s resurrected Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab remains uncertain, the Cambridge, MA-based drugmaker is joining forces with genome editing company Sangamo Therapeutics to develop therapies for neurological conditions.

Sangamo is set to receive a meaty $350 million upfront in cash and stock and is eligible to receive up to $2.37 billion in milestone payments, in addition to royalties. In return, Biogen gets the rights to two Sangamo preclinical compounds: ST-501 (for use in tauopathies including Alzheimer’s disease) and ST-502 (for synucleinopathies including Parkinson’s disease).

“The partnership represents a lower-cost way to expand its work in neurologic disease,” Credit Suisse’s Evan Seigerman said in a note, referring to Biogen.

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Take­da swoops in to buy lit­tle biotech part­ner and its celi­ac drug poised to 'change stan­dard of care'

Having spent three years carefully grooming PvP Biologics and its drug for celiac disease, Takeda is happy enough with the proof-of-concept data to buy it all.

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Jim Wilson's gene ther­a­py start­up Pas­sage Bio bucks mar­ket sen­ti­ments, rais­ing up­sized $216M IPO

A coronavirus fear-induced bloodbath on the Nasdaq has not stopped Passage Bio from making a public debut — and an exuberant one.

By pricing an upsized offering at $18, the top of the range, the gene therapy biotech bagged $216 million from its IPO, 72% more than it’s originally penciled in.

The proceeds likely reflected confidence in Jim Wilson, who gathered all the tools he’s built over decades of gene therapy research to assemble the startup and teamed up with Frazier and OrbiMed to hone its focus on rare, monogenic disorders of the central nervous system. Just before the IPO, Deerfield partner Bruce Goldsmith took over from OrbiMed’s Stephen Squinto as CEO.

Spark los­es an­oth­er top ex­ec in the wake of $4.3B takeover by Roche — re­port

Days after bidding farewell to co-founder Kathy High, Spark Therapeutics — now operating under Roche — has one more opening on its C-suite.

Kathy Reape

Kathy Reape, who joined the Philadelphia-based biotech in 2016 as head of clinical R&D and became chief medical officer in 2018, is reportedly set to leave.

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