Ex-Bio­gen ex­ec Steve Holtz­man hears the call of Third Rock’s am­bi­tious Deci­bel

Steve Holtz­man is one of the best con­nect­ed biotech ex­ecs in the Boston/Cam­bridge hub. He and George Scan­gos got to­geth­er and wooed Doug Williams in­to Bio­gen as the turn­around team’s R&D chief, with Holtz­man head­ing up cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment. And long be­fore then, back in the mid-90s, he be­came a close col­league with Bob Tep­per, Mark Levin, Kevin Starr – the founders of Third Rock — and John Maraganore, all ex­ecs at Mil­len­ni­um, prob­a­bly the biggest sin­gle biotech ex­ec­u­tive mill in the big and rapid­ly ex­pand­ing hub city.

Steven Holtz­man, CEO Deci­bel Ther­a­peu­tics

Now, af­ter “re­tir­ing” from Bio­gen last fall, Holtz­man — who was the found­ing CEO at In­fin­i­ty Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — is fol­low­ing a trail that Doug Williams took last fall, jump­ing back to the helm of a biotech start­up and be­gin­ning the process of turn­ing it in­to a promi­nent new R&D or­ga­ni­za­tion, this time fo­cused on new drugs for hear­ing loss.

In part, this was his 24-year-old son’s idea. His mo­ti­vat­ing com­ment:

“Dad, you’re ap­proach­ing the 5th an­niver­sary of your 3-year Bio­gen plan, what are you go­ing to do next?”

What’s next turned out to be Deci­bel Ther­a­peu­tics, a re­cent start­up large­ly fi­nanced by his old friends and col­leagues at Third Rock, manned by some of those Mil­len­ni­um ex­ecs he teamed with more than 20 years ago.

Deci­bel got start­ed in style with a whop­ping $52 mil­lion ven­ture round last Oc­to­ber. And Holtz­man is think­ing big about its fu­ture.

To­day, Deci­bel is a com­pa­ny with a fair­ly stan­dard, start­up staff of 20. By the end of next year, says Holtz­man, it should be near­ing 100. And among his first tasks is flesh­ing out Deci­bel’s ex­ec­u­tive team.

“Not all mon­ey is green,” says Holtz­man, you need tra­di­tion­al VCs, crossovers and oth­ers “who share your vi­sion, as op­posed to look­ing for a quick ex­it.” He’s sat­is­fied that Third Rock has his back on that score.

“The idea of build­ing the 1,051st dis­cov­ery com­pa­ny didn’t in­ter­est me at this point,” says Holtz­man.

Deci­bel, though, was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. In­stead of a biotech fo­cused on a pure un­met med­ical need, he was drawn in by the chance of de­vel­op­ing new ther­a­pies that could ad­dress a range of trig­gers for hear­ing loss, from the nar­row­ly de­fined pa­tient groups whose hear­ing loss can be trig­gered by spe­cif­ic drugs, to hear­ing loss due to an ex­po­sure to loud nois­es, or the sim­ple wear and tear of the years. He counts him­self in that last group, and a sis­ter suf­fer­ing from a pro­found con­gen­i­tal hear­ing loss has helped sen­si­tive him to the rest of the field.

With Deci­bel, the peo­ple were right, the mon­ey was right and the sci­ence was right, says Holtz­man. In this case, the biotech is pur­su­ing the role that neu­rotrophins play in restor­ing synaps­es and re­pair­ing hear­ing, with three key sci­en­tif­ic founders: Charles Liber­man at Har­vard Med­ical School, Gabriel Cor­fas at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, Scripps’ Ul­rich Müller, and Al­bert Edge from Mass­a­chu­setts Eye and Ear.

The goal now: “Giv­en that we’re right at the be­gin­ning of the whole un­fold­ing sto­ry of hear­ing ther­a­peu­tics, I don’t see why we can’t be the world’s lead­ing hear­ing ther­a­peu­tics com­pa­ny.”

It’s all ahead.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

Amid mon­key­pox fears, biotechs spring to ac­tion; Mod­er­na’s CFO trou­ble; Cuts, cuts every­where; Craft­ing the right pro­teins; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

It’s always a bittersweet moment saying goodbye, but as Josh Sullivan goes off to new adventures we are grateful for the way he’s built up the Endpoints Manufacturing section — which the rest of the team will now carry forward. If you’re not already, this may be a good time to sign up for your weekly dose of drug manufacturing news. Thank you for reading and wish you a restful weekend.

Bay­er sounds re­treat from a $670 mil­lion CAR-T pact in the wake of a pa­tient death

Two months after Atara Biotherapeutics hit the hold button on its lead CAR-T 2.0 therapy following a patient death, putting the company under the watchful eye of the FDA, its Big Pharma partners at Bayer are bowing out of a $670 million global alliance. And the move is forcing a revamp of Atara’s pipeline plans, even as research execs vow to continue work on the two drugs allied with Bayer 18 months ago, which delivered a $60 million cash upfront.

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Martin Shkreli (Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch/IPX)

In­fa­mous biotech ex­ec Mar­tin Shkre­li gets out of prison, hits the street

Martin Shkreli, the infamous biotech CEO who made headlines for his jeering assault on a legion of critics in and out of Congress, is back on the streets after 4 years inside a federal penitentiary.

Shkreli’s attorney put out a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the “pharma bro” had been transferred to a halfway house in New York with a few more months to go under federal custody, slated to end September 14. Attorney Benjamin Brafman acknowledged the release and vowed that he and Shkreli are keeping quiet.

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Sanofi and Re­gen­eron clear the fin­ish line in an in­flam­ma­to­ry esoph­a­gus dis­ease, leav­ing Take­da in the dust

With atopic dermatitis rivals breathing down Dupixent’s neck, Sanofi and Regeneron on Friday secured a first win in new territory in what Sanofi’s head of immunology and inflammation Naimish Patel called the fastest approval he’s ever seen.

The FDA approved Dupixent on Friday to treat patients 12 years and older with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and scarring of the esophagus. The approval came just a couple months after regulators granted Dupixent priority review, and months ahead of its PDUFA date on Aug. 3.

Fu­ji­film con­tin­ues its biotech build­ing spree with new fa­cil­i­ty in Chi­na

A Japanese conglomerate is making a big play in China with the opening of a new facility, as it continues to expand.

Fujifilm Irvine Scientific has opened its new Innovation and Collaboration Center in Suzhou New District, China, an area in Jiangsu province specifically designated for technological and industrial development.

According to Fujifilm, the 12,000-square-foot site will be responsible for the company’s cell culture media optimization, analysis and design services. Cell culture media itself often requires customization of formulas and protocols to achieve the desired quantity and quality of therapeutic desired. Fujifilm Irvine Scientific is offering these services from its headquarters in California and Japan to its customers globally, as well as in China now.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

French pres­i­dent names Stéphane Ban­cel a Cheva­lier for Mod­er­na's Covid tri­umph

Moderna’s rapid fire development of its hugely successful mRNA vaccine for Covid saved lives, changed the vaccine industry forever and made CEO Stéphane Bancel a billionaire. But perhaps the sweetest reward came this week, when Bancel was named a Chevalier — basically knighted — by the president of France.

Prestigious European titles like this are rare in biopharma, but not unknown, as AstraZeneca’s Mene Pangalos could tell you after being knighted by the Queen, named on the honors list in 2020 for his contribution to science.

Daisy Robinton, Oviva Therapeutics co-founder and CEO

A new spin­out wades in­to ovar­i­an ag­ing, armed with a seed round and ex­per­i­men­tal drugs from Mass Gen­er­al

There aren’t many biotechs emphasizing women’s health, but a new spinout is trying to change that.

Oviva Therapeutics, a pipeline company of New York-based Cambrian Biopharma, emerged from stealth earlier this week to dive into the idea of extending women’s “healthspans,” or what it says is the part of a person’s life spent in generally good health, with a specific focus on ovaries. The emergence comes both with a seed financing worth $11.5 million from Cambrian, and an in-licensing agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital for a trio of patents.

Try­ing to shake up the Parkin­son's par­a­digm, Ab­b­Vie sub­mits NDA for con­tin­u­ous, 24-hour in­fu­sion ther­a­py

AbbVie is approaching the FDA with a new therapy to potentially treat Parkinson’s disease, using prodrugs of two medications commonly used for the condition.

The Big Pharma submitted its NDA for ABBV-951, a solution of levodopa and carbidopa prodrugs being evaluated in advanced Parkinson’s patients who don’t respond well to oral therapy, AbbVie announced Friday morning. Researchers are hoping a positive Phase III study that reads out in late October will help move things along quickly at the agency.