Se­nior R&D ex­ec Sue Dil­lon jumps ship at J&J, launch­es mys­tery biotech start­up Aro with Cen­tyrins tech

Two for­mer ex­ec­u­tive heavy­weights at John­son & John­son have left the phar­ma gi­ant to launch a rather stealthy start­up called Aro Bio­ther­a­peu­tics – and they are start­ing out with some drug tech they’re al­ready close­ly fa­mil­iar with.

Karyn O’Neil

The com­pa­ny’s pres­i­dent and CEO is Sue Dil­lon, an R&D cham­pi­on and the ex-glob­al ther­a­peu­tic area head for im­munol­o­gy in the Janssen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals unit of J&J. Her co-founder and CSO is Karyn O’Neil, the for­mer ven­ture leader for Cen­tyrex, an­oth­er J&J unit.

The com­pa­ny is fly­ing deeply un­der the radar, with vir­tu­al­ly no web pres­ence aside from Bio­Cen­tu­ry’s news of Aro’s launch. Dil­lon did not im­me­di­ate­ly re­spond to our re­quest for more in­fo on the com­pa­ny, but here’s what we do know:

Aro is work­ing with a nov­el class of al­ter­na­tive scaf­fold mol­e­cules called Cen­tyrins, which can be en­gi­neered to bind to tar­get pro­teins with an in­ter­face of sim­i­lar size to those used by an­ti­bod­ies. This tech was be­ing de­vel­oped at Cen­tyrex (the J&J unit where O’Neil, the in­ven­tor of the Cen­tyrin plat­form, pre­vi­ous­ly worked), and that plat­form has been li­censed out to two can­cer com­pa­nies: On­tario-based Fu­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and San Diego-based Po­sei­da Ther­a­peu­tics, the lat­ter of which was housed in J&J’s San Diego JLABs back in 2015. Fu­sion is de­vel­op­ing Cen­tyrin-based al­pha-par­ti­cle ra­dio­ther­a­peu­tics, and Po­sei­da is de­vel­op­ing au­tol­o­gous T cell and NK cell ther­a­pies that ex­press Cen­tyrins or Cen­tyrin CAR mol­e­cules.

Ac­cord­ing to J&J: “Aro Bio­ther­a­peu­tics has ex­clu­sive world­wide rights to the Cen­tyrin IP es­tate with Janssen re­served fields in­clud­ing and pur­suant to Fu­sion Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals Inc. and Po­sei­da Ther­a­peu­tics Inc.”

Dil­lon and O’Neil join the great mi­gra­tion out of Big Phar­ma and in­to small biotech, as es­teemed R&D lead­ers in­creas­ing­ly seek op­por­tu­ni­ties else­where. O’Neil re­tired from her role at Cen­tyrex back in De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to her LinkedIn, to co-found Aro with Dil­lon. As for Dil­lon, she left her role at J&J around the same time.

New­man Yeild­ing

“Hav­ing sup­port­ed Sue for many years dur­ing her tenure here at Janssen/J&J, I have a great deal of re­spect for her lead­er­ship, vi­sion and de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­tin­ue to make a dif­fer­ence in pa­tients’ lives and in the life sci­ences in­dus­try,” wrote J&J’s glob­al ther­a­peu­tic area com­mu­ni­ca­tion leader Bri­an Ken­ney in an email.

Ken­ney not­ed that Dil­lon re­tired from J&J af­ter a “16 year suc­cess­ful ca­reer” with the com­pa­ny.

Ken­ney says New­man Yeild­ing, head of im­munol­o­gy de­vel­op­ment at Janssen, is lead­ing the ther­a­peu­tic area for im­munol­o­gy un­til the com­pa­ny finds a re­place­ment for Dil­lon.


Im­age: Sue Dil­lon. Janssen

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Image: Chris Varma. Frontier

UP­DAT­ED: Chris Var­ma un­veils MP­M's lat­est start­up — eye­ing 'un­drug­gable' can­cer tar­gets and pow­ered by ma­chine learn­ing, $67M

Two years af­ter MPM Cap­i­tal en­list­ed Chris Var­ma on its busy on­col­o­gy team, the for­mer en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence is un­veil­ing his first ven­ture project out of his new stomp­ing grounds in the Bay Area: Fron­tier Med­i­cines.

For Var­ma, who’s al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines and built com­pa­nies at Third Rock and Flag­ship, this marks an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to ap­ply some cut­ting-edge sci­ence to “sev­er­al of the most im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult tar­gets in can­cer” — tar­gets that oth­ers have tried to tack­le with more clas­si­cal meth­ods and failed. The launch round comes in at $67 mil­lion, which should go some way in scaf­fold­ing a pre­clin­i­cal pipeline and push one or more as­sets in­to the clin­ic three years from now, he tells me.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.

No­var­tis holds back the copy­cat brigade's at­tack on its top drug fran­chise — for now

A fed­er­al judge has put a gener­ic chal­lenge to No­var­tis’ block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Gilenya on hold while a patent fight plays out in court.

Judge Leonard P. Stark is­sued a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion ear­li­er this week, forc­ing My­lan, Dr. Red­dy’s Lab­o­ra­to­ries and Au­robindo Phar­ma to shelve their launch plans to al­low the patent fight to pro­ceed. He ruled that al­low­ing the gener­ics in­to the mar­ket now would per­ma­nent­ly slash the price for No­var­tis, even if it pre­vails. 

Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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