Ex-Juno chief Hans Bish­op takes the helm at can­cer test­ing start­up Grail in a shake­up as IPO ru­mors per­co­late

There’s a shake­up un­der­way at the high-fly­ing can­cer test­ing start­up Grail which is bring­ing in one of the best known biotech ex­ecs in the in­dus­try.

Jen­nifer Cook De­nali

Thurs­day evening Men­lo Park, CA-based Grail an­nounced that ex-Roche ex­ec Jen­nifer Cook is step­ping down from her post as CEO for fam­i­ly health rea­sons and hand­ing the helm to Hans Bish­op, best known for steer­ing Juno Ther­a­peu­tics to a $9 bil­lion buy­out by Cel­gene.

Bish­op will vault to the top of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that is look­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ize the ear­ly de­tec­tion of can­cer — along with a laun­dry list of deep-pock­et­ed ri­vals — find­ing him­self the overnight boss of George Golumbes­ki, the ex-Cel­gene deal­mak­er who is now pres­i­dent in charge of deals for Grail.

And that’s not all. 

Joshua Of­man is step­ping in as Chief of Cor­po­rate Strat­e­gy and Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs af­ter a stint at Am­gen, while Maykin Ho has joined Grail’s board as an in­de­pen­dent di­rec­tor. The com­pa­ny al­so an­nounced that Renée Galá has “de­cid­ed to step down from her role as Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer.”

Long­time biotech ob­servers will have no trou­ble iden­ti­fy­ing Bish­op, who led Juno through a stormy start­up pe­ri­od as the num­ber 3 CAR-T de­vel­op­er who sur­vived se­vere set­backs to win a for­tune in a Cel­gene buy­out. We’re still wait­ing for the long-de­layed sec­ond CAR-T to pass its piv­otal, though Bish­op will re­main on the Cel­gene board — for now any­way, as the $74 bil­lion Bris­tol-My­ers buy­out nears.

Last May the uni­corn — which is re­port­ed­ly scout­ing a big-time IPO — raised a jaw-drop­ping $300 mil­lion from a group of in­vestors that in­clud­ed a con­tin­gent from Chi­na: Al­ly Bridge Group, Hill­house Cap­i­tal Group, 6 Di­men­sions Cap­i­tal, Blue Pool Cap­i­tal, Se­quoia Cap­i­tal Chi­na and WuXi NextCODE. Pitch­book da­ta have es­ti­mat­ed its val­u­a­tion at about $3.2 bil­lion.


Im­age: Hans Bish­op. LYELL

In a sec­ond big set­back for Covid-19 an­ti­body treat­ment hopes, Re­gen­eron halts en­roll­ment for more se­vere pa­tients

Regeneron has just delivered more bad news for the hope that neutralizing antibodies could be used to treat patients with more severe forms of Covid-19.

The New York biotech said today that an independent monitoring committee recommended halting enrollment of patients who need high-flow oxygen or mechanical ventilation in one of the trials on their antibody cocktail, after finding “a potential safety signal” and “an unfavorable risk/benefit profile.” The news comes a week after the NIH scrapped a trial of Eli Lilly’s Covid-19 antibody after finding it was having little effect on an initial cohort of hospitalized patients.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Daphne Koller, Getty

Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bristol Myers Squibb is turning to one of the star upstarts in the machine learning world to go back to the drawing board and come up with the disease models needed to find drugs that can work against two of the toughest targets in the neuro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-funded insitro is getting $70 million in cash and near-term milestones to use their machine learning platform to create induced pluripotent stem cell-derived disease models for ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

Bel­licum slash­es 79% of staffers af­ter ear­ly da­ta quash hope around next-gen CAR-T

Bellicum Pharmaceuticals tried to make it work.

Over the past months the Houston-based CAR-T player sold its manufacturing facility to MD Anderson — transferring 35 employees in the process — in favor of an outsourced arrangement and completed a reverse stock split, while dribbling out new data and getting an IND cleared.

But new interim data from a Phase I/II trial provided the last straw. Bellicum disclosed late Thursday that it will be laying off 79% of its staff, shaving the workforce from 68 to just 14 by the end of 2020.

George Golumbeski (L) and Faheem Hasnain

George Golumbes­ki and Fa­heem Has­nain team up with Ver­tex Ven­tures HC in man­ag­ing $320M of biotech cash

Two longtime biotech veterans are joining a multibillion dollar VC firm in order to help steer its latest fund.

George Golumbeski and Faheem Hasnain have signed on to Vertex Ventures HC as executive advisors, the company announced Thursday, and will assist with their depth of experience in managing $320 million of capital. Both have had previous working relationships with managing partners Carolyn Ng and Lori Hu, which evolved “organically” to get to this point, Ng said.

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As­traZeneca sells off heart fail­ure and hy­per­ten­sion drugs to Chep­lapharm for $400M

Out with the old and in with the new: AstraZeneca is selling off two heart failure and hypertension drugs to Germany-based Cheplapharm, bagging $400 million and making way for development in other areas.

Cheplapharm paid $200 million for the European rights to Atacand (candesartan cilexetil) and Atacand Plus (candesartan cilexetil and hydrochlorothiazide) back in 2018. They’re now doubling that amount for commercial control in more than 70 countries.

News brief­ing: Ax­o­vant faces months of de­lay on lead Parkin­son's gene ther­a­py; Chi­nese CAR-T biotech nabs $100M

One of Axovant’s top gene therapy prospects for its second act is hitting a roadblock that could push its clinical timelines back by almost a year.

In an update, the biotech said it was informed about delays in CMC data and third-part fill-finish issues around mid-October by its manufacturing partner, Oxford Biomedica. Axovant has been developing a suspension-based process for the Parkinson’s drug; with that taking longer than expected, it now believes “it is unlikely that its planned randomized, sham-controlled trial of AXO-Lenti-PD will enroll patients by the end of calendar year 2021.”

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech CEO (Andreas Arnold/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Flush with $486M con­tract, As­traZeneca signs Lon­za up to man­u­fac­ture an­ti­bod­ies; BioN­Tech's Ugur Sahin ex­pects vac­cine da­ta 'in a fort­night'

Days after scoring a $486 million BARDA contract to develop and manufacture its long-acting antibody combo for Covid-19, AstraZeneca has tapped Lonza to produce the drug substance at its mid-scale facility in Portsmouth, NH.

The drug, dubbed AZD7442, puts together two antibodies, first discovered by scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, derived from convalescent patients who recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection. AstraZeneca licensed them in June and has since further engineered them with half-life extension and reduced Fc receptor binding.

CEO Kenji Yasukawa (Astellas)

In ear­ly blow to Ken­ji Ya­sukawa's R&D re­vamp, Astel­las drops out of the TIG­IT race, cit­ing PhI fail­ure

Just after AstraZeneca jumped into the TIGIT race, Astellas quietly disclosed that it was leaving, dropping out of a hunt for an immunotherapy approach that has shown tantalizing promise but remains largely unproven.

Astellas revealed in their second quarter earnings today that they’ve ended development of the anti-TIGIT antibody they acquired in their up to $400 million buyout of Potenza in 2018. The Japanese pharma had been testing it in combination with Keytruda in a 300-person Phase I study on patients with advanced solid tumors. A smaller study testing the antibody alone was completed, 2 years ahead of schedule, in July.

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