Ex-Re­cep­tos CTO co-founds SD start­up Escient, launch­ing with $40M Se­ries A

Af­ter the whop­ping $7.2 bil­lion sale of his last ven­ture, Re­cep­tos, to Cel­gene back in 2015, Mar­cus Boehm wasn’t sup­posed to start an­oth­er com­pa­ny. He was go­ing to take a back­seat, for once. Con­sult. Be on a few boards.

“I’ve been in­volved in three com­pa­nies since found­ing stages, and I was not in­tend­ing to do this again,” Boehm tells me.

Now, he and an­oth­er biotech big shot in San Diego are join­ing forces to launch a rather am­bi­tious start­up, step­ping out Wednes­day with a $40 mil­lion Se­ries A round.

Mar­cus Boehm

You might know Boehm’s name from his time at San Diego’s Re­cep­tos, where he was co-founder and chief tech­nol­o­gy of­fi­cer un­til Cel­gene’s pur­chase. Be­fore that, he was at Con­for­ma un­til it was bought by Bio­gen. Af­ter Re­cep­tos’ sale, Boehm had in­ten­tions of kick­ing back for a while.

But then Alain Baron came along, and he in­tro­duced Boehm to dis­cov­er­ies made by Johns Hop­kins neu­ro­sci­en­tist Xinzhong Dong. To­geth­er, the three of them co-found­ed Escient Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, a new San Diego-based com­pa­ny that plans to cre­ate an en­tire­ly new class of drugs.

Boehm said it was this — the al­lure of dis­cov­ery-stage sci­ence — that drew him back in­to the start­up game. If it was a com­pa­ny fur­ther along in de­vel­op­ment, he’d have like­ly passed.

“In many ways, a com­pound will live or die by its prop­er­ties,” Boehm said. “Once it’s in Phase II, there’s not much you can af­fect. If it has tox­i­c­i­ty, for ex­am­ple, there’s not much you can do about it. The dis­cov­ery part is over, and it be­comes a high­ly-or­ches­trat­ed dance of de­vel­op­ment.”

Alain Baron

Boehm serves as Escient’s CSO, while Baron, the founder and for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of El­celyx, will head the start­up as CEO.

The com­pa­ny hopes to de­vel­op a pipeline of drugs around a nov­el fam­i­ly of G-pro­tein cou­pled re­cep­tors (GPCRs). GPCRs them­selves are a gi­ant pro­tein fam­i­ly of re­cep­tors that de­tect mol­e­cules out­side the cell and ac­ti­vate cel­lu­lar re­spons­es. If you had to make a wild guess about the tar­get of a cer­tain drug, your best bet is with GPCRs. They make up some­thing like 35% of all drugs on the mar­ket to­day, Baron said.

But Escient has its hands on tech from Dong’s lab on a nov­el fam­i­ly of Mas-re­lat­ed G-pro­tein re­cep­tors, which Baron said have the po­ten­tial to be a com­plete­ly new class of GCPR-tar­get­ed drugs.

“This is not like tak­ing a known tar­get and mak­ing a bet­ter drug or bring­ing an­oth­er med­i­cine to a dis­ease area that’s al­ready well-served,” Baron said. “We’re ac­tu­al­ly go­ing to bring very nov­el ther­a­pies to dis­eases that are un­served — and that’s in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing.”

Xinzhong Dong

Baron and Boehme aren’t dis­clos­ing much on their tech, but they did say Escient has nailed down two tar­gets in two in­di­ca­tions. The Se­ries A round — backed by The Col­umn Group, 5AM Ven­tures, and Os­age Uni­ver­si­ty Part­ners — will get the com­pa­ny to the end of 2021. Baron ex­pects the com­pa­ny to be in the clin­ic with one or two pro­grams by then.

In the com­ing months, Escient will be nail­ing down of­fice space for its head­quar­ters in San Diego, hir­ing 15 to 20 peo­ple, and fill­ing out their ex­ec­u­tive team, Baron said.

Sean Parker, AP

Sean Park­er helps cre­ate a CRISPRed cell ther­a­py 2.0 play — and he’s got a high-pro­file set of lead­ers on the team

You can count rack up one more high-profile debut effort in the wave of activity forming around cell therapy 2.0. It’s another appealing Bay Area group that’s attracted some of the top hands in the business to a multi-year effort to create a breakthrough. And they have $85 million in hand to make that first big step to the clinic.

Today it’s Ken Drazan and the team at South San Francisco-based ArsenalBio that are coming from behind the curtain for a public bow, backed by billionaire Sean Parker and a collection of investors that includes Beth Seidenberg’s new venture investment operation based in LA.
Drazan — a J&J Innovation vet with a long record of entrepreneurial endeavors — exited the stage in 2018 when his last mission ended as he stepped aside as president of Grail. It wasn’t long, though, before he was helping out with a business plan for ArsenalBio that revolved around the work of a large group of interconnected scientists supported by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology.
The biotech started by putting together an “arsenal” of technologies aimed at making cell therapies for cancer much, much better than the rather crude first-generation drugs that hit the market from Novartis and Kite.
Their drugs have become the baseline against which all others are being measured.
“The technology set we’re developing is independent of the chassis,” Drazan tells me. “It doesn’t have to be autologous (extracted from the patient) or allogeneic (off the shelf). It doesn’t have to be a T cell, it could be a B cell.” But they are starting out on the autologous side, where they have the most knowledge and insight into manufacturing techniques.
It also doesn’t have to be close to the clinic.
Drazan expects the biotech will be working its way through preclinical operations for “a few years,” with enough money from the $85 million launch round to get into humans.
By today’s superheated fundraising standards, that’s not a huge amount of cash. Lyell, another cell therapy 2.0 startup we featured last week, raised $600 million in a year, including a big chunk of cash from GlaxoSmithKline. Drazan is interested in dealmaking as well, but he also knows he has the cash necessary to support the company for a good run — a key part of what it takes to bring together a stellar team of top players.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Eli Lil­ly’s first PhI­II show­down for their $1.6B can­cer drug just flopped — what now?

When Eli Lilly plunked down $1.6 billion in cash to acquire Armo Biosciences a little more than a year ago, the stars seemed aligned in its favor. The jewel in the crown they were buying was pegilodecakin, which had cleared the proof-of-concept stage and was already in a Phase III trial for pancreatic cancer.

And that study just failed.

Lilly reported this morning that their cancer drug flopped on overall survival when added to FOLFOX (folinic acid, 5-FU, oxaliplatin), compared to FOLFOX alone among patients suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Swamy Vijayan. Plexium

San Diego up­start de­buts dis­cov­ery en­gine that puts a twist to pro­tein degra­da­tion

For years, the idea of protein degradation — utilizing the cell’s natural garbage disposal system to mark problematic proteins for destruction — remained an elegant but technically difficult concept. But now established as a promising clinical strategy, with major biopharma players such as Bayer, Gilead and Vertex trying to grab a foothold via partnership deals, a San Diego startup is looking to exploit it and push its limits.

CSL ac­cus­es ri­val Pharm­ing of par­tic­i­pat­ing in a scheme to rip off IP on HAE while re­cruit­ing se­nior R&D staffer

Pharming has landed in the middle of a legal donnybrook after recruiting a senior executive from a rival R&D team at CSL. The Australian pharma giant slapped Pharming with a lawsuit alleging that the Dutch biotech’s new employee, Joseph Chiao, looted a large cache of proprietary documents as he hit the exit. And they want it all back.
Federal Judge Juan Sanchez in the Eastern District Pennsylvania court issued an injunction on Tuesday prohibiting Chiao from doing any work on HAE or primary immune deficiency in his new job and demanding that he return any material from CSL that he may have in his possession. And he wants Pharming to tell its employees not to ask for any information on the forbidden topics.
For its part, Pharming fired off an indignant response this morning denying any involvement in extracting any kind of IP from CSL, adding that it’s cooperating in the internal probe that CSL has underway.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

UP­DAT­ED: Alex­ion pays $930M to buy out Achillion and its promis­ing com­pan­ion drug to Soliris

After a series of stock-crunching setbacks over the years, Achillion enjoyed a turn in the sun a few weeks ago as the FDA blessed their lead drug danicopan (ACH-4471) — a complementary therapy for PNH patients taking Alexion’s Soliris — with a breakthrough drug designation after taking a look at some solid supporting Phase II data.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 62,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

The $102B club: The top 15 R&D spenders in the glob­al bio­phar­ma busi­ness — 2019 edi­tion

Over the past few years, the deluge of capital into biotech has helped lead to a dramatic shift in focus on new drug approvals, as startups are now able to raise enough cash to get through a pivotal and onto the market. But the top 15 players still account for $102 billion in spending, and their successes and failures continue to determine just how productive the industry is.

Recently we’ve seen a number of new R&D chiefs take their places at the Big 15, either setting the stage for a more focused R&D strategy — often playing more heavily in oncology. That’s true for AstraZeneca, which has had some landmark successes, and GSK, which is in search of its own turnaround in pharma R&D. HIV and vaccines are separate from that group, now led by Hal Barron.

I’ve made a point of watching their track record every year for more than a decade now. What follows is intended as a broad gauge of their activity. You don’t have to have a lot of major successes to score a winning record here, but it’s virtually impossible without a blockbuster or three in the pipeline.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Andrew Dickinson, Gilead

Gilead­'s chief strat­e­gy ex­ec gets a big pro­mo­tion af­ter or­ches­trat­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar deals

After gaining credit as the architect of Gilead’s $12 billion Kite buyout as well as the recent $5 billion partnership with Galapagos, chief strategy officer Andrew Dickinson is being promoted to the prestigious CFO post at the big biotech. And new CEO Daniel O’Day says the latest move completes his makeover of the top team.
Dickinson will remain in charge of strategy in his new post.
A 3-year veteran at Gilead, Dickinson joined the bellwether biotech after a lengthy stint at Lazard Frères & Co, where he was global co-head of healthcare investing. Before that, ironically enough, he had been at Myogen, which was bought out by Gilead in 2006. Now he’ll be primarily responsible for building confidence in the numbers at a company that has a strong foundation in HIV, a disappearing franchise in hep C and a CAR-T subsidiary in Kite that has a long way to go in establishing a new business.