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.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock to be act­ing FDA com­mis­sion­er while Biden team fi­nal­izes nom­i­nee — re­ports

Janet Woodcock is set to be the most powerful person at the FDA in less than a week.

The veteran regulator and longtime director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has been tapped as acting commissioner of the FDA, according to reports by BioCentury’s Steve Usdin and Pink Sheet’s Sarah Karlin-Smith.

The appointment was requested by the incoming Biden team, Karlin-Smith added, as they sort out the nomination of a permanent successor to Stephen Hahn — whose one-year tenure has been defined by Covid-19.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock is in the run­ning for FDA com­mis­sion­er — what does that mean for the agen­cy's fu­ture?

Just a day after reports emerged that Janet Woodcock will serve as interim chief of the FDA, word has gotten out that she is also in the running for the permanent job.

The decision, as the initial wave of reactions suggest, could have dramatic implications for where the agency is headed in the next four years — if not beyond.

Woodcock, the longtime CDER director, is being vetted alongside former FDA principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, Bloomberg reported. Already tapped as acting head of the agency, she’s set to take over from Stephen Hahn right after Biden’s inauguration next week.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

Paint­ing by the num­bers, Sana founders carve up a gi­ant uni­corn-sized IPO — for a biotech that has­n't quite made it to the clin­ic

Sana Biotechnology is one of those startups that was sketched in on the chalkboard day one in the shape of a unicorn.

A giant unicorn.

And from the numbers the cell therapy 2.0 play spelled out in their S-1 $SANA, it’s clear that the company founders — led by a pair of major VCs aligned with some high-profile industry figures — are hunting a big chunk of that value for themselves.

The raise they penciled in — $150 million — isn’t likely what they actually have in mind, and it doesn’t do justice to the size of their ambitions.

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Eli Lil­ly re-ups di­ver­si­ty pledge, pitch­ing in $30M to ven­ture fund for mi­nor­i­ty-owned health­care firms

The fight against racial injustice spurred by a series of high-profile shootings of Black men by police earlier this year put Big Pharma and healthcare — industries targeted for their lack of diversity — in the hot seat. Eli Lilly made an early pledge to change its ways and put more back into the community, and now it’s continuing to make good on that commitment.

Lilly will infuse $30 million into the Unseen Capital Health Fund, a venture fund looking to invest in early-stage minority-owned healthcare companies that have been historically “unseen” by the investment community, the pharma said Friday.

Laurie Glimcher, Dana-Farber president and CEO (Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: With its rank-and-file churn­ing out star­tups, Dana-Far­ber launch­es ven­ture fund to cap­i­tal­ize on that suc­cess

The pace of innovation at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in recent years has seen a wave of startups launch with IP or leadership sourced from the nonprofit’s ranks. Now, looking for its own returns on that success, Dana-Farber has launched a new venture fund to invest in those fledgling businesses.

On Thursday, Dana-Farber unveiled Binney Street Capital — its first-ever venture fund. Roche and Verily veteran Luba Greenwood has been tapped to lead the fund, which was named after the location of the institute’s Boston site.

CEO Brett Monia (Ionis)

Can Brett Mo­nia push Io­n­is be­yond Spin­raza?

For 30 years, Brett Monia struggled as one of Ionis’ top scientists to get their antisense technology to work. Now, as CEO, he’s trying to use it to turn Ionis into one of the industry’s biggest biotechs.

Monia, one of the handful of young scientists who in 1989 followed Stanley Crooke across the country from SmithKline (now GSK) in Philadelphia to found Ionis in Northern California, replaced Crooke as CEO last January. By then, they had proven antisense, an RNA-based method for manipulating gene expression, could work dramatically well in at least some instances, transforming spinal muscular atrophy with the Biogen-partnered blockbuster Spinraza.

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David Kessler in April 2009 (Eric Risberg/AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Hack­ers start re­leas­ing 'ma­nip­u­lat­ed' Covid-19 vac­cine docs; Ex-FDA com­mish David Kessler to re­place Mon­cef Slaoui as Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed chief — re­port

There’s a new twist on the EMA Covid-19 hacking story.

Friday the European agency put out the 5th in a series of statements about the hackers who broke into their system, noting that some of the information on vaccines that was gleaned in the attack is showing up online — altered to raise questions about the Covid-19 vaccines now in use.

This included internal/confidential email correspondence dating from November, relating to evaluation processes for COVID-19 vaccines. Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines.

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Nadim Ahmed (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Bris­tol My­er­s' top hema­tol­ogy ex­ec is on his way out — right on the heels of a $6B CVR im­plo­sion

Fourteen days after the $6.3 billion CVR tied to the approval of liso-cel went up in smoke, one of the top execs in charge of the work at Bristol Myers Squibb is preparing to step out of his job.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed, who’s been following every twist and turn in the CVR saga, told investors on Thursday morning that Nadim Ahmed is on his way out. Syed’s note:

Recall, Ahmed is EVP and President of Hematology at BMY (i.e. JCAR017 and bb2121 are both hematological drugs). He’s still listed on the BMY management page. This is true — he’s still technically there. However, I have confirmed w/ BMY that his last day is tomorrow, Friday 1/15. To my best knowledge, Ahmed does not have another job lined up post his departure tomorrow.

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UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen tops cost watch­dog's price gougers list based on 'un­sup­port­ed' in­creas­es for En­brel with­out mean­ing­ful da­ta

In a top 10 ranking of the most egregious price gougers from 2019, Amgen’s Enbrel topped US cost watchdog ICER’s naughty list with “unsupported” markups that added as much as $403 million to the nation’s drug spend during that time.

Price increases for some of pharma’s most popular drugs have long been a focus of consumer ire, but the industry has argued those increases are routine and meant to cover the cost of R&D innovation. Without meaningful guidance at the state or federal level, ICER looked to connect how much a drug had progressed in the clinic compared with its increase in both wholesale and net price in 2019.

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