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.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Kristen Hege, Bristol Myers Squibb SVP, early clinical development, oncology/hematology and cell therapy (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: Bris­tol My­er­s' Kris­ten Hege on cell ther­a­py, can­cer pa­tients and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

Kristen Hege leads Bristol Myers Squibb’s early oncology discovery program carrying on from the same work at Celgene, which was acquired by BMS in 2019. She’s known for her early work in CAR-T, having pioneered the first CAR-T cell trial for solid tumors more than 25 years ago.

However, the eminent physician-scientist is more than just a drug developer mastermind. She’s also a practicing physician, mother to two young women, an avid backpacker and intersecting all those interests — a champion of young women and people of color in STEM and life sciences.

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Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Gossamer Bio CEO Faheem Hasnain at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Gos­samer’s Fa­heem Has­nain de­fends a round of pos­i­tive PAH da­ta as a clear win. But can these PhII re­sults stand up to scruti­ny?

Gossamer Bio $GOSS posted a statistically significant improvement for its primary endpoint in the key Phase II TORREY trial for lead drug seralutinib on Tuesday morning. But CEO Faheem Hasnain has some explaining to do on the important secondary of the crucial six-minute walk distance test — which will be the primary endpoint in Phase III — as the data on both endpoints fell short of expectations, missing one analyst’s bar on even modest success.

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Jay Lichter, Arialys Therapeutics CEO (Avalon Ventures)

Scoop: Aval­on, MPM back new CNS biotech with sci­en­tif­ic chops from Astel­las

A preclinical central nervous system biotech is in the works in La Jolla, CA, and the drug developer has reeled in capital from a syndicate of investors, Endpoints News has learned.

Arialys Therapeutics filed incorporation documents in the Golden State last December and applied its name for trademark protection with the US Patent and Trademark Office the week prior to that. Paperwork with the SEC also outlines plans to offer up equity in exchange for $55 million.

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Bob Duggan, Summit Therapeutics co-CEO

Bounc­ing from ma­jor set­back, Sum­mit hands out $500M cash for can­cer drug — thanks to a loan from bil­lion­aire CEO

After hitting a dead end with Summit Therapeutics’ lead program, Bob Duggan has found the drug that he believes will usher into a compelling second act. So compelling, in fact, that it involves $500 million cash — and he’s taking money out of his own pocket to fund the deal.

Striking a partnership with Akeso Therapeutics out of China, Summit is bringing in a bispecific antibody that blocks both PD-1 and VEGF called ivonescimab. Akeso, which has a PD-1/CTLA-4 bispecific approved in China, has already taken ivonescimab into multiple clinical trials, including a Phase III in lung cancer.

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Sum­i­to­vant sub­sidiaries En­zy­vant and Al­ta­vant merge in­to com­bined com­pa­ny

Two Sumitovant Biopharma entities are merging under one name, effective immediately.

Enzyvant Therapeutics and Altavant Sciences announced they have merged to form a singular entity focused on developing therapies for patients with rare diseases. The combined company will keep the name Enzyvant and along with clinical development will eventually include in-house manufacturing.

Bill Symonds, the current CEO of both Altavant and Enzyvant, is now CEO of the merged company.

Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion lays ground­work to un­wind Il­lu­mi­na's $7B+ Grail merg­er

The European Commission has recommended steps that — though not yet final — would require Illumina to “swiftly” unwind its controversial $7.1 billion Grail buyout.

The Commission delivered a “statement of objections” on Monday, detailing the process Illumina would need to take in divesting Grail, its blood testing spinout launched in 2016. Illumina re-acquired Grail back in August, despite criticism from both the FTC and EU.

US sup­ports ex­ten­sion for Covid-19 IP waiv­er de­ci­sion

After much debate, the US government is now calling for a deadline extension to discuss a controversial potential IP waiver for Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.

Over the last five months, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said it has consulted with members of Congress, public health advocates, organized labor groups, academics, think tanks, companies and trade associations on the WTO’s recent TRIPS agreement, which established a 5-year waiver of certain patent requirements on Covid-19 vaccines.