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.

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.

Alex­ion wins pri­or­i­ty re­view for Ul­tomiris' aHUS in­di­ca­tion; FDA ex­pands ap­proval of Ver­tex's Symdeko

→ Alex­ion $ALXN has scored a speedy re­view for Ul­tomiris for pa­tients with atyp­i­cal he­molyt­ic ure­mic syn­drome (aHUS) af­ter post­ing pos­i­tive da­ta from a piv­otal study in Jan­u­ary. The drug is the rare dis­ease com­pa­ny’s shot at pro­tect­ing its block­buster blood dis­or­der fran­chise that is cur­rent­ly cen­tered around its flag­ship drug, Soliris, which is a com­ple­ment in­hibitor typ­i­cal­ly ad­min­is­tered every two weeks. Ul­tomiris has a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism of ac­tion but re­quires less-fre­quent dos­ing — every eight weeks. The de­ci­sion date has been set to Oc­to­ber 19. Late last year, Ul­tomiris se­cured ap­proval for noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria (PNH) pa­tients.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.

Ab­b­Vie gets a green light to re­sume re­cruit­ing pa­tients for one myelo­ma study — but Ven­clex­ta re­mains un­der a cloud

Three months af­ter reg­u­la­tors at the FDA forced Ab­b­Vie to halt en­rolling pa­tients in its tri­als of a com­bi­na­tion us­ing Ven­clex­ta (vene­to­clax) to treat drug-re­sis­tant cas­es of mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, the agency has green-light­ed the re­sump­tion of one of those stud­ies, while keep­ing the rest on the side­lines.

The CANO­VA (M13-494) study can now get back in busi­ness re­cruit­ing pa­tients to test the drug for a pop­u­la­tion that shares a par­tic­u­lar ge­net­ic bio­mark­er. To get that per­mis­sion, Ab­b­Vie — which is part­nered with Roche on this pro­gram — was forced to re­vise the pro­to­col, mak­ing un­spec­i­fied changes in­volv­ing risk mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures, pro­to­col-spec­i­fied guide­lines and an up­dat­ed fu­til­i­ty cri­te­ria.

Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler, File Photo

Ox­ford, Evotec ramp up LAB10x with AI ex­perts at Sen­syne — fo­cused on biotech spin­outs

Ox­ford is al­ly­ing it­self with Evotec and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence out­fit Sen­syne Health to ramp up some new biotech spin­outs while look­ing to “ac­cel­er­ate da­ta-dri­ven drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.”

The big idea here is that Ox­ford sci­en­tists — some of the best drug hunters in the world — can uti­lize Sen­syne’s AI plat­form for their work, re­ly­ing on the chemists and hands-on de­vel­op­ers at Evotec to push ahead to a crit­i­cal proof of con­cept mo­ment. And they’ll do it through a project leader called LAB10x, which gets £5 mil­lion over the next three years to fund the work.

Why would the FDA ap­prove an­oth­er con­tro­ver­sial drug to spur a woman’s li­bido with these da­ta? And why no ex­pert pan­el re­view?

AMAG Pharmaceuticals’ newly approved drug for spurring women’s sexual desire may never make much money, but it’s a big hit at sparking media attention.

The therapy — Vyleesi (bremelanotide) — got the green light from regulators on Friday evening, swiftly lighting up a range of stories around the world, from The New York Times to The Guardian. Several headlines inevitably referred to it as the “female Viagra,” invoking Pfizer’s old erectile dysfunction blockbuster.

But the two drugs have little in common.

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Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.