Ex-Shire ex­ec Phil Vick­ers joins the mi­gra­tion to star­tups, tak­ing the reins at an im­muno-on­col­o­gy biotech

A small im­muno-on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny in Toron­to has at­tract­ed Phil Vick­ers, a big name in the glob­al R&D scene, to take the reins as the start­up’s new CEO.

Phil Vick­ers

You might’ve heard of Vick­ers when he was at Shire, where he led the phar­ma gi­ant’s glob­al R&D for sev­en years. When he start­ed there, Vick­ers over­saw a hand­ful of rare dis­ease pro­grams. By the time he left, he was head­ing up 40 pro­grams in clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Vick­ers spent a big chunk his ca­reer in Big Phar­ma, work­ing at Mer­ck, Pfiz­er and Boehringer-In­gel­heim be­fore his gig at Shire. But now he’s head­ing to a tiny up­start in Toron­to called North­ern Bi­o­log­ics.

Vick­ers was in­tro­duced to the com­pa­ny through his friends at Ver­sant Ven­tures, the VC firm that closed a $400 mil­lion fund ear­li­er this year. Ver­sant is an in­vestor in North­ern Bi­o­log­ics, and Vick­ers was con­sid­er­ing join­ing the com­pa­ny’s board. In a meet­ing with the start­up’s lead­er­ship team, Vick­ers start­ed brain­storm­ing how the com­pa­ny might ad­dress op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges that lay ahead.

They de­cid­ed to of­fer him the top job in­stead.

With Vick­ers’ back­ground, he could like­ly have his pick of com­pa­nies to lead, but he said he’s ex­cit­ed to work with a small com­pa­ny again.

“There’s an ex­cite­ment and elec­tric­i­ty about be­ing at a small­er com­pa­ny,” Vick­ers says. “There’s a lot of in­no­va­tion go­ing on at small com­pa­nies, where you start with a nugget of an idea and you’re able to rapid­ly move it for­ward. There’s min­i­mal bu­reau­cra­cy to slow it down, and there’s nowhere to hide so every­one has to play a role in mov­ing the com­pa­ny for­ward.”

On the sci­ence side, Vick­ers is en­thu­si­as­tic about North­ern Bi­o­log­ics’ lead pro­gram, which the com­pa­ny has coined MSC-1. The as­set is an an­ti-LIF an­ti­body (LIF = leukemia in­hibito­ry fac­tor), which is gain­ing es­teem as an emerg­ing tar­get in can­cer im­munol­o­gy.

“It’s in can­cer’s best in­ter­est to be pro­tect­ed from the body’s im­mune sys­tem, so tu­mors co-opt LIF to dri­ve im­muno­sup­pres­sion,” Vick­ers tells me. “LIF al­so seems to be in­volved with the self-re­new­al of can­cer stem cells.”

Ste­fan Lar­son

LIF might be im­pli­cat­ed in a large va­ri­ety of can­cer types, Vick­ers said, in­clud­ing ones with high un­met needs like pan­cre­at­ic, ovar­i­an and non-small cell lung can­cer. A drug that tar­gets a wide range could be quite im­pact­ful if it works, of course.

Vick­ers is tak­ing the reins from North­ern Bi­o­log­ics’ found­ing CEO Ste­fan Lar­son, who will re­main on the com­pa­ny’s board and re­join Ver­sant as a ven­ture part­ner.

Vick­ers will re­main in Lex­ing­ton, MA, where he has a home, and split a big chunk of his time be­tween North­ern Bi­o­log­ics’ HQ in Toron­to and the Boston area.

Gilead baits new al­liance with $45M up­front, div­ing in­to the busy pro­tein degra­da­tion field

Gilead is jump­ing on board the pro­tein degra­da­tion band­wag­on. And they’re turn­ing to a low-pro­file Third Rock start­up for the ex­per­tise. But if you were look­ing for a trans­for­ma­tion­al deal to kick up fresh en­thu­si­asm for Gilead, you’ll have to re­main pa­tient.


This one will have a long way to go be­fore they get in­to the clin­ic.

The big biotech said Wednes­day morn­ing that it is pay­ing $45 mil­lion up­front and re­serv­ing a whop­ping $2.3 bil­lion in biotech bucks if San Fran­cis­co-based Nurix can point the way to new can­cer ther­a­pies, as well as drugs for oth­er, un­spec­i­fied dis­eases.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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A new num­ber 1 drug? Keytru­da tapped to top the 10 biggest block­busters on the world stage by 2024

Analysts may be fretting about Keytruda’s longterm prospects as a host of rival therapies elbow their way to the market. But the folks at Evaluate Pharma are confident that last year’s $7 billion earner is headed for glory, tapping it to beat out the current #1 therapy Humira as AbbVie watches that franchise swoon over the next 5 years.

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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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In­vestor day prep at Mer­ck in­cludes a new strat­e­gy to pick up the pace on M&A — re­port

Mer­ck’s re­cent deals to buy up two bolt-on biotechs — Ti­los and Pelo­ton — weren’t an aber­ra­tion. In­stead, both ac­qui­si­tions mark a new strat­e­gy to beef up its dom­i­nant can­cer drug op­er­a­tions cen­tered on Keytru­da while look­ing to ad­dress grow­ing con­cerns that too many of its eggs are in the one I/O bas­ket for their PD-1 pro­gram. And Mer­ck is go­ing af­ter more small- and mid-sized buy­outs to calm those fears.

Dave Barrett, Brian Chee, Amir Nashat, Amy Schulman. Polaris

Bob Langer's first port of call — Po­laris Part­ners — maps $400M for ninth fund

Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

Right back at you, Pfiz­er: BeiGene and a Pfiz­er spin­out launch a new­co to de­vel­op a MEK/BRAF in­hibitor that could ri­val $11.4B com­bo

A day af­ter Pfiz­er bought Ar­ray and its ap­proved can­cer com­bo, BeiGene and Pfiz­er spin­out Spring­Works have part­nered in launch­ing a new biotech that has an eye on the very same mar­ket the phar­ma gi­ant just paid bil­lions for. And they’re plan­ning on us­ing an ex-Pfiz­er drug to do it.

In a nut­shell, Chi­na’s BeiGene is toss­ing in a pre­clin­i­cal BRAF in­hibitor — BGB-3245, which cov­ers both V600 and non-V600 BRAF mu­ta­tions — for a big stake in a new, joint­ly con­trolled biotech called Map­Kure with Bain-backed Spring­Works.

Step­ping on Roche's toes, Mer­ck cuts in­to SCLC niche with third-line Keytru­da OK

In the in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed check­point race, small cell lung can­cer has been a rare area where Roche, a sec­ond run­ner-up, has a lead over the en­trenched lead­ers Mer­ck and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb. But Mer­ck is fi­nal­ly mak­ing some head­way in that di­rec­tion with the lat­est ap­proval for its PD-1 star.

The lat­est green light en­dors­es Keytru­da in the third-line treat­ment of metasta­t­ic SCLC, where it would be giv­en to pa­tients whose dis­ease ei­ther don’t re­spond to or re­lapse af­ter chemother­a­py, which would have fol­lowed at least one pri­or line of ther­a­py.