Eye­ing clin­i­cal proof-of-con­cept for HER3 drug, Am­gen-part­nered biotech scores $125M for pre­ci­sion an­ti­bod­ies

When it comes to re­draw­ing the bound­aries of what pro­teins are drug­gable, small mol­e­cules have soaked up the spot­light. Hordes of new en­trants — in­hibitors, al­losteric mod­u­la­tors, de­graders — promise to make a big dif­fer­ence by hit­ting dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins at the right spot.

Over the last five years a biotech out of Sin­ga­pore has been try­ing to show that the same ap­proach can be ap­plied to an­ti­bod­ies. Now No­vo Hold­ings is lead­ing a $125 mil­lion Se­ries C de­signed to push them to­ward clin­i­cal proof-of-con­cept.

It all start­ed, Hum­ming­bird CEO Piers In­gram said, with a tar­get that’s puz­zled him since his PhD years: HER3.

Jerome Boyd-Kirkup

De­spite am­ple ev­i­dence that it should be a great drug tar­get, none of the an­ti­bod­ies pre­vi­ous re­searchers have gen­er­at­ed had the ex­pect­ed bi­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty. When he and co-founder/CSO Jerome Boyd-Kirkup dug in­to it, they found that these HER3 in­hibit­ing an­ti­bod­ies all shared very sim­i­lar mech­a­nisms of ac­tion. And it wasn’t op­ti­mal — they of­ten al­ways stopped one route of ac­ti­va­tion, leav­ing a “huge gap­ing hole” for the pro­tein to be ac­tive.

Their hy­poth­e­sis was sim­ple: You prob­a­bly need to shut down the whole thing. Ex­e­cut­ing it was the big­ger chal­lenge, as the B cells that see the anti­gen first usu­al­ly are the ones that spawn the ma­jor­i­ty of an­ti­bod­ies, all tar­get­ing the iden­ti­cal, most im­muno­genic — a phe­nom­e­non known as im­mun­odom­i­nance. Of­ten, these epi­topes are not the spots that are most func­tion­al­ly use­ful as a drug.

Rather than feed­ing anti­gens to B cells, Hum­ming­bird takes a guid­ed ap­proach, first lever­ag­ing com­pu­ta­tion­al mod­el­ing to pre­dict the re­gions of in­ter­est on the pro­tein then en­gi­neer­ing an­ti­bod­ies that are dri­ven to bind to those spe­cif­ic epi­topes.

Hum­ming­bird has gen­er­at­ed four in-house an­ti­bod­ies on this plat­form, with a lead can­di­date tar­get­ing HER3 and oth­ers hit­ting VISTA, BC­MA-TACI and an undis­closed pro­tein as­so­ci­at­ed with lu­pus.

Am­gen has al­so signed on for a dis­cov­ery pact, re­serv­ing $100 mil­lion each for up to 12 projects.

Piers In­gram

“If you are lucky and na­ture gives you good an­ti­bod­ies the first time around, then you don’t have to wor­ry about any of these cool tech­nolo­gies,” In­gram said. But if you’re not, “it’s re­al­ly a huge op­por­tu­ni­ty to take ad­van­tage of all of the struc­tur­al and func­tion­al in­sights that we have around pro­tein tar­gets these days and then use the pow­er of an­ti­bod­ies on these as well as small mol­e­cules.”

The com­pa­ny now has 65 staffers, with the re­search team based in Sin­ga­pore and a de­vel­op­ment group in the US.

The Se­ries C comes two years af­ter the last round, which In­gram said un­locked the team’s cre­ative po­ten­tial around the tech­nol­o­gy. In ad­di­tion to No­vo, the Se­ries C syn­di­cate fea­tures Fra­zier Health­care Part­ners, Oc­ta­gon Cap­i­tal, ED­BI, AM­GEN Ven­tures, DROIA Ven­tures, Morn­ing­side Ven­tures, Pure­os Bioven­tures, Po­laris Part­ners, Affin­i­ty As­set Ad­vi­sors, Al­ly Bridge Group and Al­tri­um Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment. Ex­ist­ing in­vestors in­clud­ing SK, Her­i­tas Cap­i­tal, and Mi­rae As­set Ven­ture Cap­i­tal al­so joined the round.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.