Rachel Meyers (Marissa Fiorucci/Faze Medicines)

Faze Med­i­cines launch­es with $81M Se­ries A, Al­ny­lam vet head­ing sci­ence in play at bio­mol­e­c­u­lar con­den­sates

Once most­ly un­known to the larg­er sci­en­tif­ic world, the field of bio­mol­e­c­u­lar con­den­sates — cel­lu­lar struc­tures that could have big im­pli­ca­tions on neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive re­search — has seen a rush of in­vestor cash in the past two years. Now, a third biotech is tak­ing a swing at the field with a siz­able ini­tial fund­ing round to get go­ing.

Faze Med­i­cines, a Third Rock-backed biotech look­ing to de­vel­op med­i­cines tar­get­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases and po­ten­tial­ly even more ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas, launched Thurs­day with an $81 mil­lion Se­ries A round and Al­ny­lam vet­er­an Rachel Mey­ers head­ing up the sci­ence.

Found­ed by four in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute in Mary­land — Roy Park­er, Mike Rosen, J. Paul Tay­lor and Ron Vale — Faze will cen­ter its sci­ence around bio­mol­e­c­u­lar con­den­sates, mem­brane­less com­part­ments in eu­kary­ot­ic cells that con­cen­trate pro­teins and nu­cle­ic acids and could play a role in RNA me­tab­o­lism and gene reg­u­la­tion.

Roy Park­er, Mike Rosen, J. Paul Tay­lor, Ron Vale (HH­MI)

Third Rock joins No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund, Eli Lil­ly, Ab­b­Vie Ven­tures, In­vus, Catalio Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, Cas­din Cap­i­tal and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments on the round. Faze will run with a board of di­rec­tors led by biotech vet Charles Hom­cy, a Third Rock part­ner and clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at UCSF, as well as Bob Tep­per, an­oth­er Third Rock part­ner, and Lau­ra Brass of the No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund.

The com­pa­ny will al­so sport a stout sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board culled from lead­ers in drug dis­cov­ery and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive re­search, in­clud­ing: Richard Chesworth, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer at Kymera Ther­a­peu­tics; Jim Au­dia, a for­mer CSO at Con­stel­la­tion Phar­ma who is now an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the Chica­go Bio­med­ical Con­sor­tium; and Mer­it Cud­kow­icz, chief at neu­rol­o­gy at Mass Gen­er­al; among oth­ers.

Mey­ers, who spent more than 13 years at Al­ny­lam head­ing re­search on the drug­mak­er’s RNAi-based ther­a­peu­tics, left the com­pa­ny back in 2016 to be a con­sul­tant in the Cam­bridge area. In 2018, she joined Third Rock as an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence and was im­me­di­ate­ly keyed in to dis­cus­sions around the role of un­bound struc­tures in hu­man cells that could be im­pli­cat­ed in a range of puz­zle-box neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

Those con­ver­sa­tions were tak­ing place in Third Rock’s halls, Mey­ers said, be­tween Hom­cy and Vale, al­so a UCSF pro­fes­sor. The dis­cus­sion orig­i­nal­ly cir­cled around the role of pro­tein con­cen­trat­ing RNA struc­tures in the cell that could be causal­ly re­lat­ed to re­peat ex­pan­sion dis­or­ders like ALS and my­oton­ic dy­s­tro­phy 1.

“That ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion led to in­ter­est in think­ing about how these RNA pro­tein struc­tures were in­volved in bi­ol­o­gy and in­volved in dis­ease,” Mey­ers said. “Ul­ti­mate­ly, we got ex­cit­ed about this no­tion of con­den­sates and start­ed ex­pand­ing this think­ing around re­peat RNAs to be­gin think­ing about the ways that RNA pro­tein struc­tures were in­volved in bi­ol­o­gy and dis­ease.”

Cary Pf­ef­fer

In the im­me­di­ate term, Faze’s team will fo­cus on those con­den­sates to de­vel­op mol­e­cules for neu­ro, but the goal­posts could even­tu­al­ly move in­to spaces like on­col­o­gy, vi­rol­o­gy and im­munol­o­gy as the sci­ence de­vel­ops, in­ter­im CEO and Third Rock part­ner Cary Pf­ef­fer told End­points News. That sort of clin­i­cal po­ten­tial is what helped bring Faze’s big-name in­vestors on board, Pf­ef­fer said, along­side Faze’s ear­ly in­vest­ment in its clin­i­cal plat­form.

“I think we can pre­dict that a few years from now, there will be al­most every in­di­ca­tion that is touched by the bi­ol­o­gy of bio­mol­e­c­u­lar con­den­sates so that sug­gests to us ac­cess points to many, many more dis­eases over time,” Mey­ers said. “What we’re ex­cit­ed about is the clues, and the ways dis­eases are con­nect­ed.”

Based in Cam­bridge, MA, the Faze team of 12 will work to “dri­ve to­ward de­vel­op­ment can­di­dates” as it looks for a lat­er en­try in­to the clin­ic, Pf­ef­fer said. The com­pa­ny will al­so keep build­ing its “prod­uct en­gine,” in­clud­ing the di­ag­nos­tic as­says used for prod­uct de­vel­op­ment. On­ly one pro­gram is cur­rent­ly in ac­tive de­vel­op­ment, but Pf­ef­fer said even more are ap­proach­ing that stage in the near team.

Pf­ef­fer — in what is a typ­i­cal process for Third Rock — will hold the in­ter­im CEO role un­til Faze hires a per­ma­nent re­place­ment. In terms of who the biotech could hire to the helm, Pf­ef­fer was mum.

“At the end of the day, great CEOs come in all stripes and col­ors,” Pf­ef­fer said. “There’s a lot of com­po­nents that go in­to it … we have a great track record of bring­ing on CEOs at our com­pa­ny, and that’s what we’re go­ing to do here.”

In set­ting up shop to chase bio­mol­e­c­u­lar con­den­sates, Faze will be run­ning along­side two re­cent en­tries in the space. In No­vem­ber, Nereid launched with a $50 mil­lion Se­ries A look­ing to chal­lenge Dew­point Ther­a­peu­tics, the first and on­ly biotech fo­cus­ing on bio­mol­e­c­u­lar con­den­sates be­fore Nereid’s en­try.

Dew­point it­self launched un­der the lead­er­ship of Po­laris Part­ners man­ag­ing part­ner Amir Nashat back in Jan­u­ary 2019 with $60 mil­lion and 15 staffers. That first-in-the-field launch came with some pret­ty big names on board, in­clud­ing ubiq­ui­tous MIT gi­ant Bob Langer and in­vestors in Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal, 6 Di­men­sions Cap­i­tal, EcoR1 Cap­i­tal, Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments, and Leaps by Bay­er.

Ed­i­tor’s Note: This sto­ry has been up­dat­ed to cor­rect an er­ror. The biotech com­pa­ny’s name is Faze Med­i­cines.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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