Five months, $98.5M and a PhII drug from No­var­tis lat­er, Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics is floor­ing it


Last No­vem­ber, Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics end­ed a year of self-im­posed start­up si­lence with a hefty $48.5 mil­lion Se­ries A and a bur­geon­ing team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors fo­cused on cord blood stem cell ther­a­pies. To­day, just a lit­tle more than 5 months lat­er, it’s adding $50 mil­lion in Se­ries B cash from some mar­quee in­vestors that in­cludes the ven­ture group for­mer­ly known as Google and in-li­cens­ing a mid-stage drug that No­var­tis clear­ly thinks high­ly of for en­hanc­ing cord blood stem cells as a treat­ment.

Oh, and some of that ven­ture cash is from crossover in­vestors, spurring some added think­ing in this fledg­ling biotech about the right tim­ing on a po­ten­tial IPO.

The drug is HSC835, which is now be­ing rechris­tened as MG­TA-456. And the ther­a­py comes with da­ta from some small tri­als, help­ing ad­vance Ma­gen­ta with a full-fledged clin­i­cal pro­gram which fits neat­ly in­to Ma­gen­ta’s R&D strat­e­gy.

No­var­tis has spot­light­ed this drug for its abil­i­ty to im­prove the ther­a­peu­tic pow­er of um­bil­i­cal cord trans­plants, amp­ing up the stem cells need­ed for the en­graft­ment process to cre­ate in­fec­tion-fight­ing cells. And that’s right in Ma­gen­ta’s wheel­house.

It’s a great fit for Ma­gen­ta, CEO Ja­son Gard­ner tells me. The biotech hired in a pair of the ear­ly in­ves­ti­ga­tors on this pro­gram. And when they went to No­var­tis to sound out their in­ter­est man­ag­ing its clin­i­cal fu­ture, de­clar­ing a com­mit­ment to hus­tling it through the clin­ic, the mes­sage res­onat­ed well at the phar­ma gi­ant, which re­tains an un­spec­i­fied in­ter­est in the drug.

Ma­gen­ta is keep­ing those terms to it­self — which is gen­er­al­ly how No­var­tis likes to keep things.

The ex­tra $50 mil­lion that just ar­rived in an ac­cel­er­at­ed Se­ries B will al­so help the biotech ex­pand its fo­cus on can­cer, ge­net­ic dis­eases and au­toim­mu­ni­ty.

GV (for­mer­ly Google Ven­tures) led the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion from all ex­ist­ing in­vestors, in­clud­ing At­las Ven­ture, Third Rock Ven­tures, Part­ners In­no­va­tion Fund and Ac­cess In­dus­tries. The fi­nanc­ing al­so in­clud­ed Cas­din Cap­i­tal and oth­er crossover in­vestors, as well as Be The Match Bio­Ther­a­pies, a sub­sidiary of Na­tion­al Mar­row Donor Pro­gram. And Be The Match Bio­Ther­a­pies — with its 178 US trans­plant cen­ters — is al­ly­ing with the biotech as it push­es ahead with new clin­i­cal tri­als.

We’re a long way from the 2014 biotech IPO boom, which was the last time you could flip a start­up in­to Nas­daq. But the CEO is hap­py to con­cede that the sub­ject has come up in­side the com­pa­ny.

“We have dis­cussed that op­tion,” says Gard­ner. “We like that op­tion.” But there are lots of op­tions to con­sid­er right now, he adds, in­clud­ing do­ing some non-di­lu­tive deals.

Says Gard­ner: “We like to have all the op­tions avail­able to the com­pa­ny.”

Out-li­cens­ing is not a new strat­e­gy for No­var­tis. Just last March No­var­tis de­cid­ed to spin out a pair of an­ti-ag­ing ther­a­peu­tics to a PureTech start­up, the lat­est in a se­ries of out-li­cens­ing deals for a com­pa­ny that has been care­ful to fo­cus on the core strat­e­gy un­der Chair­man Jo­erg Rein­hardt, who’s keen­ly in­ter­est­ed in main­tain­ing a rel­a­tive­ly con­ser­v­a­tive re­search fo­cus at the phar­ma gi­ant as rev­enue flat­tened and then de­clined.

For Gard­ner, a GSK vet who was sent to Cam­bridge to help scout new ther­a­pies for the phar­ma gi­ant and wound up get­ting sucked in­to At­las’ start­up world, the ac­cel­er­a­tion at Ma­gen­ta feels fine.

By the end of this year, says Gard­ner, he ex­pects the 26-mem­ber team at Ma­gen­ta to grow to about 40. And along the way will come more da­ta and a clear out­line of de­vel­op­ment time­lines that will put this biotech way ahead of most any fledg­ling to pop up in the Boston hub.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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Yanay Ofran (L) and Anat Binur (Ukko)

Leaps by Bay­er backs a pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing start­up tak­ing on Aim­mune — and Nestlé — in peanut al­ler­gy

Little capsules of peanut powder drove Nestlé’s $2.6 billion buyout of Aimmune. Now, with $40 million in new funding, a fledgling biotech is promising to bring a more sophisticated version of that protein therapy that can go much, much further.

Ukko’s goal is two-pronged — with the initial products spanning therapeutic and food — but it’s grounded in the same protein engineering platform, co-founder and CEO Anat Binur told Endpoints News.

As tar­get­ed ther­a­pies get ever more pre­cise, Deer­field un­veils $50M bet on an Har­vard pro­fes­sor's chem­istry in­sights

Behind the seemingly simple concept of targeted cancer therapies is the drug developer’s headache that the target is always changing. Each generation of kinase inhibitors may be ostensibly hitting the same oncogene, but in addition to blocking the wildtype oncogene, they must now also address the mutations that have developed along the way, spurring resistance to current drugs.

The more those target kinases evolve, too, the more they could resemble off-target kinases you don’t want to bind. So each iteration requires more selectivity — sometimes down to differences of a few atoms.

Pascal Soriot, AP

As­traZeneca CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot sev­ers an un­usu­al board con­nec­tion, steer­ing clear of con­flicts while re­tain­ing im­por­tant al­liances

CSL Behring chief Paul Perreault scored an unusual coup last summer when he added AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot to the board, via Zoom. It’s rare, to say the least, to see a Big Pharma CEO take any board post in an industry where interests can simultaneously connect and collide on multiple levels of operations.

The tie set the stage for an important manufacturing connection. The Australian pharma giant agreed to supply the country with 10s of millions of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, once it passes regulatory muster.

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Vincent Sandanayaka (file photo)

UP­DAT­ED: Ex-MD An­der­son chief De­Pin­ho is help­ing launch an­oth­er biotech — and he's stick­ing with fa­mil­iar ground

Years after co-founding SINE-focused Karyopharm and stirring up controversy at MD Anderson, Ronald DePinho is helping uncloak a new biotech targeting solute carrier transporter proteins — and Karyopharm’s former head of chemistry is leading the charge.

Nirogy Therapeutics emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday with a $16.5 million Series A round and plans to hit the clinic by 2022. The financing should be enough to carry the startup’s lead program, a small molecule lactate transport inhibitor, through Phase I, CEO Vincent Sandanayaka said.

Adeno-associated virus-1 illustration; the use of AAVs resurrected the gene therapy field, but companies are now testing the limits of a 20-year-old technology (File photo, Shutterstock)

Af­ter 3 deaths rock the field, gene ther­a­py re­searchers con­tem­plate AAV's fu­ture

Nicole Paulk was scrolling through her phone in bed early one morning in June when an email from a colleague jolted her awake. It was an article: Two patients in an Audentes gene therapy trial had died, grinding the study to a halt.

Paulk, who runs a gene therapy lab at the University of California, San Francisco, had planned to spend the day listening to talks at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, which was taking place that week. Instead, she skipped the conference, canceled every work call on her calendar and began phoning colleagues across academia and industry, trying to figure out what happened and why. All the while, a single name hung in the back of her head.

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Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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