Flag­ship-backed Foghorn woos Bris­tol-My­ers vet Carl De­ci­c­co to di­rect its 'gene traf­fic con­trol' plat­form

A num­ber of years ago, Carl De­ci­c­co hap­pened to catch a pre­sen­ta­tion by a young Dana-Far­ber re­searcher named Cigall Kadoch. She was talk­ing about the BAF chro­matin re­mod­el­ing com­plex and the im­por­tance of it in med­i­cine.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing that if she’d ever be able to ac­com­plish what she was propos­ing, it would be quite an area to be a part of,” he says.

Cigall Kadoch

That be­came re­al­i­ty this week as De­ci­c­co leaves a decades-long ca­reer at Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb to be­come chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer #1 and em­ploy­ee #51 at Foghorn Ther­a­peu­tics, a biotech co-found­ed by Kadoch to fo­cus on the chro­matin reg­u­la­to­ry sys­tem.

It’s been an in­ter­est­ing change, De­ci­c­co tells me, from a po­si­tion man­ag­ing a dis­cov­ery team of 2,000 spread among nine sites to a “much tighter” col­le­gial en­vi­ron­ment. But while work­ing for a biotech might mean a high­er lev­el of fo­cus, cer­tain things about bona fide drug dis­cov­ery pro­grams will re­main the same.

“I feel like my ca­reer is all about dri­ving these over the fin­ish line,” he says. “There is a for­mu­la ac­tu­al­ly for suc­cess­ful pro­grams and it does res­onate no mat­ter where you are, whether you’re in Big Phar­ma or a small com­pa­ny.”

Adri­an Gottschalk

De­ci­c­co’s new home in the boom­ing biotech hub of Cam­bridge — with­in walk­ing dis­tance from the of­fice — al­so al­lows him to par­tic­i­pate more broad­ly with the rest of the play­ers op­er­at­ing in the area. As the newest ven­ture part­ner at Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing he will get a front row seat in the cre­ation of new com­pa­nies, pro­vid­ing in­put on the port­fo­lio and po­ten­tial­ly sit­ting on some boards.

Doug Cole

Doug Cole, man­ag­ing part­ner at Flag­ship and a co-founder of Foghorn, de­scribes De­ci­c­co as a “drug dis­cov­ery lu­mi­nary” with “un­sur­passed tal­ents as a ‘drug hunter,’” hav­ing played a role in the ad­vance­ment of more than 200 com­pounds and 20 ap­proved drugs.

His top pri­or­i­ty, De­ci­c­co says, is scal­ing Foghorn’s gene traf­fic con­trol plat­form and pick­ing the pro­grams to set up project teams around so that they will be ready for clin­i­cal tri­als by 2020 — a goal set by CEO Adri­an Gottschalk.

And mov­ing past the near-term fo­cus on can­cer, the com­pa­ny has al­ready high­light­ed how reg­u­lat­ing chro­matin — the bind­ing ma­te­r­i­al that’s used to pack­age DNA in­to cells — could lead to new ther­a­peu­tic tar­gets in neu­ro­science and im­munol­o­gy.

It will all play out in the next three to five years as De­ci­c­co fig­ures out the right mix of peo­ple, skills and pro­grams for the re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion he’s run­ning. “I’m ex­cit­ed about be­ing close to the sci­ence,” he says.

Daphne Koller, Getty

Bris­tol My­er­s' Richard Har­g­reaves pays $70M to launch a neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion al­liance with a star play­er in the ma­chine learn­ing world

Bristol Myers Squibb is turning to one of the star upstarts in the machine learning world to go back to the drawing board and come up with the disease models needed to find drugs that can work against two of the toughest targets in the neuro world.

Daphne Koller’s well-funded insitro is getting $70 million in cash and near-term milestones to use their machine learning platform to create induced pluripotent stem cell-derived disease models for ALS and frontotemporal dementia.

Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks at the Rose Garden, May 26, 2020 (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

Eli Lil­ly lines up a block­buster deal for Covid-19 an­ti­body, right af­ter it failed a NI­AID tri­al

Two days after Eli Lilly conceded that its antibody bamlanivimab was a flop in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, the US government is preparing to make it a blockbuster.

The pharma giant reported early Wednesday that it struck a deal to supply the feds with 300,000 vials of the drug at a cost of $375 million — once it gets an EUA stamp from the FDA. And once that 2-month supply deal is done, the government has an option on another 650,000 doses on the same terms — which could potentially add another $812 million.

Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks (Evan Vucci/AP Images)

A P val­ue of 0.38? NE­JM re­sults raise new ques­tions for Eli Lil­ly's vaunt­ed Covid an­ti­body

Generally, a P value of 0.38 means your drug failed and by a fair margin. Depending on the company, the compound and the trial, it might mean the end of the program. It could trigger layoffs.

For Eli Lilly, though, it was part of the key endpoint on a trial that landed them a $1.2 billion deal with the US government to supply up to nearly 1 million Covid-19 antibodies.

So what does one make of that? Was the endpoint not so important, as Lilly maintains? Or did the US government promise a princely sum for a pedestrian drug?

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Ar­cus and As­traZeneca part­ner on a high stakes an­ti-TIG­IT/PD-L1 PhI­II can­cer study, look­ing to im­prove on a stan­dard of care

For AstraZeneca, the PACIFIC trial in Stage III non-small cell lung cancer remains one of the big triumphs for AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group. It not only made their PD-L1 Imfinzi a franchise player with a solid advance in a large niche of the lung cancer market, the study — which continues to offer data on the long-range efficacy of their drug — also helped salve the vicious sting of the failure of the CTLA-4 combo in the MYSTIC study.

No­var­tis buys a new gene ther­a­py for vi­sion loss, and this is one pre­clin­i­cal ven­ture that did­n't come cheap

Cyrus Mozayeni got excited when he began to explore the academic work of Ehud Isacoff and John G. Flannery at UC Berkeley.

Together, they were engaged in finding a gene therapy approach to pan-genotypic vision restoration in patients with photoreceptor-based blindness, potentially restoring the vision of a broad group of patients. And they did it by using a vector to deliver the genetic sequence for light sensing proteins.

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CMO Merdad Parsey (Gilead)

Gilead hits the brakes on a tri­fec­ta of mid- and late-stage stud­ies for their trou­bled fil­go­tinib pro­gram. It's up to the FDA now

Gilead $GILD execs haven’t decided exactly what to do with filgotinib in the wake of the slapdown at the FDA on their rheumatoid arthritis application, but they’re taking a time out for a slate of studies until they can gain some clarity from the agency. And without encouraging guidance, this drug could clearly be axed from the pipeline.

In their Q3 report out Wednesday afternoon, the company says researchers have “paused” a Phase III study for psoriatic arthritis along with a pair of Phase II trials for ankylosing spondylitis and uveitis. Late-stage studies for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are continuing, but you can see for yourself how big a hole this leaves in the inflammatory disease pipeline, with obvious implications if the company abandons filgo altogether.

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Jude Samulski, Marianne De Backer

Bay­er buys a biotech ‘race horse’ with a $4B deal — $2B in cash — aimed at go­ing big in­to gene ther­a­py

In the latest sign that Big Pharma wants a leading place in the push to develop a new generation of cell and gene therapies, Bayer is stepping up today with a $2 billion cash deal to buy out one of the fast-moving pioneers in the field, while adding up to $2 billion more in milestones if the new pharma subsidiary can deliver the goods.

As part of a continuing series of deals engineered by Bayer BD chief Marianne De Backer, the pharma player has snapped up Asklepios, more commonly referred to in more casual fashion as AskBio. And they are paying top dollar for a Research Triangle Park-based company that raised $225 million a little more than a year ago to back the brainchild of Jude Samulski, the gene therapy pioneer out of the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center.

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Noubar Afeyan, Flagship founder and CEO (Victor Boyko/Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Flag­ship launch­es Sen­da Bio­sciences with $88M in back­ing, look­ing to pi­o­neer the field of 'In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy'

Flagship Pioneering has a fresh company out this week, one that aims to lay the groundwork for a whole new discipline.

Senda Biosciences launched Wednesday with $88 million in Flagship cash. The goal? Gain insights into the molecular connections between people and coevolved nonhuman species like plants and bacteria, paving the way for “Intersystems Biology.”

Guillaume Pfefer has been tapped to run the show, a 25-year biotech veteran who comes from GSK after leading the development of the company’s shingles vaccine.