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.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Ken Frazier, AP Images

Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Mark Genovese (Stanford via Twitter)

Gilead woos fil­go­tinib clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Stan­ford to lead the charge on NASH, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases

With an FDA OK for the use of filgotinib in rheumatoid arthritis expected to drop any day now, Gilead has recruited a new leader from academia to lead its foray into inflammatory diseases.

Mark Genovese — a longtime Stanford professor and most recently the clinical chief in the division of immunology and rheumatology — was the principal investigator in FINCH 2, one of three studies that supported Gilead’s NDA filing. In his new role as SVP, inflammation, he will oversee the clinical development of the entire portfolio.

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Stephen Isaacs, Aduro president and CEO (Aduro)

Once a high fly­er, a stag­ger­ing Aduro is auc­tion­ing off most of the pipeline as CEO Stephen Isaacs hands off the shell to new own­ers

After a drumbeat of failure, setbacks and reorganizations over the last few years, Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs is handing over his largely gutted-out shell of a public company to another biotech company and putting up some questionable assets in a going-out-of-business sale.

Isaacs —who forged a string of high-profile Big Pharma deals along the way — has wrapped a 13-year run at the biotech with one program for kidney disease going to the new owners at Chinook Therapeutics. A host of once-heralded assets like their STING agonist program partnered with Novartis (which dumped their work on ADU-S100 after looking over weak clinical results), the Lilly-allied cGAS-STING inhibitor program and the anti-CD27 program out-licensed to Merck will all be posted for auction under a strategic review process.

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President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

Cameron Durrant, Humanigen CEO (Columbia University Technology Ventures via YouTube)

Cameron Dur­rant hus­tled his way from the OTC side­lines right in­to the Covid-19 drug race. Death or glo­ry lies straight ahead

Over the past few months, Covid-19 has gone from being a monolithic threat to one of the biggest overnight boons the biopharma industry has ever seen. And amid all the furor over Moderna’s swelling stock price, plenty of chatter over what new drugs and vaccines will cost and investors’ uninhibited zeal for all things related to pandemic products, it’s been one little biotech’s golden ticket back from the land of the living dead.

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