Geoff von Maltzahn, Tessera Therapeutics CEO

Flag­ship-found­ed Tessera fu­els up with $300M 'to go on a re­al­ly big ad­ven­ture' in gene edit­ing

A few years ago, the gene edit­ing ap­proach at Tessera was just a “twin­kle in our eye,” CEO and co-founder Ge­off von Maltzahn said.

Nu­cle­as­es — the cru­cial ma­chin­ery un­der­ly­ing the gene edit­ing field — do a pret­ty good job of cut­ting DNA, al­low­ing sci­en­tists to switch off a spe­cif­ic gene. But von Maltzahn and Ja­cob Rubens, Tessera’s co-founder and chief in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer, saw the op­por­tu­ni­ty in be­ing able to do more.

Since launch­ing in 2018, Tessera has cre­at­ed mul­ti­ple plat­forms for what von Maltzahn calls gene writ­ing, or the abil­i­ty to write a short or long se­quence in­to the genome au­tonomous­ly and with­out mak­ing dou­ble strand breaks.

“Each of those three plat­forms is able to do things that are quite dis­tinc­tive and im­por­tant, and of­fer the po­ten­tial for a whole port­fo­lio of fu­ture clin­i­cal in­di­ca­tions and med­i­cines to come,” he said.

But, as the CEO says: “You got­ta have fu­el in the tank to go on a re­al­ly big ad­ven­ture.”

On Tues­day, Tessera un­veiled a rough­ly $300 mil­lion Se­ries C round, bring­ing the com­pa­ny’s to­tal raise past $500 mil­lion. A glob­al syn­di­cate of in­vestors dug in­to their wal­lets for this round, in­clud­ing the biotech’s founder Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing.

Al­so chip­ping in were: a sub­sidiary of the Abu Dhabi In­vest­ment Au­thor­i­ty; the Alas­ka Per­ma­nent Fund Cor­po­ra­tion; Al­ti­tude Life Sci­ence Ven­tures; AR­TIS Ven­tures; Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment; Han­wha Im­pact Part­ners; Longevi­ty Vi­sion Fund; March Cap­i­tal; the SALT Fund; Soft­Bank Vi­sion Fund 2; funds and ac­counts ad­vised by T. Rowe Price As­so­ci­ates, and oth­ers.

The com­pa­ny is de­ploy­ing a three-tiered plat­form — sans CRISPR — us­ing mo­bile ge­net­ic el­e­ments in pur­suit of some “re­al­ly sen­sa­tion­al med­i­cines,” von Maltzahn said.

The cat­e­go­ry of “gene writ­ers,” von Maltzahn said, are RNA gene writ­ers that can rewrite the genome, chang­ing any one base pair to an­oth­er or mak­ing small in­ser­tions or dele­tions.

The sec­ond ap­proach is “to give just two RNAs to hu­man cells, and have those cells wake up the next day with a DNA gene in their genome.”

“That’s pos­si­ble be­cause the ma­chin­ery that we bor­rowed from is able to re­verse tran­scribe an RNA se­quence in­to the form of DNA, and so we de­liv­er an mR­NA en­cod­ing and gene writer pro­tein, it grabs on­to the oth­er RNA, takes it to the genome and then one let­ter at a time it lit­er­al­ly writes new DNA in­to that lo­ca­tion on the genome,” he said.

Those two ap­proach­es would al­low sci­en­tists to make mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the genome with no vi­ral vec­tors, open­ing the door for “in­cred­i­ble” scal­a­bil­i­ty, cus­tomiza­tion and speed, the CEO ex­plained.

The third cat­e­go­ry is what von Maltzahn calls DNA gene writ­ers, in which they “de­liv­er an mR­NA that then codes for a pro­tein that grabs on­to the loop of DNA, takes it to the genome and au­tonomous­ly in­serts it, and that of­fers the po­ten­tial to al­low AAVs to be cures for ge­net­ic dis­eases in di­vid­ing cell types like the liv­er,” he said.

The Se­ries C funds will be used to “ag­gres­sive­ly in­vest in the plat­form,” move pro­grams to­ward the clin­ic, build up man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and ex­pand the rough­ly 200-per­son team. The first fo­cus will be on liv­er and rare ge­net­ic dis­ease, sick­le cell, and en­gi­neer­ing CAR-T cells “both out­side and in­side the body.”

Von Maltzahn de­clined to com­ment on how soon those pro­grams might reach the clin­ic. And when asked if he’s plan­ning a pub­lic de­but, he re­spond­ed: “No plans to go pub­lic in the near fu­ture.”

“[What] fi­nanc­ings with the splashy head­lines… of­ten miss is just how much sci­en­tif­ic un­cer­tain­ty and courage and team­work and re­solve it takes to climb these kinds of moun­tains,” he said. “We feel re­al­ly for­tu­nate to have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to build the com­pa­ny we’ve been dream­ing of.”

Bio­mark­er 'roadmap­s' and the fu­ture of can­cer R&D; Cur­tain rais­es on #AS­CO22; Pfiz­er, No­var­tis tack­le drug ac­cess; 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.

While this was not a week for earth-shattering news, there were certainly a lot of interesting tidbits. If you found this recap helpful, please recommend it to your friends and colleagues. We’ll see you on the other side of the long weekend.

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Keep­ing pres­sure on Am­gen, Mi­rati draws mixed re­views on lat­est cut of KRAS da­ta

As the close runner-up to Amgen’s Lumakras in the KRAS race, any data cut from Mirati’s adagrasib continues to draw scrutiny from analysts. And the latest batch of numbers from ASCO is a decidedly mixed bag.

While a quick comparison suggests that adagrasib spurred slightly more responses and led to a longer overall survival than Lumakras among a group of non-small cell lung cancer patients, its duration of response appears shorter and the safety profile continues to spark concern.

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Ann is one of ViiV Healthcare's newest spokespeople as the retired school administrator speaks up about her HIV status.

GSK's Vi­iV de­buts next evo­lu­tion in HIV med Dova­to cam­paign with new spokes­peo­ple and new mes­sage

When Ann saw the first TV commercials for HIV medicine Dovato, she didn’t see herself represented. So the 74-year-old retired school administrator who’s been living with HIV since 1998, reached out to GSK’s ViiV Healthcare and asked why not?

Now Ann is one of three people starring in ViiV’s latest Dovato campaign called “Detect This.” The next-step evolution in the branded campaign plays on the word “detect” — often used in describing HIV status under control as undetectable — but in this case, uses the word as a directive for people to understand they can use fewer medicines.

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Tran­si­tion to new Eu­ro­pean clin­i­cal tri­als in­fo sys­tem starts slow­ly

At the end of January, the European Medicines Agency officially launched its new clinical trials info system (CTIS), although the migration to the new platform has only really just begun, and sponsors have until the end of January 2023 before all initial trial applications must be submitted through CTIS.

Overall, 56 clinical trial applications have been submitted in CTIS during the first 3 months since the launch of the system on Jan. 31, according to new data posted by the EMA. By comparison, about 4,000 new trials are authorized each year across Europe.

Switzer­land to de­stroy over 600,000 ex­pired dos­es of Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine

As concerns related to uptake and distribution continue to linger, Switzerland is among the first countries that plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of expired and unused Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The European country said it plans to destroy more than 600,000 doses of Moderna’s Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine as the doses have reached their expiration date.

However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that he’s in the process of throwing 30 million doses in the garbage, exclaiming, “We have a big demand problem.”

Nassim Usman, Catalyst Biosciences CEO

Af­ter $60M Ver­tex deal, group of Cat­a­lyst share­hold­ers claims biotech could’ve sold as­sets three years ago

Catalyst Biosciences was down to five employees in March, and the biotech needed to do something after two rounds of layoffs, a nixed collaboration and a culling of its hemophilia program.

In came Vertex, with $60 million to buy up the South San Francisco biotech’s preclinical complement drugs, which target the system that bridges the body’s innate and adaptive immune response and a class most known for Ultomiris and Soliris. The deal includes CB 2782-PEG, the dry AMD drug that Biogen no longer wanted in March.

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Lanny Sun, co-founder, CEO and chairman of Full-Life Technologies

Se­quoia Chi­na leads $37M in­fu­sion in­to ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals play­er set­ting up shop in Chi­na and Bel­gium

It’s not just American startups that are tuning into the rising interest in radiopharmaceuticals.

Sequoia China is leading a $37 million Series A into Full-Life Technologies, a biotech headquartered in Shanghai with offices in Brussels, Belgium, to develop a pipeline of radioactive cancer therapies.

The idea isn’t new: As clinicians started routinely deploying radiation to kill cancer cells, scientists and drugmakers have long been exploring ways to limit that powerful effect only to cancer cells while sparing healthy cells. But recent progress in the production of radioisotopes — coupled with big investments from Big Pharma, most notably Novartis and Bayer — has inspired a new wave of startups.

Lina Khan, FTC chair (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP Images)

Pile-on over PBMs con­tin­ues with FTC com­ments and a new bi­par­ti­san Sen­ate bill

More than 500 stakeholders sent comments to the FTC on whether the commission should look further into pharma middlemen, known as PBMs, with many of the commenters calling for more federal oversight.

Similar to the critical open comment period in a deadlocked FTC session last February, pharmacies and pharmacy groups are continuing to call out the lack of transparency among the top 3 PBMs, which control about 80% of the market.

Pharma brands are losing their shine with US consumers who are now thinking about the economy and inflation instead of Covid. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Phar­ma brands fade in an­nu­al Har­ris con­sumer vis­i­bil­i­ty poll: Mod­er­na drops off and Pfiz­er dips

As Covid-19 concerns are fading in the US, so is biopharma visibility. The annual Axios Harris Poll survey to determine and rank the 100 most top-of-mind brands in the US finds Moderna, which was No. 3 last year, not on the list at all for 2022, and Pfizer sinking 37 spots.

However, it’s not that Moderna or Pfizer did anything wrong, it’s just that Americans have moved on to other worries beyond Covid.

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