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

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

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.

“For Sen­da, we are zoom­ing in­to what’s go­ing on at hu­man lev­els, and we rec­og­nize that these in­ter­ac­tions are the prod­uct of evo­lu­tion since the dawn of time,” Pfe­fer told End­points News. “We know which species are in­volved in our bod­ies and where.”

A cen­ter­piece of Sen­da’s pro­pri­etary tech in­volves ma­chine learn­ing to cre­ate what the com­pa­ny hopes is an en­tire­ly new class of drugs. By fo­cus­ing in part on the bac­te­ria that re­side in hu­mans, Sen­da is look­ing at po­ten­tial­ly de­vel­op­ing large mol­e­cule med­i­cines like pep­tides and nu­cle­ic acids us­ing oral ad­min­is­tra­tion, which the com­pa­ny says is a first.

In­ter­sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy has been in the works at Flag­ship for some time. The firm says the dis­ci­pline is based on a decade of re­search in oth­er ar­eas, in­clud­ing mi­cro­bio­me sci­ence and com­pu­ta­tion­al bi­ol­o­gy, and the cel­lu­lar in­ter­ac­tions Sen­da is an­a­lyz­ing can be found in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent places with­in the body.

“Through the ex­plo­rations con­duct­ed by Flag­ship Labs over the last sev­er­al years we have dis­cov­ered that these in­ter­con­nec­tions have pro­found im­pli­ca­tions on hu­man health,” Flag­ship founder Noubar Afe­fan told End­points News in an email.

One prime ex­am­ple is the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter sero­tonin, most of which is not found in the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem but the gut. As much as 90% of sero­tonin is pro­duced in re­sponse to bac­te­ria break­ing down com­pounds with­in the di­ges­tive tract, Sen­da says, and if this reg­u­la­tion falls out of whack, it can lead to health prob­lems with both low and high blood sug­ar.

“With this ap­proach, you re­al­ize that we have a phar­ma­cy with­in us,” Pfe­fer said. “The key point is we have evolved with the bac­te­ria, and now with Sen­da are able to look with high res­o­lu­tion in­to how the species with­in us com­mu­ni­cate and par­tic­i­pate in dis­ease and health.”

David Berry

Sen­da cur­rent­ly has six on­go­ing pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams un­der its belt across mul­ti­ple ar­eas, with INDs ex­pect­ed for each by the end of 2022. In neu­rol­o­gy, Sen­da has can­di­dates in mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and Parkin­son’s dis­ease. For on­col­o­gy, they’re look­ing at im­muno-on­col­o­gy and col­orec­tal can­cer. And in chron­ic and meta­bol­ic dis­ease, the first tar­gets are chron­ic kid­ney dis­ease and obe­si­ty.

Specif­i­cal­ly, Pfe­fer men­tioned that Sen­da is look­ing at a bac­te­ria that in­ter­feres with L-dopa in the treat­ment of Parkin­son’s and at­tempt­ing to dis­rupt that process, thus mak­ing ther­a­pies more ef­fec­tive.

As Sen­da moves its six pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams for­ward, Pfe­fer’s goal is to con­tin­ue to de­ploy its dis­cov­ery en­gine in­to fur­ther in­di­ca­tions, set­ting up the com­pa­ny for more pro­grams once the proof of mech­a­nism has been es­tab­lished at the end of 2022.

“We are touch­ing on some­thing very fun­da­men­tal here and very pro­found,” Pfe­fer said.

The com­pa­ny was co-found­ed by sev­er­al mem­bers of Flag­ship’s team, in­clud­ing part­ners David Berry and Igna­cio Mar­tinez. Sen­da’s board will be chaired by Flag­ship’s ex­ec­u­tive part­ner John Mendlein.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

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Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

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Peter Greenleaf, Aurinia CEO

Af­ter pass­ing on Ac­celeron, Bris­tol My­ers eyes bolt-on ac­qui­si­tion of au­toim­mune spe­cial­ist — re­port

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to beef up its autoimmune portfolio by scooping up Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg reported.

The recent overtures to Aurinia, relayed by anonymous insiders, came just as Bristol Myers turned down buyout talks with partners at Acceleron — which Merck ultimately struck a deal to acquire for $11.5 billion. Bristol Myers has reportedly decided to cash out on its minority stake, likely bagging $1.3 billion in the process, while keeping the royalty deals on two of Acceleron’s blood disorder drugs.

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So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; 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.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Beth Bulik, seasoned pharma marketing reporter, to the team. You can find much of her work in our new Marketing channel — and in her weekly newsletter, Endpoints PharmaRx, which will launch in early November. Add it to your subscriptions here.

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NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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