Flag­ship takes on a pi­o­neer­ing new fund — and name — adding $285M to ad­vance its start­up mis­sion

Flag­ship founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan

Flag­ship has be­come one of the most promi­nent blank-slate ven­ture funds in biotech, cre­at­ing com­pa­nies from scratch in search of en­gi­neer­ing ma­jor change in the way dis­ease is treat­ed. And it will be­gin 2017 with a new fund to in­vest in the con­tin­ued growth of the com­pa­nies it sparks in­to ex­is­tence, along with a new name the Cam­bridge the MA-based group hopes will bet­ter re­flect its mis­sion.

It starts with a $285 mil­lion Spe­cial Op­por­tu­ni­ties Fund which will now op­er­ate along­side its $585 mil­lion Fund V, un­veiled 21 months ago. And the ven­ture group will be known as Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing as it starts its 17th year in 2017.

The idea be­hind the new fund, says founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan, is to “in­vest out of a sep­a­rate pool of cash more in­tense­ly in­to the growth phase of these com­pa­nies, for us to come in with a larg­er in­vest­ment.”

This is some­thing that hasn’t re­al­ly ex­ist­ed in biotech, he says, point­ing to a mod­el that has worked in soft­ware, among in­vestors like Pe­ter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

You could just al­lo­cate funds dif­fer­ent­ly in your main fund, he tells me, “but then you lose the di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion you want; don’t know what will be most suc­cess­ful.” This way, Flag­ship can choose to par­tic­i­pate in the ex­po­nen­tial growth phase, as it makes the most sense. And it brings its two funds now in play to $870 mil­lion, with $1.75 bil­lion un­der man­age­ment.

The name change, he says, is the out­come of some long run­ning con­ver­sa­tions among the part­ners, he adds. The bulk of what Flag­ship does best, he says, is de­vot­ed to start­ing with the re­search and cre­at­ing com­pa­nies with a blank slate.

Pi­o­neer­ing is all about go­ing where there’s been noth­ing there be­fore, says Afeyan. It com­bines fron­tier in­no­va­tion, not in­cre­men­tal in­no­va­tion, with start­up en­tre­pre­neur­ship. It’s a “cre­ate-from-scratch mind­set and risk re­quired to do some­thing nev­er done be­fore. That’s what we’ve be­come more and more spe­cial­ized at.”

Com­mu­ni­cat­ing the val­ue of pre­ci­sion med­i­cine

By Natasha Cowan, Content Marketing Manager at Blue Latitude Health.
Many stakeholders are confused by novel precision medicines, including patients and healthcare professionals. So, how can industry help them to navigate this complexity?

Precision medicine represents a new paradigm in healthcare. It embodies the shift from treating many patients with the same therapy, to having the tools to identify the best treatment for every patient.

Spe­cial re­port: Twen­ty ex­tra­or­di­nary women in bio­phar­ma R&D who worked their way to the top

What differentiates a woman leader in biopharma R&D from a man?

Not much, except there are fewer of them in senior posts. Data suggest women are not more risk-averse, family-oriented or less confident than their male counterparts — indeed the differences between the two sexes are negligible. But a glance at the top R&D positions in Big Pharma leaves little doubt that upward migration in the executive ranks of biopharma R&D is tough.

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GSK's asth­ma bi­o­log­ic Nu­cala scores in rare blood dis­or­der study

GlaxoSmithKline’s asthma drug Nucala, which received a resounding FDA rejection for use in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) last year, has shown promise in a rare blood disorder.

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Mer­ck buys a fledg­ling neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive biotech spawned by an old GSK dis­cov­ery al­liance. What’s up with that?

Avalon Ventures chief Jay Lichter has a well-known yen for drug development programs picked up in academia. And what he found in Haoxing Xu’s lab at the University of Michigan pricked his interest enough to launch one of his umbrella biotechs in San Diego.
Xu’s work laid the foundation for Avalon to launch Calporta, which has been working on finding small molecule agonists of TRPML1 (transient receptor potential cation channel, mucolipin subfamily, member 1) for lysosomal storage disorders. And that pathway, they believe, points to new approaches on major market neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s.

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FDA slaps a hold on an AML tri­al as Mark­er scraps a fail­ing ovar­i­an can­cer pro­gram, sink­ing shares

The FDA has placed a hold on a Phase II AML trial from the small immuno-oncology biotech Marker Therapeutics. Marker disclosed the issue two weeks after responding to FDA concerns, adding it to the Q3 release Tuesday. The company also announced it was scrapping a Phase II ovarian cancer program it determined was unlikely to succeed.

The agency’s concern centers around two reagents used in manufacturing for their trial for acute myeloid leukemia patients who have received a stem cell transplant. The reagents are from third parties and not present in the final product, Marker said.

Eli Lil­ly-backed biotech grabs $100M to dis­patch an­ti­body-oligonu­cleotide con­ju­gates af­ter mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy

Hold up your hand. Make a fist. Now open it. And again.

If you can do it fully and with ease, then the proteins in your hand are likely working properly. If you can’t then they may not be. In people with myotonic muscular dystrophy, something more atomic is going on.

In those folks, the problem is RNA. Certain base pairs repeat far beyond normal, up to 11,000 superfluous letters in some cases. The extended strands form “clumps.” Proteins misform and can’t function properly. They often allow one movement but not the reverse, a condition called myotonia that gives the dystrophy its name.

As­traZeneca sets stage for mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion with promis­ing piv­otal lu­pus drug da­ta

After fumbling in its first late-stage lupus study, AstraZeneca disclosed that a second pivotal trial testing its experimental drug, anifrolumab, had met the main goal, in August. Earlier this week, the British drugmaker broke out the numbers from its successful study.

Last year, anifrolumab failed to meet the main goal of diminishing disease activity in the 460-patient TULIP I study, a 52-week trial that tested two doses of the drug versus a placebo. But in the 373-patient TULIP II study, the higher dose (300 mg) was compared to patients given a placebo — patients in both arms were on baseline standard care.

FDA Vas­cepa re­view spot­lights new safe­ty sig­nals, pos­si­ble min­er­al oil spoil­er as Amarin hunts a block­buster ap­proval

An in-house FDA review of Amarin’s Vascepa raises a set of hurdles the biotech will have to clear if the biotech expects to get the long-awaited FDA approval that could set it on a path to superstar status. But it appears that Amarin has survived another potential setback without introducing a major new threat to its prospects.

The stakes don’t get much higher, with analysts saying a win this week for Amarin could lead to billions in new sales — provided the agency stamps it with an OK. And investors liked what they say in the FDA review this morning, bumping the stock $AMRN 17%.

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FDA puts Sol­id Bio’s lead gene ther­a­py pro­gram on hold — again — af­ter an­oth­er pa­tient is hurt by SGT-001

Solid Biosciences continues to be plagued by safety issues.

Close to 18 months after the gene therapy biotech was able to quickly shed an FDA hold on their lead Duchenne muscular dystrophy program for SGT-001, regulators have stepped back in to force another halt after another patient was hit hard by a set of serious adverse events remarkably similar to the first set.

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