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.”

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

Covid-19 roundup: As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Forget 1 billion. AstraZeneca is now promising to supply 2 billion doses of Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine around the world per year.

Three new partners are coming on board to help reach that goal, as well as a broader vision to ensure access for nations that have been largely left out of the bargaining table.

CEPI — the coalition that’s been doling out grants to support other vaccine projects — is providing $383 million to support manufacturing of 300 million doses, while Gavi the Vaccine Alliance will chip in $367 million and be in charge of the procurement and distribution, a spokesperson told Wall Street Journal. A separate licensing agreement directs the Serum Institute of India to produce 1 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries, with the first 400 million due before the end of the year.

Michael Gladstone, partner at Atlas Venture

At­las rais­es new $400M fund amid spree of VC rais­es. Here’s what they’ll spend it on

You can add another few hundred million to the now Montana-sized reservoir of cash biotech VCs have raised since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

Atlas Venture, the prominent Kendall Square incubator, has raised $400 million for its twelfth biotech fund, their first in 3 years. After a string of mammoth new raises from other major VCs in April and May, the total pot now stands between $5 billion and $6 billion, depending on how you slice it.

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

UP­DAT­ED: 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.

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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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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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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