CEO Fabrice Chouraqui (Cellarity)

Flag­ship up­start Cel­lar­i­ty gath­ers $123M to fi­nance its ex­plo­ration of cell be­hav­ior, blaz­ing a new path to build­ing a broad pipeline

Right from the start, the dis­cov­ery plan at Flag­ship-spawned Cel­lar­i­ty was to take their cues from cell bi­ol­o­gy and fol­low them to new drugs. Rather than start with a tar­get and de­vel­op a drug to hit it, they’d use new tech­nol­o­gy to dig­i­tal­ly map cell be­hav­ior and then de­vel­op new drugs from what they learned.

“Over the past decades it has al­ways been about find­ing a tar­get, about re­duc­ing a dis­ease to a sin­gle mol­e­c­u­lar tar­get,” says Fab­rice Chouraqui, the No­var­tis vet who was re­cruit­ed to run the op­er­a­tion about 9 months ago. “And that ap­proach has pro­duced thou­sands of life-sav­ing med­i­cines. Yet, this ap­proach has lim­i­ta­tions. A mol­e­c­u­lar tar­get ap­proach is fine when you talk about a sim­ple dis­ease, but for very com­plex dis­eases like neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion, like meta­bol­ic dis­ease, like can­cer, you hope to re­al­ly har­ness the com­plex­i­ty of hu­man bi­ol­o­gy.

“We de­vel­oped a drug dis­cov­ery plat­form to de­sign med­i­cines at the lev­el of the cell, which as we both know is the fun­da­men­tal of life,” says the CEO.

Net­work bi­ol­o­gy, high res­o­lu­tion da­ta and the right ma­chine learn­ing tools give them bet­ter in­sights in­to un­der­stand­ing “how a cell moves from a state of health to a state of dis­ease.”

For the staff at Cel­lar­i­ty, that ap­proach has helped cre­ate a va­ri­ety of pre­clin­i­cal dis­cov­ery projects. And now there’s $123 mil­lion more to fi­nance the next leg of the ex­plo­ration as they con­tin­ue the pipeline work, with maybe 1 or 2 more years to go be­fore they reach the clin­ic.

“We’ve been able to re­al­ly progress our pipeline,” says Chouraqui. “To­day we have 7 drug dis­cov­ery pro­grams in 4 dif­fer­ent dis­ease ar­eas and I think those 4 dis­ease ar­eas re­al­ly show­case the breadth and the depth of our plat­form; they range from meta­bol­ic dis­ease to im­muno-on­col­o­gy. I think we are get­ting clos­er to move in­to the clin­ic. The goal is not to rush in­to the clin­ic with one pro­gram, we have a plat­form which can be vir­tu­al­ly ap­plied to any dis­ease area.”

And now they have the mon­ey to work up a stream of new drug pro­grams. But that’s about as de­tailed as the pub­lic sto­ry gets at this stage of the jour­ney. Like most star­tups, it’s best to get to the late pre­clin­i­cal stage be­fore you start open­ing up about how the lead ther­a­pies work.

The in­sid­er sto­ry, though, was good enough to bring in an ex­pand­ed syn­di­cate for the rich round. Black­Rock, The Bau­post Group, Banque Pictet and 8 oth­er un­named in­vestors have jumped in to grab a front row seat in the lab. And Chouraqui plans to do some ac­tive re­cruit­ing to dou­ble the size of the staff this year.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Saurabh Saha at Endpoints News' #BIO19

On the heels of $250M launch, Centes­sa barges ahead with an IPO to fu­el its 10-in-1 Medicxi pipeline

Francesco De Rubertis made no secret of IPO plans for Centessa, his 10-in-1 legacy play. Barely two months later, the S-1 is in.

The hot-off-the-press filing depicts the same grand vision that the longtime VC touted when he did the rounds in February: Take the asset-centric mindset that he’s been preaching at Medicxi over the years, and roll up a bunch of biotech upstarts, with unrelated risk profiles, into 1 pharma company that can carry on the development at scale.

From left: James Brown, Michael Chambers, John Ballantyne

Alde­vron founders back a biotech start­up that's look­ing to end the moral de­bate over cell lines once and for all

For millions of Catholics around the world, the development of new vaccines to combat Covid-19 has sparked a moral dilemma. All the approved vaccines in use relied — in some fashion — on cell lines that were derived from aborted fetal tissue.

While church leaders accepted the vaccines and recommended their use to end the pandemic, a number also highlighted their preference for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna over the J&J and AstraZeneca shots, which they noted were more heavily dependent on cell lines that they found morally objectionable.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”