ProFound Therapeutics founding team

Flag­ship's lat­est biotech could turn some of the thou­sands of new pro­teins it dis­cov­ered in­to ther­a­pies — and it has $75M to start

Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing, the in­cu­ba­tor of Mod­er­na and dozens of oth­er biotechs, says it has land­ed up­on tens of thou­sands of pre­vi­ous­ly undis­cov­ered hu­man pro­teins. The VC shop wants to po­ten­tial­ly turn them in­to ther­a­peu­tics.

Like oth­er drug de­vel­op­ers that have turned pro­teins in­to ther­a­peu­tics (think in­sulin for di­a­betes), Flag­ship’s lat­est cre­ation, Pro­Found Ther­a­peu­tics, wants to tap in­to this new trove of pro­teins as part of its mis­sion to treat in­di­ca­tions rang­ing from rare dis­eases to can­cer to im­muno­log­i­cal dis­eases.

The turn of the cen­tu­ry brought about the Hu­man Genome Pro­ject, which re­vealed 20,000 pro­tein-cod­ing genes, and then years lat­er, it was found that the re­gions be­tween genes might play an ac­tive role in pro­duc­ing RNA.

“But, yet again, some­what sim­i­lar­ly to what hap­pened af­ter the Genome Pro­ject, every­one looked at those things and said [it’s] ‘maybe junk, maybe in­volved in reg­u­la­tion of the cell. We don’t know what these things do, but they don’t code for pro­teins,'” Pro­Found CEO Avak Kahve­jian told End­points News.

Avak Kahve­jian

Flag­ship wasn’t sat­is­fied with those mus­ings, so the life sci­ences gi­ant asked whether some RNA species could ac­tu­al­ly turn in­to pro­tein, and the an­swer was re­sound­ing­ly yes.

Now, Pro­Found is emerg­ing from stealth af­ter al­most two years with­in the walls of Flag­ship, which is fu­el­ing the up­start with $75 mil­lion and 25 em­ploy­ees to kick every­thing in­to gear.

“It is an ex­pan­sion of the dog­ma that you get one pro­tein for one tran­script from one gene. In some re­spects, it is a change in our dog­ma that we on­ly have 20,000 pro­tein-cod­ing genes and their vari­ants,” Kahve­jian said. “We do think it’s quite a pro­found area of work, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly ex­clu­sive­ly our do­main, but one that the en­tire com­mu­ni­ty can be in­ter­est­ed in and ben­e­fit from.”

Aside from ex­plor­ing whether the pro­teins them­selves could be used as a ther­a­peu­tic, Pro­Found will test whether the pro­teins could be in­flu­en­tial in small mol­e­cules, an­ti­bod­ies, nu­cle­ic acid med­i­cines, mR­NA and gene ther­a­pies, Kahve­jian said.

A decade-long part­ner and gen­er­al part­ner at Flag­ship, Kahve­jian has served as the ini­tial CEO be­hind many of the in­cu­ba­tor’s spin­outs, in­clud­ing Laronde, Cel­lar­i­ty, Ring Ther­a­peu­tics, Gen­er­ate Bio­med­i­cines, Cyg­nal Ther­a­peu­tics and Ru­bius Ther­a­peu­tics.

He’s brought many of his Flag­ship peers on­to the lead­er­ship team, in­clud­ing Kala Sub­ra­man­ian as pres­i­dent, Er­i­ca We­in­stein as head of re­search and Vi­ni Mani as head of plat­form.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; 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.

With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Ma­gen­ta halts stem cell work and may sell it­self fol­low­ing pa­tient death, clin­i­cal hold

Magenta Therapeutics said it is halting work on its stem cell transplant drug pipeline and may sell itself, a week after the company reported the death of a patient in an early stage trial of its antibody-drug conjugate.

The Cambridge, MA-based company said it will conduct a “review of strategic alternatives,” and that could include an “acquisition, merger, business combination, or other transaction.”

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Giovanni Caforio, Bristol Myers Squibb CEO (Nicolas Messyasz/Sipa via AP Images)

Bris­tol My­ers turns at­ten­tion to new prod­ucts in wake of Revlim­id patent loss

Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio is shifting his focus to newer products as generic sales continue to gnaw at the company’s blockbuster myeloma drug Revlimid.

Both Revlimid and Abraxane sales took a dive last year thanks to generic rivals, BMS reported in its Q4 and full-year results on Thursday. As a result, Q4 sales dipped 5% and full-year sales remained flat. However, Caforio sees a silver lining — or rather, two of them.

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

FTC makes an ex­am­ple of GoodRx, bans dis­counter from shar­ing pri­vate health da­ta with ad­ver­tis­ers

Prescription drug discount provider GoodRx will no longer be allowed to share its users’ sensitive health data with advertisers after the Federal Trade Commission charged the online coupon provider with failing to notify consumers of such disclosures to Facebook, Google, and other companies.

GoodRx agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty for violating the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule after the FTC said it repeatedly violated a 2017 promise to not share sensitive personal health information. The FTC alleged that the company shared users’ prescription medications and personal health conditions with third party advertisers and platforms like Facebook, Google, Criteo, Branch and Twilio.

Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Mer­ck’s Keytru­da nears $21B in sales, dou­bles down on com­bo tri­als

Merck’s cancer immunotherapy Keytruda notched sales of $20.9 billion in 2022, cementing its status as one of the world’s top-selling drugs. However, it’s far from resting on that accomplishment.

Merck executives touted nine ongoing trials in its annual earnings call on Thursday, including five studies in Phase III, for Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in combination with other immuno-oncology drugs. The trials include combinations with Merck’s own developments as well as other pharma companies’ candidates, including its melanoma collaboration with Moderna and its mRNA technology plus Keytruda, aimed at creating a personalized vaccine treatment to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence or death.

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