Fo­cus­ing on the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, On­coRe­sponse gar­ners $40 mil­lion for the next stage of the R&D jour­ney

On­coRe­sponse has en­tered the on-ramp for its im­muno-on­col­o­gy clin­i­cal plans. And the biotech now has a $40 mil­lion B round from a mix of main­stream and non­tra­di­tion­al in­vestors to get them over the hur­dle and in­to hu­man stud­ies.

The Seat­tle-based com­pa­ny has spent the last 3 years sort­ing through prospec­tive an­ti­bod­ies iden­ti­fied through their re­search of the “elite re­spon­ders” to check­point in­hibitors, in­ves­ti­gat­ing the an­ti­bod­ies they pro­duce in ef­fec­tive­ly re­pelling can­cer. That work has been part­nered with MD An­der­son, which has been pro­vid­ing the tis­sue sam­ples.

Clif­ford Stocks

Con­cen­trat­ing on the im­muno­sup­pres­sive na­ture of the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, CEO Clif­ford Stocks tells me the com­pa­ny has come a long way in iden­ti­fy­ing some next-gen com­bo drugs for check­point in­hibitors as well as their ap­proach to pre­vent­ing the ex­haus­tion of nat­ur­al killer cells — putting a “rich­er se­lec­tion of im­mune cells in­to the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment.”

To com­plete the pre­clin­i­cal work on ad­vanc­ing 5 pro­grams, the biotech has now raised $40 mil­lion. River­Vest Ven­ture Part­ners led the round, which in­clud­ed new in­vestors Qatar In­vest­ment Au­thor­i­ty and Red­mile Group, plus ex­ist­ing in­vestors Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments, ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners, HT Fam­i­ly Of­fice, Canaan Part­ners, Helsinn In­vest­ment Fund and William Marsh Rice Uni­ver­si­ty.

“The fund­ing will take us in­to 2021,” says the CEO, with “one or two INDs.”

The new mon­ey has al­so al­lowed the biotech to ex­pand its base camp to 18 staffers, with plans to add a few more to the core team.

New staffers in­clude Anil Sing­hal and Ka­mal Puri. Sing­hal is an Ab­b­Vie vet, where he worked on on­col­o­gy, im­munol­o­gy and oth­er dis­eases. Puri joined from Cel­gene, where he “dis­cov­ered new mol­e­c­u­lar en­ti­ties for the im­munol­o­gy pipeline and iden­ti­fied and sup­port­ed new in­di­ca­tions for port­fo­lio mol­e­cules.” Sing­hal and Puri have been ap­point­ed CSO and vice pres­i­dent of R&D, re­spec­tive­ly.

At this point, Stock says that he can see do­ing one more ven­ture round ahead of an IPO as they gar­ner sol­id hu­man da­ta for in­vestors to look at. But, if the very ear­li­er da­ta is great, he can see ad­vanc­ing the time­line.

But all the stars would have to align. In the mean­time, now that the B round is com­plete, Stocks wants to shift fo­cus more to the part­ner­ing realm, hop­ing to build cred­i­bil­i­ty with some high-pro­file al­lies in the busi­ness.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Michelle Longmire, Medable CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Med­able gets $91M for vir­tu­al clin­i­cal tri­als, bring­ing to­tal raise to $136M

As biotechs look to get clinical studies back on track amid the pandemic, Medable returned to the venture well for the second time this year, bagging a $91 million Series C to build out its virtual trial platform.

The software provider recently launched three new apps for decentralizing clinical trials, and saw a 500% revenue spike this year. And it isn’t alone. Back in August, Science 37 secured a $40 million round for its virtual trial tech, with support from Novartis, Sanofi Ventures and Amgen. Patients and researchers are taking a liking to the online approach, suggesting regulators could allow it to become a new normal even after the pandemic is over.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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Pur­due Phar­ma pleads guilty in fed­er­al Oxy­Con­tin probe, for­mal­ly rec­og­niz­ing it played a part in the opi­oid cri­sis

Purdue Pharma, the producer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, admitted Tuesday that, yes, it did contribute to America’s opioid epidemic.

The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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