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.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; 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 the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Eef Schimmelpennink, Lenz CEO (Business Wire)

A re­place­ment for read­ing glass­es? An RA, Ver­sant-backed start­up thinks its eye­drops could solve far­sight­ed­ness

The brain trusts at RA Capital and Versant Ventures have developed an eye for winners in the red-hot biotech space, but every once in a while a candidate comes along with so much potential it makes for an obvious investment. That’s what the partners think they’ve found in San Diego biotech looking to challenge reading glasses for farsightedness.

Lenz Therapeutics launched its rebrand from Presbyopia Therapies with a $47 million Series A and backing from RA and Versant to advance its late-stage-ready small molecule for farsightedness, a market where the biotech thinks it could have a shot at 120 million US patients and 2 billion around the world, the company said.