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.

Tony Coles, Cerevel Therapeutics CEO

Adding $445M, Tony Coles and his big Pfiz­er neu­ro spin­out hitch a ride to Wall Street on Per­cep­tive’s SPAC

Two years ago, after Pfizer abruptly shut down its entire neuroscience division, Bain Capital bet $350 million that those assets were still worth something and packaged them into a new biotech: Cerevel Therapeutics. A year later, they got seasoned executive Tony Coles, who had recently jumped back into the C-suite of another neuroscience startup, to run the company.

Now Coles is steering Cerevel public, in what he says is the largest ever transaction of its kind. Cerevel has agreed to merge with Perceptive Advisors’ specialty acquisition company ARYA II. Between the roughly $125 million Perceptive raised through ARYA and an additional investment of $320 million Bain Capital, Perceptive and — yes, really — Pfizer, among others, Cerevel will now move forward with an added $445 million in its coffers.

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Elizabeth Nabel speaks at a news conference, Oct. 7, 2019 (Elise Amendola/AP Images)

Brigham and Wom­en's pres­i­dent Eliz­a­beth Nabel fol­lows Mon­cef Slaoui off Mod­er­na's board

Amid recent scrutiny on how Moderna’s top executives have been cashing out their increasingly valuable shares, the biotech is parting ways with a board member who’s also heading a hospital where its Covid-19 vaccine is being tested.

Elizabeth Nabel — the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital — has followed in Moncef Slaoui’s footsteps in resigning from Moderna’s board of directors. She took the role in 2015, two years before the Operation Warp Speed leader did; and as with Slaoui and MIT professor Robert Langer, her term was due to expire in 2021.

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Roche de­clares a PhI­II fail­ure for Covid-19 as the IL-6 re­pur­pos­ing the­o­ry bites the dust

Another big IL-6 drug has failed to move the needle for Covid-19 patients, leaving that particular field of repurposed drug R&D on the ropes for the pandemic.

This morning it was Roche’s turn to outline a Phase III failure for Actemra, adding compelling data that have now all but extinguished the theory that an IL-6 drug could significantly help the most severely afflicted patients. That comes just weeks after Regeneron and Sanofi hit the red light on their trial for Kevzara after getting back-to-back readouts that made Roche’s trial a long shot at best.

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Robert Nelsen (Illustration by Emma Kumer for Endpoints News)

Af­ter Big Phar­ma aban­doned in­fec­tious dis­eases, 5 biotech con­trar­i­ans de­cid­ed to go all in. Then Covid-19 changed every­thing

Bob Nelsen had been quietly wondering how to eradicate viruses for years, before one day in 2015, he welcomed a pair of immunologists into the ARCH Venture Partners offices on the 34th floor of Seattle’s Wells Fargo Building.

Louis Picker and Klaus Früh, professors at Oregon Health & Science University, had by then spent 5 years running around the country in search of funding for their startup, TomegaVax, and Früh, at least, was nearing wit’s end. The Gates Foundation was interested but told them they needed other investors. Investors told them to come back with more data, pharmaceutical executives said they’re in the wrong game — too little money to be made fighting infectious disease. Still, a well-connected board member named Bob More landed them a meeting with the coveted venture capitalist, and so, in a narrow conference room overlooking the Puget Sound, Picker prepared to again explain the idea he had spent 15 years on: re-engineering a benign microbe into the first vaccines for HIV and better ones for hepatitis and tuberculosis.

“This lightbulb went on his head,” Picker recalled in a recent interview. “Most of them just didn’t get it. And Bob’s hit.”

By that point, Nelsen was more than just a venture capitalist. Scraggly and greying but no less opinionated at 52, he was mobbed at biotech conferences, having earned a reputation for crass wisdom and uncanny foresight, for making big bets on big ideas that changed medicine. Those ideas included DNA sequencing, which he first cut a check for in the 90s, and leveraging the immune system to tackle cancer. He earned millions making billion-dollar companies.

Yet for years he had harbored an almost singular obsession: “I hate viruses,” he told Forbes in 2016. He told me he was “pissed off” at them. The obsession drove him to his first biotech investment in 1993, for an inhalable flu vaccine approved a decade later and still in use. And it drove him to invest in CAR-T as a potential cure for HIV, years before it proved a wildly effective treatment for some cancers.

Now, listening to Picker talk about T cells and antibodies and the curious biology of cytomegalovirus, Nelsen began wondering if it was time for another bet. Picker’s technology was not only promising, he reasoned, it could be the basis of a company that changed how researchers approached viruses. Instead of trying to come up with an antidote for every pathogen, you could do what cancer researchers had learned to do, and harness the immune system to do the work for you.

This wasn’t a popular opinion at the time. “It’s like the least trendy idea in the world,” Nelsen told me. “People would say, ‘Why the hell are you going into infectious disease?’”

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Test re­sults in hand, Thrive rais­es $257M to push liq­uid biop­sy to­ward ap­proval

Three months after announcing the results of a landmark trial, Thrive Earlier Detection has raised $257 million to put their liquid biopsy cancer test into a pivotal trial.

Thrive started raising for the Series B immediately after the study results were published in Science at the end of April. That study, run across 10,000 women at the Geisinger Health System, showed for the first time that a blood test could help doctors diagnose certain types of cancer in patients who did not yet show symptoms, more than doubling the percentage of cancers that were detected.

Sanofi and GSK say they're near a vac­cine deal with EU hours af­ter fi­nal­iz­ing Warp Speed con­tract

On the heels of landing the largest Warp Speed contract to date, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline continued to make moves Friday afternoon.

The two companies announced they are in advanced discussions with the EU to supply up to 300 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, coming just a few hours after securing their $2.1 billion deal with the US. Should the agreement be finalized, all EU member states will have the option to purchase the vaccine.

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President Trump speaks during an event to sign executive orders on lowering drug prices, July 24, 2020 (Alex Brandon/AP Images)

Trump’s ‘rad­i­cal’, ‘hor­ri­ble’ ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on drug pric­ing earn a C-suite back­lash this week — with one threat to do more over­seas

Once the pandemic erupted in the US, Big Pharma enjoyed a brief period of detente — if not actually warm relations — with the Trump administration.

After years of criticizing high drug prices and threatening legislation that would curb the industry’s pricing freedom, the president warmly encouraged the industry’s commitment to a pell mell race to new vaccines and drugs to fight Covid-19 — often at speeds that would have been considered impossible back in January. And it raised the possibility that biopharma could finally find a way to achieve some kind of popularity after years of public toxicity.

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Paul Hudson, AP Images

Sanofi and GSK grab largest Warp Speed deal yet, se­cur­ing $2.1B for a vac­cine that might come next year

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline have become the latest members of Operation Warp Speed, landing a $2.1 billion contract to scale up manufacturing for a vaccine that is on track for completion next year. The deal secures the US 100 million doses, with an option for 500 million more.

It is the largest contract the White House has given yet in its hunt to make 300 million doses of a vaccine available to the US public by January, although Sanofi has not committed to supply vaccines by that time, potentially opening the door for other developers with longer development paths to gain funding. The cash will help Sanofi scale the vaccine, which combines their recombinant DNA technology with GSK’s immune-boosting adjuvant, to a billion doses next year.

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Sandy Macrae, Sangamo CEO

No­var­tis turns to Sang­amo with a $795M-plus deal aimed at us­ing zinc fin­ger tech for the neu­ro pipeline

When Novartis recruited Ricardo Dolmetsch from Stanford to lead its neuroscience group, great emphasis was placed on decoding genomics and the brain circuitry to find new breakthroughs for the beleaguered field. Seven years and a failed Fragile X therapy later, he has a new tool to go after some of these targets his team has unearthed.

In a new collaboration, Novartis is paying Sangamo Therapeutics $75 million upfront to leverage zinc finger protein transcription factors in the regulation of three genes ties to autism — a core focus of Dolmetsch’s academic research days — intellectual disability and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Another $720 million in milestones are on the table, alongside a pledge to reimburse all of Sangamo’s research work.

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