Fol­low­ing the ex­o­dus at Im­muno­core, Eliot Forster takes the reins at F-star — how long be­fore the crossover and an IPO?

LON­DON — Over the past 12 years, F-star has built up a rep for an­ti­body de­sign work that’s gar­nered the avid at­ten­tion of a line­up of both big and re­mark­able de­vel­op­ment part­ners. But aside from the deals it’s done, and the mile­stones it’s been rack­ing up, the Cam­bridge biotech nev­er raised much cash for its op­er­a­tions from in­vestors.

Em­ploy­ee #99, though, may just do some­thing about that.

This morn­ing Eliot Forster, the high-pro­file biotech ex­ec who re­cent­ly left the helm at Im­muno­core, will step up to the CEO’s job at F-star. He’s tak­ing the top job at a time the biotech is ad­vanc­ing to­ward its first clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment work on an in-house pipeline — putting the com­pa­ny at the cross­roads.

In an in­ter­view in Lon­don on Sun­day, I point­ed out that with the re­cent ap­point­ment of At­las part­ner Nes­san Berming­ham to the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man’s job at F-star and his own move, it seemed like the game plan would like­ly call for a siz­able crossover round and IPO. That’s a fi­nanc­ing piv­ot which he agreed seemed “ob­vi­ous and sen­si­ble” giv­en the com­pa­ny’s cash re­quire­ments to build the in-house pipeline, which is where the fo­cus is now.

“They need to go through that step that — if biotechs are lucky — they get to go through,” says Forster.

Just 5 months ago F-star be­gan an ear­ly-stage study of FS118, a bis­pe­cif­ic that tar­gets PD-L1 as well as LAG-3, un­der op­tion to Mer­ck KGaA. Forster now us­es it as an ex­am­ple of the kind of next-gen drug that can suc­ceed in the mar­ket­place, in­cor­po­rat­ing the PD-L1 check­point with an­oth­er tar­get, rather than work­ing on a com­bi­na­tion of two pricey drugs.

The plat­form tech re­volves around F-star’s abil­i­ty to add an anti­gen bind­ing site in the Fc re­gion of an an­ti­body, com­ing up with a bis­pe­cif­ic de­signed to re­main rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward to man­u­fac­ture. 

John Hau­ram

Un­der CEO John Hau­ram — who’ll be help­ing out now as a con­sul­tant as he ends a reg­u­lar com­mute from Copen­hagen to spend more time with the fam­i­ly — the biotech al­so signed deals with Ab­b­Vie and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb, though Bris­tol-My­ers re­cent­ly de­cid­ed to drop their col­lab­o­ra­tion. De­nali, though, has been pumped about the neu­ro­science pact they struck with F-star, es­pe­cial­ly af­ter run­ning through some late pre­clin­i­cal work on their drugs.

Forster has raised some eye-open­ing sums, most no­tably the whop­ping $320 mil­lion record-set­ting — for Eu­rope — round in 2015.

This is around the time that a biotech could, in Forster’s words, “fart in a bag and get 10 mil­lion for it.” 

Forster, though, abrupt­ly left his top job at the com­pa­ny last Feb­ru­ary, not long af­ter he told me that he was look­ing for an­oth­er mon­ster round of cash. And in short or­der, his whole ex­ec­u­tive team at Im­muno­core was swept away and re­placed.

Forster won’t com­ment on what hap­pened. But in dis­cus­sions with sev­er­al peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the talks in­side Im­muno­core, it’s ap­par­ent the biotech was hav­ing a hard time stick­ing with its high-end uni­corn val­u­a­tion. The pres­sure point over val­u­a­tion led to his de­par­ture and the ex­o­dus that fol­lowed, with a new team in to pick up the pieces.

That’s all be­hind Forster, though. F-star has some valu­able ven­ture re­la­tion­ships, and we’re in a time when clin­i­cal-stage I/O com­pa­nies can ex­pect a warm wel­come on the Nas­daq, the go-to spot for UK drug de­vel­op­ers these days.

F-star will now get a chance to join a se­lect group of top play­ers in the Gold­en Tri­an­gle who can ben­e­fit from the cur­rent fundrais­ing en­vi­ron­ment, with in­vestors on both sides of the At­lantic in­ter­est­ed in step­ping up. At a time when Brex­it is push­ing the UK to a break with the EU, the coun­try’s top biotechs are spend­ing more time look­ing to the mas­sive US mar­ket to the west. And F-star is no ex­cep­tion.


Im­age: Eliot Forster. JOHN CAR­ROLL, END­POINTS NEWS

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. The idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.

Arde­lyx bags its first FDA OK for IBS, set­ting up a show­down with Al­ler­gan, Iron­wood

In the first of what it hopes will be a couple of major regulatory milestones for its new drug, Ardelyx has bagged an FDA approval to market Ibsrela (tenapanor) for irritable bowel syndrome.

The drug’s first application will be for IBS with constipation (IBS-C), inhibiting sodium-hydrogen exchanger NHE3 in the GI tract in such a way as to increase bowel movements and decrease abdominal pain. This comes on the heels of two successful Phase III trials.

Ver­tex deal for Scot­land — no deal for Eng­land

Cystic fibrosis (CF) drug maker Vertex Pharmaceuticals — which is still locked in negotiation with NHS England to endorse the use of its medicines — has successfully negotiated a deal with Scottish authorities.

A month ago, the Scottish Medicines Consortium spurned two of the company’s medicines — Orkambi and Symkevi — citing uncertainty over their long-term efficacy in relation to their cost.

Tony Kulesa, Brian Baynes. Petri

Star founders, in­ves­ti­ga­tors hud­dle around new Boston ac­cel­er­a­tor spot­light­ing young en­tre­pre­neurs

As a widely recognized biotech hub, Boston is undoubtedly one of the best places to start a new company at the frontier of biology and engineering. With a dense network of incubators, venture capitalists and talent, seasoned company founders can have their pick of partners and models launching their latest startups.

But for young, aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s a very different scene.

Big VC firms might hire you to work on their ideas instead of yours, and accelerators may not offer the kind of deep technical expertise and guidance needed to make it in the field.

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From part­ner to knight in shin­ing ar­mor: Cas­tle Creek to buy Fi­bro­cell

In April, Castle Creek swooped in to partner with the embattled gene and cell therapy Fibrocell to shepherd its lead gene therapy for a type of “butterfly” disease into late-stage development. Now, the New Jersey-based dermatology company is acquiring its partner in a deal worth $63.3 million.

Pennsylvania-based Fibrocell last year initiated a review of strategic alternatives, including a sale.