Fra­zier backs MavuPhar­ma’s $20M round, brings in heavy­weight ex­ecs to lead

Ven­ture part­ners at Fra­zier have put to­geth­er a dream team from their ex­ec­u­tive rolodex to a lead a new start­up called MavuPhar­ma. The new ven­ture is un­wrap­ping a $20 mil­lion Se­ries A to­day, along with plans to de­vel­op an in­creas­ing­ly pop­u­lar path­way in on­col­o­gy.

The com­pa­ny’s founders and board mem­bers in­clude names you’ve like­ly seen be­fore — Bob Bal­tera, Rich Hey­man, Michael Gal­latin, and Greg Di­etsch. These guys are se­r­i­al life sci­ence founders, and they’ve all worked to­geth­er on past ven­tures. They al­so have ties to Fra­zier Health­care Part­ners, which led the round.

Michael Gal­latin

Gal­latin and Di­etsch worked on the same lead­er­ship team at ICOS, the com­pa­ny that de­vel­oped Cialis. Since then, Gal­latin has co-found­ed Cal­is­to­ga (ac­quired by Gilead for $600 mil­lion) and Stromedix (ac­quired by Bio­gen).

Mavu (pro­nounced “maw-vu”) is tech­ni­cal­ly based in Seat­tle, but the team is spread across the coun­try. Gal­latin tells me the com­pa­ny will like­ly stay “se­mi-vir­tu­al,” with the new cash go­ing to­wards pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment rather than salaries and ben­e­fits.

Bub­bling in­ter­est in STING

Mavu is work­ing on pro­grams for drugs that mod­u­late the STING path­way to treat can­cer and in­fec­tious dis­ease. STING (which stands for “stim­u­la­tor of in­ter­fer­on genes”) is gain­ing at­ten­tion in the in­dus­try, with com­pa­nies like Aduro pur­su­ing it for its ap­pli­ca­tions in can­cer. The hope is that fid­dling with STING can in­duce an im­mune re­sponse that shrinks or wipes out tu­mors.

“There’s been an ex­plo­sion in the lit­er­a­ture over the past few years, and its ac­cel­er­at­ed in the last few months with pa­pers on STING pub­lish­ing in Na­ture, Cell, and Sci­ence,” said Gal­latin, Mavu’s co-founder and pres­i­dent. “There’s tons of in­ter­est in this path­way.”

Most com­pa­nies are in­ject­ing the STING ag­o­nist com­pounds di­rect­ly in­to tu­mors. Mavu has dif­fer­ent plans, fo­cus­ing on de­vel­op­ing oral drugs that are con­di­tion­al ag­o­nists — mean­ing they on­ly ac­ti­vate the path­way in the con­text of a tu­mor.

“These are com­pounds that don’t ac­ti­vate STING sys­tem­i­cal­ly as a di­rect ag­o­nist could,” Gal­latin said.

First comes cash, then comes the board

As part of Mavu’s new fi­nanc­ing round, the com­pa­ny got new board mem­bers: Bal­tera, Hey­man, and Fra­zier’s man­ag­ing gen­er­al part­ner Jamie Top­per.

Bob Bal­tera

Bal­tera, an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence at Fra­zier, is one of VC firm’s go-to ex­ecs to lead their star­tups. He’s cur­rent­ly head­ing up Cir­ius Ther­a­peu­tics, which just launched with $40 mil­lion ear­li­er this year. Be­fore that, he had a brief stint at Fra­zier-backed La­gu­na, where he raised $30 mil­lion be­fore the com­pa­ny quick­ly fold­ed this April due to safe­ty is­sues.

“In this busi­ness, sci­ence will go against you more of­ten than not,” Bal­tera told me at the time. “A lot of peo­ple want to keep the fund­ing and move for­ward. But the sci­ence wasn’t as ad­ver­tised. Rather than drag­ging our feet or throw­ing a hail Mary pass — and spend­ing mil­lions from our in­vestors in the process — we de­cid­ed to shut it down quick­ly and find some­thing new.”

Fra­zier clear­ly didn’t hold it against him. The firm has now ap­point­ed Bal­tera chair­man of Mavu’s board.

Once in, Bal­tera prompt­ly brought in Hey­man to the board. Here in San Diego, Hey­man’s a bit of a leg­end for two enor­mous fi­nan­cial suc­cess­es. He co-found­ed Aragon Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which sold in 2013 for up to $1 bil­lion to John­son & John­son. With the as­sets of Aragon that he didn’t sell, Hey­man found­ed Ser­agon Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which sold in 2014 to Genen­tech for up to $1.7 bil­lion.

Next steps

Gal­latin said Mavu hasn’t pub­licly pre­sent­ed any in­for­ma­tion or da­ta about its pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams, as the field is hot with com­pe­ti­tion.

“I’ll just say we’ve been quite suc­cess­ful in the evo­lu­tion of our com­pounds,” Gal­latin said.

Bal­tera says Mavu will be shoot­ing for IND by 2019. At that time, the com­pa­ny will con­sid­er rais­ing a larg­er Se­ries B round or part­ner­ing the tech.

“We don’t have any pre­con­ceived no­tion of where this will go,” Bal­tera said. “We’re just go­ing to stay nim­ble and when the da­ta comes in, we’ll do what­ev­er makes sense. Every­one on this team has worked for pri­vate com­pa­nies, pub­lic com­pa­nies, and they’ve sold com­pa­nies. So we’re ag­nos­tic when it comes to the out­come.”

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

Why would the FDA ap­prove an­oth­er con­tro­ver­sial drug to spur a woman’s li­bido with these da­ta? And why no ex­pert pan­el re­view?

AMAG Pharmaceuticals’ newly approved drug for spurring women’s sexual desire may never make much money, but it’s a big hit at sparking media attention.

The therapy — Vyleesi (bremelanotide) — got the green light from regulators on Friday evening, swiftly lighting up a range of stories around the world, from The New York Times to The Guardian. Several headlines inevitably referred to it as the “female Viagra,” invoking Pfizer’s old erectile dysfunction blockbuster.

But the two drugs have little in common.

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Which top 10 big phar­mas have the most to gain — or lose — over the next 5 years?

When Evaluate Pharma crunched the likely drug sales numbers for the big 10, 2 stood out. 

Takeda, with its big Shire buyout under its belt, is set to almost double its worldwide sales record for 2018 over 5 years, putting it in the big 10 — the 9th spot, to be exact — which is exactly where CEO Christophe Weber wants to be. 

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Roger Perlmutter. Merck via webcast

'Our lega­cy mat­ter­s': Mer­ck maps out Keytru­da king­dom while spot­light­ing ad­vances in vac­cines, hos­pi­tal care

“You can for the mo­ment stop tak­ing notes. You can put down your pens and your pad. I have no slides. I have no sub­stan­tive da­ta. I have no pitch.”

So be­gan Roger Perl­mut­ter’s brief ap­pear­ance on­stage at Mer­ck’s first in­vestor day in five years, where he dived in­to the com­pa­ny’s his­to­ry dat­ing back to 1933. The first em­ploy­ees at Mer­ck Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ries, hand­picked by founder George W. Mer­ck, were crit­i­cal to Mer­ck’s abil­i­ty to achieve clin­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess.

Eli Casdin, Casdin Capital

Eli Cas­din backs Codex­is' plat­form tech with $50M eq­ui­ty buy

About a month af­ter Codex­is notched a deal with No­var­tis $NVS, the Cal­i­for­nia com­pa­ny $CDXS on Thurs­day said long-time in­vestor Cas­din Cap­i­tal is putting up $50 mil­lion in a pri­vate place­ment, which puts the New York-based in­vest­ment firm in con­trol of more than 5% of the pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing play­er’s stock.

Eli Cas­din start­ed his epony­mous in­vest­ment firm in 2012 and dates his re­la­tion­ship with Codex­is back to at least a decade. About three years ago, Cas­din Cap­i­tal be­gan in­vest­ing in the in­dus­tri­al biotech com­pa­ny, af­ter it piv­ot­ed its fo­cus to the life sci­ences — un­der the aus­pices of new chief John Nicols — away from the en­er­gy in­dus­try.

Partners Innovation Fund

David de Graaf now has his $28.5M launch round in place, build­ing a coen­zyme A plat­form in his lat­est start­up

Long­time biotech ex­ec David de Graaf has the cash he needs to set up the pre­clin­i­cal foun­da­tion for his coen­zyme A me­tab­o­lism com­pa­ny Comet. A few high-pro­file in­vestors joined the ven­ture syn­di­cate to sup­ply Comet with $28.5 mil­lion in launch mon­ey — enough to get it two years in­to the plat­form-build­ing game, with­in knock­ing dis­tance of the clin­ic.

Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.

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Neil Woodford. Woodford Investment Management via YouTube

Wood­ford braces po­lit­i­cal storm as UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize fund sus­pen­sion

The shock of Neil Wood­ford’s de­ci­sion to block with­drawals for his flag­ship fund is still rip­pling through the rest of his port­fo­lio — and be­yond. Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, UK fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tors are now tak­ing a hard look while in­vestors con­tin­ue to flee.

In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.