Fresh from the No­var­tis/Trump scan­dal, ex-CEO Joe Jimenez jumps on the board of uBio­me — a biotech launch­ing an R&D group

Af­ter fig­ur­ing in as one of the cen­tral fig­ures for one of the most talked about scan­dals in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry, ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez is step­ping back out on­to the stage to­day with a board seat at a com­mer­cial mi­cro­bio­me com­pa­ny that is now set­ting its sights on cre­at­ing a drug de­vel­op­ment arm.

Launched 6 years ago from its base in the Bay Area, uBio­me has launched a pair of con­sumer tests that can do at-home tests on your gut or the STDs that women face, like chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhea. Now the com­pa­ny has raised $83 mil­lion from ven­ture back­ers — led by OS Fund — in a new dri­ve to join the pack de­vel­op­ing new mi­cro­bio­me ther­a­pies. That’s been a fast-grow­ing field in re­cent times.

Jes­si­ca Rich­man

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

To do that, the com­pa­ny is set­ting up a new R&D unit on the oth­er side of the coun­try, in Cam­bridge, MA. I talked with CEO and founder Jes­si­ca Rich­man, who’s still play­ing some of her cards close to her vest — from the num­ber of peo­ple she’s plan­ning to have in the group to the spe­cif­ic pro­grams she has in mind. 

For now, the R&D plan is ball­parked in three key ar­eas: meta­bol­ic and au­toim­mune dis­eases along with can­cer, with some part­ner­ship talks in the works. 

“8VC (which led their B round) brought on Joe as an ad­vis­er,” the CEO tells me. “We just re­al­ly liked him, he’s a gre­gar­i­an” and “great per­son” who al­so of­fered some great ad­vice on their bud­ding com­mer­cial work. 

Nor­mal­ly, any com­pa­ny of uBio­me’s size and scope could on­ly dream about get­ting the ex-CEO of one of the world’s biggest phar­ma com­pa­nies on the board.

But Jimenez? 

So what about the big No­var­tis scan­dal, where Jimenez con­firmed that he signed up Michael Co­hen, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s per­son­al at­tor­ney, for a $1.2 mil­lion con­tract? Mon­ey that went in­to the same pot that paid porn ac­tress Stormy Daniels’ hush mon­ey. The one Jimenez says was a sim­ple and short-lived con­sult­ing con­tract in search of a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Trump’s health­care plans, and the one De­moc­rats in­sist was a sim­ple at­tempt to buy ac­cess and in­flu­ence in what was not at all a short-lived con­nec­tion.

“In our un­der­stand­ing there’s no is­sue there,” replies Rich­man. And from what he says, it was all much “dif­fer­ent than what was por­trayed in the press.”

How so? 

That, she replied, was a ques­tion best di­rect­ed at Jimenez.

I will — if I ever get the chance.


Im­age: Joe Jimenez. UBIO­ME

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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In­vestors give ail­ing Unum a lease on life and a whole new suite of ex­per­i­men­tal can­cer drugs

Investors, it seems, are willing to give Unum Therapeutics one last shot — or at least one last shot to a company of that name.

The ailing cancer biotech, beset by a series of clinical holds and multiple failed lead programs, announced today that they’ve acquired Kiq LLC and that investors are putting in $104 million to advance Kiq’s pipeline of kinase inhibitors. Unum shareholders will now own only 16.2% of the company and CEO Chuck Wilson indicated that the cell therapies the biotech has worked on since its founding may be on their way out, saying Unum will “explore strategic options” for those products.

RA Cap­i­tal dou­bles down on Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee's vi­sion for a new cell en­gi­neer­ing ap­proach, lead­ing Vor's $110M Se­ries B

Vor Biopharma is muscling up.

CEO Robert Ang, who was reluctant to divulge the headcount when discussing his move from Neon Therapeutics to Vor last August, readily offered that the team has grown from 6 to 50 in less than a year. The biotech is moving to a larger office on Cambridge Parkway Drive in weeks, giving it more space to complete the IND-enabling work and manufacturing scale-up — conducted by a CDMO partner — in preparation for clinical trials planned for the first half of 2021.

Covid-19 roundup: Left out no longer, No­vavax se­cures largest Warp Speed deal yet: $1.6B

It looks like Novavax won’t be left out of Operation Warp Speed after all.

A month after the Gaithersburg, MD biotech saw its shares tumble when it was left off the first reported list of finalists for the White House’s Covid-19 vaccine accelerator, HHS and the Department of Defense have announced a $1.6 billion deal to scale up their Covid-19 candidate. It is the largest deal HHS has announced yet, eclipsing the $1.2 billion deal the administration reached with AstraZeneca in May.

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Cel­lec­tis slammed af­ter pa­tient dies and FDA slaps a hold on their tri­al for an off-the-shelf CAR-T for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma

Cellectis was slammed after the market close on Monday as the biotech reported that the FDA demanded it hit the brakes on their MELANI-01 trial for their off-the-shelf cell therapy UCARTCS1A after one of the patients in the study died of treatment-related cardiac arrest.

The multiple myeloma patient had previously been treated unsuccessfully with various therapies, noted the biotech, and had been given dose level two (DL2) of their allogeneic CAR-T.

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Pfiz­er re-ups on Mis­sion Ther­a­peu­tics col­lab­o­ra­tion, lead­ing a $15M round and grab­bing first dibs on DUBs

Seven years after Pfizer first invested in Mission Therapeutics, a biotech that researches selectively inhibiting deubiquitylating enzymes (DUBs), the pharma giant is re-upping its commitment to the company in another sign of confidence in the field of protein degradation.

Pfizer’s VC arm is heading up a $15 million round, announced Monday morning, and increasing its overall stake in Mission. Pfizer is also entering into a licensing agreement that would give it first dibs at negotiating exclusivity after accessing certain DUB inhibitors and screening them for their potential as drugs.

Shoshanna Shendelman, Applied Therapeutics CEO (Applied Therapeutics)

A lit­tle biotech slaps back at a 'crim­i­nal' short at­tack, vow­ing to pur­sue a pros­e­cu­tion of their case

As short attacks go, Biotech Research Partners’ assault on Applied Therapeutics’ “cherry picked” data and a variety of so-called red flags didn’t cause a whole lot of damage. Ahead of the July 4 holiday, its shares $APLT were dinged and showed signs of quick recovery.

But that didn’t stop an incendiary response, as the biotech swung into action bright and early Monday morning.

Applied Therapeutics accused the authors of the short report of manipulating graphs and figures, misrepresenting data and included factual misrepresentations — all of which added up, in their view, to fraud.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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