CEO David Campbell (Janux)

Fresh off $1B+ Mer­ck deal, Janux locks down first pri­vate fundraise for its T cell en­gagers

Janux Ther­a­peu­tics had kept a rel­a­tive­ly low pro­file since be­ing found­ed back in 2017 but burst on­to the scene late last year when Mer­ck plunked down more than $1 bil­lion in promised mile­stones for its T cell en­gagers. Now, less than three months lat­er, the small biotech has clinched its first round of pri­vate fund­ing led by some promi­nent back­ers.

As it pre­pares its first pro­grams for INDs, Janux com­plet­ed a $56 mil­lion Se­ries A on Wednes­day morn­ing, with Jay Lichter’s Aval­on Ven­tures join­ing forces with new in­vestors Or­biMed and RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment to fund the com­pa­ny. Janux will use the cash to pri­mar­i­ly ad­vance its T cell en­gagers tar­get­ing PS­MA and TROP2, which are ex­pect­ed to hit the clin­ic in the first and sec­ond quar­ters of 2022, re­spec­tive­ly.

CEO David Camp­bell told End­points News that the Mer­ck deal, on top of the da­ta that had al­ready im­pressed a num­ber of in­vestors, helped get Wednes­day’s fi­nanc­ing across the fin­ish line.

All the buzz has cen­tered around Janux’s T cell en­gager plat­form called TRAC­Tr, which the com­pa­ny says can de­vel­op drugs that al­ter their phar­ma­co­ki­net­ics de­pend­ing on the con­text. Up­on ac­ti­va­tion in a tu­mor, its can­di­dates are con­vert­ed from their orig­i­nal form — which can re­main in the blood­stream for over 100 hours — to a T cell en­gager that on­ly cir­cu­lates for less than an hour.

Janux al­so says any T cell en­gager that es­capes from the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment is quick­ly elim­i­nat­ed, fur­ther tamp­ing down tox­i­c­i­ty lev­els and pre­vent­ing buildup in healthy tis­sue. And the com­pa­ny al­so has mon­key da­ta that show in­hi­bi­tion of cy­tokine re­lease at greater than 200-fold high­er dos­es, and greater than 2,000-fold high­er plas­ma lev­els, than ear­li­er gen­er­a­tion T cell en­gagers.

These three fac­tors, im­proved phar­ma­co­ki­net­ics, low­er tox­i­c­i­ty and bet­ter pre­ven­tion of cy­tokine re­lease, are where Janux is hop­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it­self from oth­er T cell en­gager plat­forms, Camp­bell said. That’s true not just for its PS­MA and TROP2 pro­grams, but the oth­er can­di­dates fur­ther down the pipeline like an EGFR en­gager.

Janux plans to pur­sue prostate can­cer with the PS­MA pro­gram, with Camp­bell say­ing their pre­clin­i­cal da­ta have shown a “clear” path for­ward in the in­di­ca­tion. Re­searchers are go­ing to start eval­u­at­ing the can­di­date as a monother­a­py in lat­er lines of the dis­ease, but in the fu­ture may look to ex­pand the tar­get pa­tient pop­u­la­tion by com­bin­ing the pro­gram with check­point in­hibitors.

“We’re go­ing to come in with a once-week­ly dose drug that we ex­pect, based up­on the pre­clin­i­cal da­ta that we’ve gen­er­at­ed, will be able to cir­cum­vent the cy­tokine re­lease syn­drome that has im­pact­ed many of the pro­grams in this par­tic­u­lar space,” Camp­bell said.

The TROP2 can­di­date is like­ly to go af­ter triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer and non-small cell lung can­cer. TROP2 is the same tar­get for the Gilead/Im­munomedics drug Trodelvy, whose ap­proval in triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer this past April has helped Janux val­i­date the tar­get as a vi­able ap­proach, Camp­bell said.

Camp­bell said Janux is plan­ning to off­set this can­di­date’s first clin­i­cal tri­al by a quar­ter sim­ply be­cause the com­pa­ny is still build­ing out its small staff from 10 em­ploy­ees to about 35 to 40. Wednes­day’s fund­ing will help them ac­com­plish that goal as well, en­sur­ing both pro­grams can hit the ground run­ning when their first hu­man tri­als even­tu­al­ly launch next year.

Ex­ist­ing in­vestors Bregua and Cor­re­la­tion Ven­tures al­so con­tributed to the Se­ries A.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO

'This is not go­ing to be good': Mod­er­na CEO Ban­cel warns of a 'ma­te­r­i­al drop' in vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy as Omi­cron spreads

Even as public health officials remain guarded about their comments on the likelihood Omicron will escape the reach of the currently approved Covid-19 vaccines, there’s growing scientific consensus that we’re facing a variant that threatens to overwhelm the vaccine barricades that have been erected.

Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, one of the leading mRNA players whose quick vault into the markets with a highly effective vaccine created an instant multibillion-dollar market, added his voice to the rising chorus early Tuesday. According to Bancel, there will be a significant drop in efficacy when the average immune system is confronted by Omicron. The only question now is: How much?

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA ad­comm nar­row­ly votes in fa­vor of Mer­ck­'s an­tivi­ral for out­pa­tient Covid-19

With little explanation for why Merck’s potential Covid-19 antiviral was less effective in reducing Covid hospitalizations and deaths in a full analysis of a Phase III trial versus an interim look, the FDA’s antimicrobial drugs advisory committee on Tuesday voted 13-10 in favor of the pill’s benefits outweighing the risks for adults within 5 days of developing Covid symptoms.

Molnupiravir will likely be authorized by FDA in the coming days for adults with mild or moderate Covid-19. While Pfizer’s antiviral may prove to be more effective, Merck’s pill will be another weapon in the armamentarium of Covid-19 treatments for countries around the world, adding to the mAb treatments already in use in the outpatient space from Regeneron, Eli Lilly and Vir/GlaxoSmithKline.

Philip Dormitzer, new GSK global head of vaccines R&D

Glax­o­SmithK­line poach­es Pfiz­er's vi­ral vac­cines lead in rush to cap­i­tal­ize on fu­ture of mR­NA

GlaxoSmithKline has appointed Philip Dormitzer, formerly chief scientific officer of Pfizer’s viral vaccines unit, as its newest global head of vaccines R&D, looking to leverage one of the leading minds behind Pfizer and BioNTech’s RNA collaboration that led to Covid-19 jab Comirnaty, the British drug giant said Tuesday.

Dormitzer had been with Pfizer for a little more than six years, joining up after a seven-year stint with Novartis, where he reached the role of US head of research and head of global virology for the company’s vaccines and diagnostics unit.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

In­tro­duc­ing End­points Stu­dio, a new way to ad­ver­tise with End­points-craft­ed brand­ing cam­paigns

Since our start in 2016, Endpoints has grown fast while executing our mission to cover biopharma’s most critical developments for industry pros worldwide. As readership has grown, our advertising business has too. Endpoints advertising partners support the mission and engage their desired audiences through announcements on our email and web platforms, brand recognition in our event coverage and sponsorships of Endpoints daily and weekly reports.

Ap­peals court puts the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin for Tec­fidera patent, adding to Bio­gen's bur­geon­ing set­backs

In another setback for Biogen, the big biotech lost its appeal to revive a patent for the once-blockbuster drug Tecfidera, marking a likely conclusion to the case.

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued the ruling Tuesday morning, saying Biogen failed to satisfy the “written description” requirement for patent law. As a result, Mylan-turned-Viatris will be able to sell its multiple sclerosis generic without fear of infringement and Biogen will have to find a new revenue driver elsewhere.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,200+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Tillman Gerngross (Adagio)

Till­man Gern­gross on Omi­cron: 'It is a grim sit­u­a­tion...we’re go­ing to see a sig­nif­i­cant drop in vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy'

Tillman Gerngross, the rarely shy Dartmouth professor, biotech entrepreneur and antibody expert, has been warning for over a year that the virus behind Covid-19 would likely continue to mutate, potentially in ways that avoid immunity from infection and the best defenses scientists developed. He spun out a company, Adagio, to build a universal antibody, one that could snuff out any potential mutation.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Ab­b­Vie’s Hu­mi­ra TV turns fo­cus to HS skin con­di­tion; Sanofi amps par­ent­ing pol­i­cy

After years as the top spending pharma TV advertiser, AbbVie’s Humira brand finally downshifted earlier this year, ceding much of its marketing budget to up-and-coming sibling meds Skyrizi and Rinvoq. However, now Humira is back on TV with ads for another condition — Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS).

The chronic and painful skin condition results in lumps and abscesses caused by inflammation or infection of sweat glands, most often in the armpits or groin. Humira was first approved to treat HS in 2015 and remains the only FDA-approved drug for the condition. Two TV ads both note more than 30,000 people with HS have been prescribed Humira.