From cel­list to syn­thet­ic cell-ist: Jef­frey Kim scores $23M to reimag­ine blood tests, cell ther­a­py

It wasn’t al­ways Jef­frey Kim’s am­bi­tion to launch a biotech. In fact, af­ter grad­u­at­ing with his bach­e­lor’s de­gree in mol­e­c­u­lar bi­ol­o­gy from Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, the young cel­list set out to be­come a pro­fes­sion­al mu­si­cian in New York.

Kim was strug­gling to get by on a mu­si­cian’s bud­get, record­ing for var­i­ous stu­dios while teach­ing gui­tar and do­ing any­thing else mu­sic-re­lat­ed he could. He al­so be­gan work­ing in a cou­ple labs part-time, where he dis­cov­ered that, like mu­sic, sci­en­tif­ic re­search de­mands an in­cred­i­ble amount of cre­ativ­i­ty.

“I re­al­ly loved that as­pect of it,” Kim said.

Jef­frey Kim

In 2007, he de­cid­ed to pur­sue a grad­u­ate de­gree in bio­chem­istry at The Rock­e­feller Uni­ver­si­ty. He grad­u­at­ed with his PhD in 2010 and has since co-found­ed mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Ra­di­ant Ge­nomics, which was bought out by Zymer­gen back in 2018.

On Thurs­day morn­ing, Kim un­veiled his lat­est project: a syn­thet­ic cell com­pa­ny called Sling­shot Bio­sciences that’s been op­er­at­ing un­der the radar for near­ly a decade. And with a fresh $23 mil­lion, he’s ready to speed up the tem­po.

When pa­tients get a blood test — which hap­pens around 750 times per sec­ond in the US, Kim said — those sam­ples are com­pared to a ref­er­ence, or con­trol, which is made of a mix­ture of hu­man and chem­i­cal­ly treat­ed an­i­mal blood. In some cas­es, that could mean al­li­ga­tor blood, or shark blood.

“There’s a lot of an­i­mal com­po­nents that go in­to that mix­ture, be­cause hu­man blood does not sta­bi­lize very well,” the CEO said.

How­ev­er, those “mim­ics” are of­ten cost­ly, prone to sup­ply chain is­sues, and some­times drawn from en­dan­gered an­i­mals out­side the US, Kim said (like al­li­ga­tors, which were hunt­ed close to ex­tinc­tion be­fore mak­ing a come­back in the US in re­cent decades).

“We re­al­ized that we can just make it syn­thet­i­cal­ly,” he said. “We can ac­tu­al­ly in­di­vid­u­al­ly print syn­thet­ic cells made out of a com­mod­i­ty poly­mer that is in­cred­i­bly cheap, that is con­sis­tent, it’s scal­able, and it al­lows us to make these con­trols much more quick­ly and more af­ford­ably.”

The nine-per­son team is al­so work­ing on mak­ing cells that are much more sta­ble, Kim added, po­ten­tial­ly last­ing years in­stead of a cou­ple days. They launched their first com­mer­cial syn­thet­ic cells this past year, span­ning con­trols, di­ag­nos­tics and adop­tive cell ther­a­pies.

Sling­shot plans on us­ing the Se­ries A round, led by North­pond Ven­tures, for a cou­ple things, in­clud­ing build­ing up its sales team. An­oth­er chunk of change will go to­ward cre­at­ing a se­ries of reagents and of­fer­ings in the cell ther­a­py space that the com­pa­ny is de­vel­op­ing and plans on com­mer­cial­iz­ing in par­al­lel.

“We can fun­da­men­tal­ly re­duce the costs and the bar­ri­er to en­try for mul­ti­ple in­di­ca­tions and then, by re­duc­ing the cost we can al­so en­ter oth­er mar­kets, and pro­vide these ther­a­peu­tics ul­ti­mate­ly to de­vel­op­ing na­tions as well,” Kim said.

In ad­di­tion to North­pond, ARCH Ven­ture and An­ter­ra Cap­i­tal al­so chipped in­to the round.

“You can cre­ate busi­ness­es that, a) de­mand cre­ativ­i­ty, but b) can have a mas­sive im­pact on prac­ti­cal re­al world prob­lems. And that’s what kind of got me hooked on go­ing in­to biotech,” Kim told End­points News. “I start­ed with mu­sic, and then end­ed up kind of where I am now, but … I can’t pre­tend to say that it was my goal the en­tire time.”

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Three biotechs price hefty IPOs just be­fore the week­end, while a fourth and a SPAC seek spots on Wall Street

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A handful of biotechs are hitting Wall Street just before the start of the weekend, with three companies — Caribou Biosciences, Sophia Genetics and Absci — all pricing big raises Wednesday and Thursday. Gamma delta T cell-focused IN8bio relaunched its IPO campaign months after postponing it last November, seeking a slightly lower raise. And another SPAC has filed for a public debut.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 112,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Victor Perlroth, Kodiak Sciences CEO

Ko­di­ak turns down $125M pay­ment from Bak­er Bros. deal, slash­es roy­al­ty cap by 55%

Following a massive public raise last November, Kodiak Sciences has re-worked a royalty sale agreement with an old partner — and declined new funds in the process.

Kodiak is turning down a planned $125 million payment from Baker Bros. Advisors, according to an SEC filing, cutting short an agreement that saw the biotech hand over a 4.5% stream of royalty sales on its experimental anti-VEGF therapy KSI-301 for retinal vascular diseases. In conjunction with the move, Kodiak is shrinking the royalty cap from just over $1 billion to $450 million.

EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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

Mol­e­c­u­lar Di­ag­nos­tics Can Trans­form Can­cer Care. Let’s Make It Hap­pen.

Like so many people around the world, my life has been profoundly shaped by cancer. Those personal experiences, along with a deep love of clinical laboratory science and a passion to apply the power of genomics in medicine, motivated me to launch a company that would improve cancer care through better diagnostics. Thirteen years later, I am proud that we are delivering more accurate information at multiple points along the patient journey, with a focus on eight of the 10 cancers that are most commonly diagnosed in the United States.