Jeffrey Kim, Slingshot Biosciences

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.

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.”

Adap­tive De­sign Meth­ods Of­fer Rapid, Seam­less Tran­si­tion Be­tween Study Phas­es in Rare Can­cer Tri­als

Rare cancers account for 22 percent of cancer diagnoses worldwide, yet there is no universally accepted definition for a “rare” cancer. Moreover, with the evolution of genomics and associated changes in categorizing tumors, some common cancers are now characterized into groups of rare cancers, each with a unique implication for patient management and therapy.

Adaptive designs, which allow for prospectively planned modifications to study design based on accumulating data from subjects in the trial, can be used to optimize rare oncology trials (see Figure 1). Adaptive design studies may include multiple cohorts and multiple tumor types. In addition, numerous adaptation methods may be used in a single trial and may facilitate a more rapid, seamless transition between study phases.

Marianne De Backer (L) and Jeff Hatfield

Bay­er nabs star biotech Vi­vid­ion with a $2B buy­out and an ‘arms-length’ pact, pulling a part­ner out of the IPO con­ga line

Vividion is canceling that IPO it filed. Instead of following the industry-wide migration to Nasdaq, the biotech that has captured considerable attention for its still-preclinical work finding cryptic pockets to bind to on proteins is going to work for Bayer now.

The pharma giant is putting out word today that it has bought out Vividion for $1.5 billion in cash and another half-billion dollars in milestones.

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Tadataka Yamada (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sci­ence pi­o­neer, phar­ma re­search chief, glob­al health ad­vo­cate and biotech en­tre­pre­neur Tadata­ka ‘Tachi’ Ya­ma­da has died

Tadataka Yamada, a towering physician-scientist who made his name in academia before transforming drug development at GlaxoSmithKline and developing vaccines for malaria and meningitis at the Gates Foundation, died unexpectedly of natural causes at his home in Seattle Wednesday morning.

He was 76. Frazier Healthcare Partners’ David Socks confirmed his death.

Known widely by the mononym “Tachi,” Yamada had a globetrotting career and arrived in industry relatively late in life. A 2004 Independent article noted GSK had asked Yamada to stay on beyond his approaching 60th birthday, the company’s usual retirement age. Yamada would continue working for the next 17 years, steering the Gates Foundation’s global health division for 6 years, funding Jim Wilson’s gene therapy work when few would touch it, launching Takeda Vaccines and co-founding a series of high-profile biotechs.

Thomas Lingelbach, Valneva CEO

A small vac­cine de­vel­op­er fa­vored by the UK gov­ern­ment in Covid-19 touts a PhI­II first in chikun­gun­ya

Before Valneva garnered the favor of the UK government as a potential supplier of Covid-19 vaccines, the French biotech prided itself on being the first company to bring a chikungunya vaccine into Phase III.

It now has positive pivotal results to back up the breakthrough therapy designation the FDA granted just weeks ago.

There are currently no approved jabs to prevent chikungunya virus infection despite decades of R&D efforts, a fact that underscores not just how arduous traditional vaccine development but its status as a neglected tropical disease. In a absence of a major commercial market, the US government and CEPI have deployed various grants and incentives to spur on a small crew of academics and industry players, with Merck, via its acquisition of Themis, claiming a spot in that race.

Josh Hoffman, outgoing Zymergen CEO (Zymergen)

UP­DAT­ED: Syn­bio uni­corn Zymer­gen jet­ti­sons found­ing CEO, cuts guid­ance as cus­tomers re­port lead prod­uct does­n't work

Zymergen, just months off a $500 million IPO that put the synthetic bio firm in rarified air, has now ejected its founding CEO and downgraded its revenue forecasts after customers reported its lead film product doesn’t work as advertised, the company said Tuesday afternoon.

CEO Josh Hoffman will leave his role and sacrifice his board seat immediately in favor of Jay Flatley, the former CEO of Illumina who will take the lead role on an interim basis as the company conducts a search for its next leader.

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Zymergen co-founders Zach Serber, Josh Hoffman, and Jed Dean (Zymergen via website)

Zymer­gen's sud­den im­plo­sion shocked biotech. A lin­ger­ing loan could make things even worse

As former synbio unicorn Zymergen picks up the pieces from its spectacular implosion Tuesday, an outstanding loan from Perceptive Advisors — the only blue-chip biotech crossover investor to touch Zymergen’s fundraising efforts — could make the situation worse, according to public documents.

In December 2019, more than a year before Zymergen filed for what would eventually become a $500 million IPO, the “biofacturing” firm signed a $100 million credit facility with Perceptive to help supplement the nearly $700 million the company had raised across four VC rounds.

Jeffrey Bluestone, Sonoma CEO (Photo credit: Steve Babuljak)

Jeff Blue­stone just raised $265M to de­vel­op cu­ra­tive cell ther­a­pies. We asked him how

Jeff Bluestone had some big goals in mind when he decided to make a switch from a decades-long career in academia and non-profit research to a biotech startup CEO. And now — 18 months after the $40 million launch party — he has a whole lot more money on hand to pay for the considerable amount of work ahead at Sonoma Biotherapeutics.

This morning Bluestone is taking the wraps off a $265 million B round after boosting the core syndicate of A-list investors he started with. Even by today’s standards, that sum dwarfs the kind of $100 million-plus megarounds that have become standard fare in biotech over the last 2 years.

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Bio­gen, Ei­sai are push­ing for an­oth­er ac­cel­er­at­ed Alzheimer's OK — this time for BAN2401

Now that the door at the FDA has been opened wide for Alzheimer’s drugs that can demonstrate a reduction in amyloid, Biogen and its partners at Eisai are pushing for a quick OK on the next drug to follow in the controversial path of aducanumab.

In a presentation to analysts, Eisai neurology chief Ivan Cheung outlined some bullish expectations for their newly-approved treatment and set the stage for what he believes will be a fast follow for BAN2401 (lecanemab) — after a dry spell in new drug development that’s lasted close to 20 years.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi buys mR­NA play­er Trans­late Bio for $3.2B. And the price fits a pop­u­lar range for biotech M&A

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson is dead serious about his intention to vault directly into contention for the future of mRNA vaccines.

A year after paying Translate Bio $TBIO a whopping $425 million in an upfront and equity payment to help guide the pharma giant to the promised land of mRNA vaccines, Sanofi closed the deal with a buyout early Tuesday, spending $38 a share in a $3.2 billion buyout.

Translate’s stock $TBIO soared after the market closed Monday when Reuters reported the first word of the acquisition just hours ahead of the formal announcement. The wire service, though, didn’t have a price to report in its scoop, and investors chased the stock up 78% in the wild ride that followed. Once the price was announced, gains shriveled to 29% ahead of the bell.

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