Gates-backed Ex­i­cure wraps 2016 with its first ma­jor col­lab­o­ra­tion and a plan for the year ahead

Ex­i­cure CEO David Giljo­hann

Ex­i­cure has crossed a few key items off the to-do list that dom­i­nates the ex­is­tence of every up­start biotech. And it’s wrap­ping up 2016 with a rite of pas­sage that helps po­si­tion it for a New Year filled with pipeline build­ing plans and new part­ner­ship hunts.

This morn­ing the Chica­go-based biotech is an­nounc­ing that it has com­plet­ed its first in­dus­try col­lab­o­ra­tion, pass­ing along its lead drug that has just suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gat­ed a small proof-of-con­cept study in pso­ri­a­sis. Pur­due Phar­ma is step­ping in with a pact — worth up to $790 mil­lion if all the cards turn in its fa­vor — that will give it con­trol of a Phase II-ready pso­ri­a­sis drug along with three more pro­grams to be de­cid­ed lat­er.

“This is a new thing for them,” says Ex­i­cure CEO David Giljo­hann about his new part­ner. Pur­due, which has been a cen­tral play­er in the pub­lic out­cry over Oxy­con­tin abuse, has been ac­tive­ly build­ing its own in-house R&D ex­per­tise with an eye to strik­ing a slate of deals this year. And this new ven­ture gives Pur­due its first as­set for a der­ma­tol­ogy port­fo­lio.

I first crossed paths with Giljo­hann at JP Mor­gan last Jan­u­ary, some­what ac­ci­den­tal­ly, but was in­trigued that the com­pa­ny had kept a low pro­file af­ter rais­ing $42 mil­lion from a group of deep-pock­et in­vestors, which in­clud­ed Bill Gates.

A spin­out from the lab of North­west­ern’s Chad Mirkin, Ex­i­cure — for­mer­ly AuraSense — is de­vel­op­ing a port­fo­lio of drugs based on its spher­i­cal nu­cle­ic acid nan­otech­nol­o­gy. Tak­ing an ar­ti­fi­cial nanos­phere as a scaf­fold, it as­sem­bles sin­gle- and dou­ble-strand­ed nu­cle­ic acids on the sur­face — cre­at­ing a “third form” of nu­cle­ic acids which can eas­i­ly slip in­to cells with­out trig­ger­ing an im­mune re­sponse. The SNAs can use an­ti­sense or RNAi path­ways to do their du­ty in reg­u­lat­ing gene ex­pres­sion.

It’s the sort of tech­nol­o­gy that makes a lot of sense in der­ma­tol­ogy, where Ex­i­cure can look to de­vel­op top­i­cal for­mu­la­tions of new drugs that can be de­signed to com­pete with a new wave of bi­o­log­ics that are just now break­ing in­to the mar­ket. Ex­i­cure is much, much fur­ther be­hind, but the at­trac­tions of a po­ten­tial top­i­cal drug po­si­tioned against bi­o­log­ics is ob­vi­ous.

In its two-week PoC study, Ex­i­cure says it got the safe­ty da­ta that it need­ed to press ahead with a larg­er mid-stage pro­gram. But they al­so did punch as­says to as­sess mes­sen­ger RNA lev­els.

“From the punch­es we saw we were able to reg­u­late genes in the skin,” says Giljo­hann.

That’s the first snap­shot of ac­tiv­i­ty for a plat­form that will now be fo­cused on pro­grams for IL-17 in pso­ri­a­sis, IL-4 in atopic der­mati­tis and IL-1 be­ta for rare cas­es of epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

New hu­man stud­ies should get un­der­way next year, says the CEO, who’s look­ing for­ward to build­ing an in­ter­nal pipeline while adding new play­ers to its list of part­ners.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.