Genen­tech I/O chief Dan Chen heads to an up­start biotech look­ing to cre­ate a land­mark ad­vance on an­ti­bod­ies

One of the top sci­en­tif­ic lead­ers be­hind the emer­gence of PD-1/L1 check­point in­hibitors has left Genen­tech to take the chief med­ical of­fi­cer’s job at a low-pro­file biotech up­start look­ing to make an­ti­body his­to­ry.

Dan Chen, who led the de­vel­op­ment of Tecen­triq from start to post-mar­ket star­dom, has tak­en the CMO’s job at IgM Bio­sciences in Moun­tain View, CA.

I couldn’t find much about them. No ven­ture rounds or high-pro­file en­dorse­ments. But the web­site in­cludes some lofty claims about their goal to re­vamp the way an­ti­bod­ies are de­vel­oped, build­ing on a blue­print that can sig­nif­i­cant­ly in­crease the abil­i­ty of an an­ti­body to bind with mul­ti­ple do­mains us­ing a much more com­plex IgM struc­ture, rather than the Ig­Gs that dom­i­nate the in­dus­try.

Chen wasn’t just in charge of the Tecen­triq pro­gram, which Roche de­vout­ly be­lieves is a block­buster in the mak­ing, he al­so helped guide a se­ries of al­liances with key an­ti­body de­vel­op­ers around the world. That added ex­pe­ri­ence that could come in handy on his new job.

Chen is join­ing an­oth­er Genen­tech vet, Bruce Heyt, who serves as chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer at IgM.

Chen told me in an in­ter­view Thurs­day that when he first start­ed work­ing on Tecen­triq, he was a team of 1. And af­ter watch­ing the clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment team alone ex­pand in­to the hun­dreds of staffers at Genen­tech over the years, he’s back at an N of 1, ready to start build­ing a new team.

Once again, he is look­ing to make some biotech his­to­ry.

These IgM projects he’s start­ed work on now are “hard to make, a lot more com­pli­cat­ed than IgG (with two bind­ing do­mains),” he says. “But af­ter 8 years they’ve solved the man­u­fac­tur­ing prob­lems.”

“IgMs are sort of like Vel­cro,” he ex­plains, ca­pa­ble of mak­ing mul­ti­ple weak do­mains in­to one strong bond — like Vel­cro. And the same tech plat­form has mul­ti­ple ap­pli­ca­tions as you work on ag­o­nists, what Chen calls “en­hanced su­per-ag­o­nists.”

Like a lot of top de­vel­op­ers in the hottest field in on­col­o­gy, Chen says he was treat­ed to a long line­up of queries about new jobs over the years. But he passed on all of them, un­til IgM Bio called.

His first re­sponse when he got a good look: “Wow, Genen­tech should have done this. They’re en­gi­neer­ing around a nat­u­ral­ly oc­cur­ring an­ti­body for­mat.” 

“The thing that re­al­ly hooked me was the longterm fu­ture,” says Chen. Af­ter all the work aimed at scour­ing the hu­man genome for the right tar­gets for dis­ease over the last 20 years, he adds, the time has come to shift fo­cus to us­ing “them in a more com­plex way than we ever have be­fore….With an IgM mol­e­cule, you have a lot more room to play.”

And it’s in no way lim­it­ed to im­muno-on­col­o­gy or on­col­o­gy in gen­er­al.

They built the com­pa­ny with pri­vate fi­nanc­ing, says the sci­en­tist, which al­lowed the tiny biotech to re­main in stealth mode un­til just a year or two ago as they pa­tient­ly worked out their plat­form tech­nol­o­gy.

Chen can cer­tain­ly dis­tin­guish one good an­ti­body ap­proach from an­oth­er. And William Strohl, who once led ear­ly de­vel­op­ment at J&J’s re­search group, is al­so join­ing the board, of­fer­ing an­oth­er mar­quee thumbs-up for what they’re try­ing to do.

Fred Schwarz­er, the CEO of IGM Bio­sciences, hit that theme hard in their state­ment to­day. He not­ed:

Dan is wide­ly re­gard­ed as a glob­al leader in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, and he over­saw some of the most im­por­tant R&D in on­col­o­gy over the last decade while at Genen­tech/Roche, mak­ing his de­ci­sion to join IGM a strong en­dorse­ment of the po­ten­tial of our tech­nol­o­gy and our emerg­ing pipeline. Bill is wide­ly re­gard­ed as a glob­al thought leader in an­ti­body en­gi­neer­ing and nov­el an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment, and we look for­ward to his con­tri­bu­tions as a mem­ber of our Board of Di­rec­tors.


Im­age: Daniel Chen speaks to Ira Mell­man, Genen­tech Vice Pres­i­dent of Can­cer Im­munol­o­gy. Roche

Brent Saunders [Getty Photos]

UP­DAT­ED: Ab­b­Vie seals $63B deal to buy a trou­bled Al­ler­gan — spelling out $1B in R&D cuts

Brent Saunders has found his way out of the current fix he’s in at Allergan $AGN. He’s selling the company to AbbVie for $63 billion in the latest example of the hot M&A market in biopharma.

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Af­ter rais­ing $158M, this up­start's founders have star back­ers and plans to break new ground in gene ther­a­py

Back in 2014, Stephanie Tagliatela opted to take an early exit out of her PhD program after working in Mark Bear’s lab at MIT, where she specialized in the synaptic connections between neuronal cells in the brain. She never finished that PhD, but she and fellow MIT student Kartik Ramamoorthi — who was on the founding team at Voyager — came away with some ideas for a gene therapy startup.

Today, fully 5 years later, she and Ramamoorthi are taking the wraps off of a $104 million mega-round designed to take the cumulative work of their preclinical formative stage for Encoded Therapeutics into human studies. They’ve now raised $158 million since starting out in Illumina’s incubator in the Bay Area, and they believe they are firmly on track to do something unique in gene therapy.

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Sanofi/Re­gen­eron mus­cle ahead of a ri­val No­var­tis/Roche team, win first ap­proval in key rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis field

Re­gen­eron and their part­ners at Sanofi have beat the No­var­tis/Roche team to the punch on an­oth­er key in­di­ca­tion for their block­buster an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry drug Dupix­ent. The drug team scored an ac­cel­er­at­ed FDA ap­proval for chron­ic rhi­nos­i­nusi­tis with nasal polyps, mak­ing this the first such NDA for the field.

An­a­lysts have been watch­ing this race for awhile now, as Sanofi/Re­gen­eron won a snap pri­or­i­ty re­view for what is now their third dis­ease in­di­ca­tion for this treat­ment. And they’re not near­ly done, build­ing up hopes for a ma­jor fran­chise.

Image: Chris Varma. Frontier

UP­DAT­ED: Chris Var­ma un­veils MP­M's lat­est start­up — eye­ing 'un­drug­gable' can­cer tar­gets and pow­ered by ma­chine learn­ing, $67M

Two years af­ter MPM Cap­i­tal en­list­ed Chris Var­ma on its busy on­col­o­gy team, the for­mer en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence is un­veil­ing his first ven­ture project out of his new stomp­ing grounds in the Bay Area: Fron­tier Med­i­cines.

For Var­ma, who’s al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines and built com­pa­nies at Third Rock and Flag­ship, this marks an­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty to ap­ply some cut­ting-edge sci­ence to “sev­er­al of the most im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult tar­gets in can­cer” — tar­gets that oth­ers have tried to tack­le with more clas­si­cal meth­ods and failed. The launch round comes in at $67 mil­lion, which should go some way in scaf­fold­ing a pre­clin­i­cal pipeline and push one or more as­sets in­to the clin­ic three years from now, he tells me.

Richard Gonzalez testifying in front of Senate Finance Committee, February 2019 [AP Images]

Ab­b­Vie's $63B buy­out spot­lights the re­turn of ma­jor M&A deals — de­spite the back­lash

Big time M&A is back. But for how long?

Over the past 18 months we’ve now seen three major buyouts announced: Takeda/Shire; Bristol-Myers/Celgene and now AbbVie/Allergan. And with this latest deal it’s increasingly clear that the sharp fall from grace suffered by high-profile players which have seen their share prices blasted has created an opening for the growth players in big pharma to up their game — in sharp contrast to the popular bolt-on deals that have been driving the growth strategy at Novartis, Merck, Roche and others.

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Two biotech uni­corns swell pro­posed IPOs, eye­ing a $600M-plus wind­fall

We’ve been wait­ing for the ar­rival of Bridge­Bio’s IPO to top off the wave of new biotech of­fer­ings sweep­ing through Nas­daq at the end of H1. And now we learn that it’s been sub­stan­tial­ly up­sized.

Ini­tial­ly pen­ciled in at a uni­corn-sized $225 mil­lion, the KKR-backed biotech has spiked that to the neigh­bor­hood of $300 mil­lion, look­ing to sell 20 mil­lion shares at $14 to $16 each. That’s an added 5 mil­lion shares, re­ports Re­nais­sance Cap­i­tal, which fig­ures the pro­posed mar­ket val­u­a­tion for Neil Ku­mar’s com­pa­ny at $1.8 bil­lion.

No­var­tis holds back the copy­cat brigade's at­tack on its top drug fran­chise — for now

A fed­er­al judge has put a gener­ic chal­lenge to No­var­tis’ block­buster mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Gilenya on hold while a patent fight plays out in court.

Judge Leonard P. Stark is­sued a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion ear­li­er this week, forc­ing My­lan, Dr. Red­dy’s Lab­o­ra­to­ries and Au­robindo Phar­ma to shelve their launch plans to al­low the patent fight to pro­ceed. He ruled that al­low­ing the gener­ics in­to the mar­ket now would per­ma­nent­ly slash the price for No­var­tis, even if it pre­vails. 

Top an­a­lyst finds a sil­ver lin­ing in Ab­b­Vie’s $63B Al­ler­gan buy­out — but there’s a catch

Af­ter get­ting beat up on all sides from mar­ket ob­servers who don’t much care for the lat­est mega-deal to ar­rive in bio­phar­ma, at least one promi­nent an­a­lyst now is start­ing to like what he sees in the num­bers for Ab­b­Vie/Al­ler­gan.

But it’s go­ing to take some en­cour­age­ment if Ab­b­Vie ex­ecs want it to last.

Ab­b­Vie’s mar­ket cap de­clined $20 bil­lion on Tues­day as the stock took a 17% hit dur­ing the day. And SVB Leerink’s Ge­of­frey Porges can see a dis­tinct out­line of an up­side af­ter re­view­ing the fun­da­men­tals of the deal.

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