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

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

David Meline (file photo)

Mod­er­na’s new CFO took a cut in salary to jump to the mR­NA rev­o­lu­tion­ary. But then there’s the rest of the com­pen­sa­tion pack­age

David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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David Meline, incoming Moderna CFO

Am­gen vet David Meline finds a new CFO roost at Mod­er­na, tak­ing a ride on the Covid-19 tiger as de­part­ing ex­ec cash­es out with $12M

We found out a few weeks ago that Moderna CFO Lorence Kim isn’t waiting around to see how the biotech wunderkind makes out in its frantic race to field a messenger RNA vaccine that can quell Covid-19. And now we know who’s stepping on board to take his place in the latest move in the executive suite.

David Meline, who forged his rep during a 6-year run at Amgen, slipped out the exit right after his Q2 “retirement” party in California — presumably virtual — and started the next chapter of his career at a biotech company betting big on revolutionizing the vaccine R&D space.

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