Gen­zyme vet David Meek­er takes helm at stealthy KSQ with $76M and a new map for drug dis­cov­ery

David Meek­er left Gen­zyme last April af­ter a 23-year run, in­clud­ing six years as pres­i­dent af­ter Sanofi stepped in to buy the land­mark biotech six years ago. And as it turns out, in­stead of re­tir­ing and end­ing the sto­ry, his ca­reer was shift­ing in­to a brand new chap­ter.

To­day, five months lat­er, af­ter adding a string of biotech board po­si­tions to his sched­ule, Meek­er has land­ed his next big gig in biotech. And like many of his col­leagues ahead of him, he’s tran­si­tion­ing from his for­mal ex­it from the Big Phar­ma world to the thriv­ing cos­mos of biotech star­tups.

Meek­er is now run­ning KSQ Ther­a­peu­tics in Cam­bridge, MA, which hasn’t been com­plete­ly se­cret but has large­ly kept the shades down — un­til now.

Af­ter get­ting seed­ed by Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing and Po­laris — a pair of keen start­up shops — 18 months ago with No­var­tis vet­er­an Frank Stegmeier or­ches­trat­ing the use of CRISPR tech­nol­o­gy in drug dis­cov­ery, the team has been as­sem­bling a pipeline of pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams. And with the help of an ex­pand­ed syn­di­cate, there’s a $76 mil­lion A round to fu­el the ini­tial dri­ve to the clin­ic.

From play­ing a key role in a glob­al or­ga­ni­za­tion with 110,000 em­ploy­ees, Meek­er will now be team leader to a com­pa­ny with 40 staffers. And he couldn’t be hap­pi­er. This is, he says, a place where he can make a dif­fer­ence.

“I think our mod­el is strug­gling,” Meek­er says about phar­ma R&D. “We all know that. The cost of de­vel­op­ment is too high.”

At KSQ, he says, you can start an ex­per­i­ment us­ing cut­ting edge tech­nol­o­gy and no bias about out­comes.

With CRISPR, he says, “we can study all 20,000 genes in the genome across a mul­ti­tude of dis­ease mod­els and find out which of those tar­gets has the biggest im­pact in mod­u­lat­ing the dis­ease. We can do it one shot, 20,000 genes at a time.”

Frank Stegmeier joined the ex­o­dus of re­search ex­ecs out of No­var­tis ear­ly, re­cruit­ed in late 2015 from his job as the glob­al head of on­col­o­gy tar­get dis­cov­ery to the CSO’s spot at KSQ. And now he’s had a chance to ex­am­ine that whole galaxy of genes against 600 can­cer and im­mune-based dis­ease mod­els in search of a few big drugs.

Where in­dus­try is chal­lenged is work­ing with drugs that are ac­tive with­out know­ing if it’s the best. “We have a long list of po­ten­tial tar­gets,” says Meek­er. “We can’t pur­sue them all, but we can com­pare them.”

If they are right and “CRISPRomics” works the way they be­lieve it will, the com­pa­ny can move with greater con­fi­dence against a few se­lect pro­grams, look­ing for a more ef­fi­cient mod­el for de­vel­op­ment.

Stegmeier tells me it was a dream job, with a chance to work with some world-renowned sci­en­tif­ic founders: David Saba­ti­ni of the White­head In­sti­tute and MIT, William Hahn of the Broad In­sti­tute and Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute, Jonathan Weiss­man from UCSF, and Tim Wang of MIT.

George Golumbes­ki

It’s the kind of plat­form mod­el that lends it­self to ear­ly part­ner­ing, fit­ting com­fort­able in­to Flag­ship’s mod­el for spawn­ing com­plete com­pa­nies run by im­pres­sive, high-pro­file teams in al­liance with mar­quee sci­en­tists and abun­dant fi­nanc­ing.

ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners, an­oth­er VC that loves to help kick­start am­bi­tious ef­forts like this, and Alexan­dria Eq­ui­ties al­so jumped in­to the A round.

That team of 40 should dou­ble in the next year, says Meek­er. And they’ll have some ex­pert guid­ance on the deal front.

George Golumbes­ki, deal-mak­er ex­tra­or­di­naire who’s made quite a name for him­self at Cel­gene, is lend­ing a hand as a spe­cial ad­vis­er and board mem­ber.

Oxitec biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in Piracicaba, Brazil in 2016 [credit: Getty Images]

In­trex­on unit push­es back against claims its GM mos­qui­toes are mak­ing dis­ease-friend­ly mu­tants

When the hysteria of Zika transmission sprang into the American zeitgeist a few years ago, UK-based Oxitec was already field-testing its male Aedes aegypti mosquito, crafted to possess a gene engineered to obliterate its progeny long before maturation.

But when a group of independent scientists evaluated the impact of the release of these genetically-modified mosquitoes in a trial conducted by Oxitec in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, they found that some of the offspring had managed to survive — prompting them to speculate what impact the survivors could have on disease transmission and/or insecticide resistance.

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[via AP Images]

Pur­due threat­ens to walk away from set­tle­ment, asks to pay em­ploy­ees mil­lions in bonus­es

There are two updates on the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, as the Sackler family threatens to walk away from their pledge to pay out $3 billion if a bankruptcy judge does not stop outstanding state lawsuits against them. At the same time, the company has asked permission to pay millions in bonuses to select employees.

Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week as part of its signed resolution to over 2,000 lawsuits. The deal would see the Sackler family that owns Purdue give $3 billion from their personal wealth and the company turned into a trust committed to curbing and reversing overdoses.

Aerial view of Genentech's campus in South San Francisco [Credit: Getty]

Genen­tech sub­mits a plan to near­ly dou­ble its South San Fran­cis­co foot­print

The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City. 

The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.