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.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.

Busy Gilead crew throws strug­gling biotech a life­line, with some cash up­front and hun­dreds of mil­lions in biobucks for HIV deal

Durect $DRRX got a badly needed shot in the arm Monday morning as Gilead’s busy BD team lined up access to its extended-release platform tech for HIV and hepatitis B.

Gilead, a leader in the HIV sector, is paying a modest $25 million in cash for the right to jump on the platform at Durect, which has been using its technology to come up with an extended-release version of bupivacaine. The FDA rejected that in 2014, but Durect has been working on a comeback.

In­tec blitzed by PhI­II flop as lead pro­gram fails to beat Mer­ck­'s stan­dard com­bo for Parkin­son’s

Intec Pharma’s $NTEC lead drug slammed into a brick wall Monday morning. The small-cap Israeli biotech reported that its lead program — coming off a platform designed to produce a safer, more effective oral drug for Parkinson’s — failed the Phase III at the primary endpoint.

Researchers at Intec, which has already seen its share price collapse over the past few months, says that its Accordion Pill-Carbidopa/Levodopa failed to prove superior to Sinemet in reducing daily ‘off’ time. 

Cel­gene racks up third Ote­zla ap­proval, heat­ing up talks about who Bris­tol-My­ers will sell to

Whoever is taking Otezla off Bristol-Myers Squibb’s hands will have one more revenue stream to boast.

The drug — a rising star in Celgene’s pipeline that generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year — is now OK’d to treat oral ulcers associated with Behçet’s disease, a common symptom for a rare inflammatory disorder. This marks the third FDA approval for the PDE4 inhibitor since 2014, when it was greenlighted for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

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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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Vlad Coric (Biohaven)

In an­oth­er dis­ap­point­ment for in­vestors, FDA slaps down Bio­haven’s re­vised ver­sion of an old ALS drug

Biohaven is at risk of making a habit of disappointing its investors.

Late Friday the biotech $BHVN reported that the FDA had rejected its application for riluzole, an old drug that they had made over into a sublingual formulation that dissolves under the tongue. According to Biohaven, the FDA had a problem with the active ingredient used in a bioequivalence study back in 2017, which they got from the Canadian drugmaker Apotex.

Apotex, though, has been a disaster ground. The manufacturer voluntarily yanked the ANDAs on 31 drugs — in late 2017 — after the FDA came across serious manufacturing deficiencies at their plants in India. A few days ago, the FDA made it official.

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