Glob­al syn­di­cate backs $400M ge­nomics R&D play in Ire­land as WuXi NextCODE ex­tends its reach in­to Eu­rope

The big push to trans­late fresh mounds of ge­nomics da­ta in­to new meds got a sig­nif­i­cant boost to­day as an in­ter­na­tion­al syn­di­cate of in­vestors from the US, Chi­na, Ire­land and Sin­ga­pore backed Wuxi NextCODE’s plan to add a ma­jor Eu­ro­pean se­quenc­ing ini­tia­tive and hub-build­ing project to their glob­al net­work.

The tech out­fit is mak­ing 3-year-old Ge­nomics Med­i­cine Ire­land a sub­sidiary, with fi­nan­cial back­ing tot­ting up to $400 mil­lion to see through an ef­fort to se­quence the genomes of 400,000 res­i­dents in Ire­land — about 10% of the pop­u­la­tion — in search of in­sights in­to the way spe­cif­ic genes in­flu­ence dis­ease.

In­clud­ed in this project is a ge­nomics ac­cel­er­a­tor look­ing to help spur a life sci­ences hub that they be­lieve can grow in­to some­thing along the lines of San Diego. And the Ire­land Strate­gic In­vest­ment Fund is putting up $70 mil­lion of the ini­tial $225 mil­lion bud­get with an eye to di­rect­ly cre­at­ing hun­dreds of jobs — with more to fol­low if they can ramp up the hub.

That’s a tall or­der. Ire­land has some biotechs, but its in­volve­ment in the in­dus­try is large­ly cen­tered on man­u­fac­tur­ing and its rep as a glob­al cor­po­rate tax haven. What­ev­er be­comes of the hub dream, though, big se­quenc­ing ef­forts have at­tract­ed the at­ten­tion of a broad swathe of bio­phar­ma play­ers, in­clud­ing Am­gen and Re­gen­eron, with GSK re­cent­ly jump­ing in­to a col­lab­o­ra­tion with 23andMe.

Along­side the Ire­land project, WuXi NextCODE put to­geth­er a $200 mil­lion C round — just a lit­tle more than a year af­ter it added $240 mil­lion from the Se­ries B.

The trans­glob­al fi­nan­cial syn­di­cate around this WuXi deal says a lot about the con­nec­tions that can com­mand large sums for mar­quee plans like this.

US-based Arch Ven­ture Part­ners, which has close ties to Ge Li’s glob­al ops at Shang­hai-based WuXi, linked up with the ear­ly-stage in­vestors at Po­laris, Sin­ga­pore’s Temasek and Chi­na’s Yun­feng Cap­i­tal and Se­quoia Cap­i­tal to back the play. And they have the mon­ey to make a host of star­tups a re­al­i­ty if the ini­tia­tive de­liv­ers on plans to cre­ate a hub built around ad­vanced AI, new tech and R&D.

“The suc­cess of this fi­nanc­ing round is an en­dorse­ment of our strat­e­gy to cre­ate the lead­ing glob­al plat­form for us­ing the genome to im­prove the lives of peo­ple and pa­tients every­where,” said Rob Brain­in, CEO of WuXi NextCODE. “This phase of our growth has a dis­tinct­ly Irish fo­cus to it, and we are cre­at­ing in Ire­land the world’s pre­mier genome dataset as a unique­ly pow­er­ful en­gine both for trans­form­ing how we dis­cov­er new drugs, as well as for bring­ing new di­ag­nos­tics, risk screens and oth­er tools and ser­vices to the in­di­vid­ual pa­tients.”

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom

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.

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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RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

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.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.