Google backs $27M launch round for Holy Grail R&D work on two tar­gets: a can­cer vac­cine and a uni­ver­sal flu jab

Vac­citech isn’t just go­ing af­ter one of the Holy Grails in biotech R&D. It’s tak­ing aim at two of them.

A spin­out from some lead­ing vac­cine ex­perts at Ox­ford’s Jen­ner In­sti­tute, the start­up has been fol­low­ing up on new re­search to go af­ter both a uni­ver­sal flu vac­cine as well as a can­cer vac­cine an­gling for a place in the bright spot­light now fo­cused on im­muno-on­col­o­gy. And it now has a $27 mil­lion round to ad­vance tests in hu­mans.

Tom Evans, CEO

In­fluen­za, of course, can be a no­to­ri­ous­ly dif­fi­cult tar­get for man­u­fac­tur­ers to hit each year, as any of the mil­lions of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from the lat­est flu epi­dem­ic can tell you. But Vac­citech be­lieves its strat­e­gy to con­cen­trate an at­tack on con­stant, com­mon­ly shared pro­teins will help it cre­ate a sin­gle, ef­fec­tive jab for every­one.

Com­ing up right be­hind, Vac­citech is launch­ing a Phase II study to see if its can­cer vac­cine tar­get­ing the com­mon 5T4 anti­gen can — in com­bi­na­tion with a PD-1 check­point in­hibitor — mount a more ef­fec­tive at­tack on prostate can­cer cells. And if it works there, there’s a long line­up of can­cers that it could be used against.

That’s a tall or­der. Can­cer vac­cines us­ing shared anti­gens have been a non-starter in biotech, trig­ger­ing a per­son­al­ized ap­proach that is try­ing to match a per­son­al­ized vac­cine against an in­di­vid­ual’s can­cer cell pro­file. And Vac­citech isn’t the on­ly biotech go­ing af­ter 5T4, with ri­val pro­grams com­ing down the pike from a bis­pe­cif­ic 5T4-CD3 an­ti­body from Biotec­nol and start­up Asana. Ox­ford Bio­Med­ica is al­so still dab­bling with the MVA-5T4 can­cer vac­cine TroVax, which flopped in late-stage test­ing.

Sarah Gilbert

A MERS vac­cine is com­ing up right be­hind Vac­citech’s two lead ef­forts in the clin­ic, and there are al­so HPV and HBV pro­grams in ad­vanced pre­clin­i­cal stages — part of an am­bi­tious pipeline for a start­up like this.

Jen­ner chief Adri­an Hill and Sarah Gilbert led much of the re­search that is now back­ing the biotech.

Google ven­ture arm GV co-led the round with Se­quoia Chi­na and Ox­ford Sci­ences In­no­va­tion — which seed­ed the ven­ture — with help from Nep­tune Ven­tures.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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The fu­ture of mR­NA, J&J's vac­cine ad­comm, Mer­ck­'s $1.85B au­toim­mune bet and more

Welcome to the third installment of Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If this report was helpful in recapping it all for you, please do share it with your colleagues.

Get ready for FDA’s third Covid-19 vaccine

On the heels of a ringing endorsement from FDA reviewers earlier in the week, J&J‘s single-dose vaccine — which proved 66% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and 85% effective at stopping severe disease 28 days after administration — the advisory committee convened by the agency voted unanimously to recommend its emergency use authorization. It was “a relatively easy call,” according to one of the committee members — although that doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. Jason Mast has the highlights from the discussion, including new information from the company, on this live blog.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Per­cep­tive's fourth — yes, fourth — SPAC jumps to Nas­daq as the blank check tree con­tin­ues to ripen

The biotech SPAC boom has gone almost hand-in-hand with the industry’s IPO gold rush, and this week saw more blank check companies hop aboard the train.

Leading the way is Perceptive Advisors’ fourth SPAC, appropriately named Arya Sciences Acquisition IV, which priced Friday morning after raising $130 million. And on top of that, new Ziopharm executive chair James Huang is launching his own SPAC with MSD Partners and Panacea Venture, filing S-1 paperwork Thursday with plans to raise $200 million.

Roche and Genen­tech re­searchers plot $53M dis­cov­ery quest aimed at spark­ing a 'Holy moly' piv­ot in neu­ro R&D

Roche and Genentech have committed $53 million to back a 10-year quest aimed at going back to the drawing board to use new technology and fresh scientific insights to generate a pipeline of drugs for neurological diseases.

Researchers from both Roche and its big South San Francisco hub — mixing teams from gRED and pRED this time — will mix it up with the scientists drawn together for the Weill Neurohub — formed in 2019 as a joint research partnership involving UCSF, Berkeley and the University of Washington — in an exploration of the field to develop new therapies for some of the toughest diseases in drug R&D: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and autism.

Am­gen, As­traZeneca speed to­ward fil­ing next-gen an­ti­body for asth­ma af­ter un­cork­ing full late-stage da­ta

On the hunt for a novel competitor to Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent in severe asthma, Amgen and AstraZeneca posted “exciting” results from their next-gen antibody late last year. Now, the partners are showing their hands, and the results look good enough for approval.

Amgen and AstraZeneca’s tezepelumab plus standard of care cut the rate of severe asthma attacks by 56% at the one-year mark compared with SOC alone, according to full data from the Phase III NAVIGATOR study presented Friday at the virtual American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology meeting. And those significant results were consistent regardless of patients’ baseline eosinophil counts.

CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.