Google’s Ver­i­ly and Glax­o­SmithK­line hatch a $713M plan to spark a biorev­o­lu­tion

Glob­al phar­ma gi­ant Glax­o­SmithK­line is team­ing up with Google’s life sci­ences ven­ture Ver­i­ly, chan­nel­ing its four-year ef­fort to cre­ate new nan­otech-based bio­elec­tron­ic ther­a­peu­tics in­to a start­up called Gal­vani Bio­elec­tron­ics, with joint plans to in­vest $713 mil­lion in­to the ven­ture over the next sev­en years.

GSK’s Chair­man of Vac­cines, Mon­cef Slaoui

GSK’s Mon­cef Slaoui has billed this ef­fort as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary at­tempt to break out of the tra­di­tion­al mode of ther­a­peu­tic de­vel­op­ment, re­think­ing the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy of drug R&D to cre­ate a com­plete­ly new de­vel­op­ment field in elec­tro­ceu­ti­cals, which will now be fo­cused on in­flam­ma­to­ry, meta­bol­ic and en­docrine dis­or­ders, in­clud­ing type 2 di­a­betes. And now Ver­i­ly Life Sci­ences, for­mer­ly Google Life Sci­ences which op­er­ates un­der the new Al­pha­bet ban­ner, is mak­ing a big biotech bet that it can live up to its mis­sion to trans­form med­i­cine by part­ner­ing with GSK.

Gal­vani will be based in the UK biotech hub in Steve­nage, with an­oth­er re­search cen­ter at Ver­i­ly’s cam­pus in South San Fran­cis­co. They’ll get start­ed with a staff of 30 and GSK’s start­up en­deav­ors to date. Glaxo will own 55% of the com­pa­ny, with Ver­i­ly tak­ing the rest. Slaoui has been tapped to chair the new com­pa­ny and shep­herd one of his fa­vorite projects.

They’re not think­ing small. And they aren’t stop­ping at 30. A spokesper­son for Ver­i­ly of­fered End­points this in­sight on the new jobs that are ex­pect­ed to be cre­at­ed.

“In ad­di­tion to the 30 ini­tial FTEs, Gal­vani will fund and in­te­grate – both through strate­gic col­lab­o­ra­tions with the two par­ent com­pa­nies and with oth­ers – a broad range of oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tions in acad­e­mia and with R&D com­pa­nies, build­ing on the suc­cess­ful mod­el we’ve de­vel­oped in GSK Bio­elec­tron­ics over three years. It will in­volve ap­prox­i­mate­ly 100 FTEs (full time equiv­a­lents) at Ver­i­ly and about 100 FTEs across the spec­trum of oth­er part­ner­ships. By ef­fec­tive­ly ty­ing such a net­work of ex­perts to­geth­er, we be­lieve we can rapid­ly ac­cel­er­ate the de­vel­op­ment of bio­elec­tron­ic med­i­cines.”

“This is an am­bi­tious col­lab­o­ra­tion al­low­ing GSK and Ver­i­ly to com­bine forces and have a huge im­pact on an emerg­ing field,” said Ver­i­ly Chief Tech­nol­o­gy Of­fi­cer Bri­an Otis. “Bio­elec­tron­ic med­i­cine is a new area of ther­a­peu­tic ex­plo­ration, and we know that suc­cess will re­quire the con­flu­ence of deep dis­ease bi­ol­o­gy ex­per­tise and new high­ly minia­turised tech­nolo­gies.

Ver­i­ly’s big agen­da is to har­ness new life sci­ence tech­nol­o­gy in search of a mul­ti­tude of new ways to im­prove hu­man health and rev up a longer life with­out the many af­flic­tions that drag peo­ple down the longer they live.

In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, they start­ed out with spe­cif­ic dis­eases in mind, look­ing to di­rect nerve stim­u­la­tors that could, for ex­am­ple, in­flu­ence rheuma­toid arthri­tis. The com­pa­ny set up a spe­cial $50 mil­lion fund to help jump­start a small group of biotechs spe­cial­iz­ing in elec­tro­ceu­ti­cals. A $1 mil­lion sci­ence prize was set up to help gin up some ex­cite­ment. And col­lab­o­ra­tions fol­lowed with oth­er com­pa­nies in the field. More part­ner­ing is ex­pect­ed as the new com­pa­ny gets up and run­ning.

GSK said ear­li­er this year that it plans to be in the clin­ic with its first pro­grams in 2017.

A cou­ple of years ago, GSK’s Slaoui, who now runs the vac­cines group for GSK, had this to say in an in­ter­view with The Chi­na Post:

(W)e re­al­ized that when we use chem­i­cal struc­ture or re­com­bi­nant pro­tein as a med­i­cine, what we use in fact are the struc­tures of these med­i­cines to in­ter­act with the struc­ture of a re­cep­tor or pro­tein in our body … Our body us­es struc­ture to com­mu­ni­cate with bi­ol­o­gy, but it al­so us­es elec­tri­cal im­puls­es which go through our nerves. So we asked the ques­tion: ‘Can we use elec­tri­cal im­puls­es to mod­i­fy the way or­gans func­tion?’”

“We have ev­i­dence that our body can read elec­tri­cal mes­sages we give it. This has cre­at­ed a new vi­sion to de­sign nano-tech­no­log­i­cal de­vices that will be able to read the elec­tri­cal sig­nals that are trans­mit­ting in our nerves, and hope­ful­ly (we will) be able to iden­ti­fy ab­nor­mal sig­nals … and cor­rect it by giv­ing it a dif­fer­ent sig­nal.”

To test that con­cept, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found that the right elec­tron­ic puls­es could spur the pan­creas to pro­duce in­sulin, to treat di­a­betes. And an­oth­er pre­clin­i­cal test worked on blood pres­sure.

Cre­at­ing a new modal­i­ty for ther­a­peu­tic de­vel­op­ment, though, presents huge and ex­pen­sive hur­dles, es­pe­cial­ly when you’re talk­ing about mass ail­ments like di­a­betes and heart dis­ease. Reg­u­la­tors put up high bars on safe­ty that most biotechs could nev­er hope to clear with a small, lim­it­ed re­search bud­get.

Ver­i­ly and Google, though, are a whole dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

Google has the kind of deep pock­ets that most com­pa­ny ex­ecs can on­ly dream about. That’s al­so help­ing fund Cal­i­co, which has stealth­ily moved ahead on a num­ber of pro­grams aimed at healthy longevi­ty.

STAT has been tak­ing some round­house swings at Ver­i­ly, claim­ing that its top de­vel­op­ment pro­grams are more sci­ence fic­tion than po­ten­tial near-term tools for the life sci­ences mar­ket.

GSK doesn’t ap­pear to be both­ered by that, though.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Bay­er plots a ma­jor facelift at Berke­ley cam­pus, un­cork­ing a 30-year, $1.2B plan to dri­ve cell and gene ther­a­pies

Bayer first set roots in Berkeley back in 1974, when it was still operating as Miles Labs. The site has pumped out three hemophilia A treatments for distribution worldwide; but now, as the pharma continues its cell and gene therapy push, it has something bigger in mind.

Bayer is planning a 30-year revamp at the campus, which includes 918,000 square feet in new buildings and double the jobs, according to a report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

LLS backs 5 new can­cer drug projects with up to $50M; Trodelvy con­tin­ues to im­press with more TNBC da­ta

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has tapped 5 new early-stage projects to back with up to $10 million each in fresh investments. The 5 biotechs are:

— Caribou, headed by Rachel Haurwitz and co-founded by Jennifer Doudna, is working on next-gen, off-the-shelf CAR-Ts to replace the patient-derived cells now in use.

— The LLS supported NexImmune’s IPO, helping fund its work on nanoparticles that can gin up an immune response directed at cancer cells. The biotech has 2 projects now in Phase I trials.

Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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