Har­vard biotech wiz Greg Ver­dine grabs a $55M A round to build a ground­break­ing biotech

It’s hard not to en­joy talk­ing with Greg Ver­dine about the new biotech com­pa­nies he sets up. Years of teach­ing at Har­vard have honed his skill for trans­lat­ing sci­ence in­to a pithy set of sto­ries that every­one can un­der­stand and get a kick out of.

“What I am re­al­ly pas­sion­ate about is dis­cov­er­ing new types of mol­e­cules that do things that can’t be done by stan­dard small mol­e­cules and an­ti­bod­ies,” he told me in the lead-up to to­day’s for­mal launch of LifeM­ine Ther­a­peu­tics with a $55 mil­lion A round. “I want to go af­ter un­drug­gable tar­gets, get drugs that peo­ple con­sid­er now aren’t doable. The ques­tion is where you go look­ing for this.”

Greg Ver­dine

The an­swer for Ver­dine, this time, is fun­gi.

“Fun­gi have been duk­ing it out with their neigh­bors in the soil for a bil­lion years,” says Ver­dine, “steal­ing the lunch of their cowork­ers, com­pet­ing, and fend­ing off in­vaders us­ing small mol­e­cules as com­pet­i­tive sub­stances.” And it all fits very close­ly with hu­man pro­teins, giv­ing it a good shot at work­ing in hu­mans.

It helps that evo­lu­tion doesn’t obey the same rules that guide med­i­c­i­nal chemists, and now Ver­dine’s new com­pa­ny will re­ly on se­quenc­ing to fol­low this strange path in search of some rad­i­cal new break­throughs in can­cer — a field that has at­tract­ed bil­lions of dol­lars to back a new gen­er­a­tion of ther­a­pies.

To do this, he says, the team has to “grow up fun­gi in­di­vid­u­al­ly, iso­late DNA and se­quence the DNA. Take the DNA and an­a­lyze it for biosyn­thet­ic gene clus­ters; an in­struc­tion set to make a nat­ur­al prod­uct.”

Ver­dine blends mul­ti­ple roles in biotech: Pro­fes­sor, ven­ture part­ner at WuXi Health­care Ven­tures — which seed­ed this new start­up — and now a dou­ble CEO, with his dual role run­ning Fog Phar­ma made eas­i­er by hav­ing both com­pa­nies housed in the same build­ing in Cam­bridge, MA.

Over the years Ver­dine has been one of the most pro­lif­ic start­up artists in the busi­ness, a go-to fig­ure in the in­dus­try who’s helped kick a slate of biotechs in­to ex­is­tence, rang­ing from Enan­ta to Tokai, Aileron and Warp Dri­ve Bio, which he al­so helmed for a time.

Right now the team at LifeM­ine is made up of a dozen sci­en­tists and five DNA spe­cial­ists, where they are fo­cus­ing on pro­grams and tar­gets for the pipeline as they build the plat­form along the way. By mid-2019, Ver­dine ex­pects the crew to ex­pand to about 40 staffers.

It’s still ear­ly days, though.

“We’ve left our­selves 3.5 years to en­ter the clin­ic,” says Ver­dine.

That re­quires some very pa­tient mon­ey, which Ver­dine lined up from WuXi Health­care Ven­tures with a syn­di­cate that in­cludes Fore­site Cap­i­tal, Google Ven­tures (or GV, with Kr­ish­na Yesh­want join­ing the board), Arch Ven­ture Part­ners, Boyu Cap­i­tal, Blue Pool Cap­i­tal, MRL Ven­tures Fund, and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments.

Those blue chip VC names are mix­ing with some mon­ey out of two promi­nent Chi­nese in­vestors, aside from the transpa­cif­ic WuXi op­er­a­tion: Boyu — an in­flu­en­tial pri­vate eq­ui­ty group led by co-founder and part­ner Sean Tong — and Blue Pool.

At this stage of his life, Ver­dine is po­si­tioned at ex­act­ly the right place, and ex­act­ly the right time, for a pricey space shot in­to the biotech uni­verse. The stars have aligned — again.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Fireside chat between Hal Barron and John Carroll, UKBIO19

It’s time we talked about bio­phar­ma — live in Lon­don next week

Zoom can only go so far. And I think at this stage, we’ve all tested the limits of staying in touch — virtually. So I’m particularly happy now that we’ve revved up the travel machine to point myself to London for the first time in several years.

Whatever events we have lined up, we’ve always built in plenty of opportunities for all of us to get together and talk. For London, live, I plan to be right out front, meeting with and chatting with the small crowd of biopharma people we are hosting on October 12 at Silicon Valley Bank’s London headquarters. And there’s a lengthy mixer at the end I’m most looking forward to, with several networking openings between sessions.

Car­olyn Bertozzi (Illustration: Assistant editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Car­olyn Bertozzi, re­peat biotech founder and launch­er of a field, shares in chem­istry No­bel win

Carolyn Bertozzi, predicted by some to become a Nobel laureate, clinched one of the world’s top awards in the wee hours of Wednesday, winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside a repeat winner and a Copenhagen researcher.

The Stanford professor, Morten Meldal of University of Copenhagen and 2001-awardee K. Barry Sharpless of Scripps shared the prize equally. The Nobel is sometimes split in quarters and/or halves.

Take­da to pull key hy­poparathy­roidism drug from the mar­ket af­ter years of man­u­fac­tur­ing woes

Takeda on Tuesday morning made an announcement that almost 3,000 people with the rare disease known as hypoparathyroidism were fearing.

Due to unresolved supply issues and manufacturing woes, Takeda said it will cut its losses and discontinue its hypoparathyroidism drug, known as Natpara (parathyroid hormone), halting all manufacturing of the drug by the end of 2024, but the entire inventory will be available until depleted or expired, a company spokesperson said via email.

Pfizer and BioNTech's original Marvel comic book links evolving Covid vaccine science to Avengers' evolving villain-fighting tools.(Source: Pfizer LinkedIn post)

Pfiz­er, BioN­Tech part­ner with Mar­vel for Avengers and Covid-fight­ing com­ic book

Pfizer and BioNTech are collaborating with Marvel to celebrate “everyday” people getting Covid-19 vaccines in a custom comic book.

In the “Everyday Heroes” digital comic book, an evolving Ultron, one of the Avengers’ leading villains, is defeated by Captain America, Ironman and others. The plotline and history of Ultron is explained by a grandfather who is waiting with his family at a clinic for Covid-19 vaccinations.

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Valitor CEO Steven Lo (L) and president and CSO Wesley Jackson

A dozen years in the mak­ing, a UC Berke­ley spin­out nabs funds to take on the eye

Largely funded by government grants for the better part of its first decade, a UC Berkeley spinout has secured a new CEO and the funds to take its research into the clinic in early 2024.

The biotech, named by one of the co-founder’s daughters and originally scrapped together with NIH funds in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis, is also on a mission to upend the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, with an injectable drug that it claims could be more durable than the “800-pound gorilla” in the room, Genentech’s Lucentis and Regeneron/Bayer’s Eylea.

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FDA+ roundup: Ad­comm date set for Cy­to­ki­net­ics heart drug; New gener­ic drug guid­ance to re­duce fa­cil­i­ty de­lays

The FDA on Wednesday set Dec. 13 as the day that its Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will review Cytokinetics’ potential heart drug, meaning regulators aren’t likely to meet the Nov. 30 PDUFA date that was previously set.

The drug, known as omecamtiv mecarbil, read out its first Phase III in November 2020, hitting the primary endpoint of reducing the odds of hospitalization or other urgent care for heart failure by 8%. But it also missed a key secondary endpoint analysts had pegged as the key to breaking into the market, failing to significantly differ in reducing cardiovascular death from placebo.

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Af­ter Covid set­back, Val­ne­va lines up $100M for Pfiz­er-al­lied Ly­me dis­ease PhI­II

Valneva has secured €102.9 million (around $99.9 million USD) in a share offering to push forward its Pfizer-partnered Lyme disease vaccine and a jab for chikungunya that awaits an FDA decision.

The French vaccine maker largely snagged the near $100 million from Deep Track Capital and local state-owned Bpifrance, the company said Tuesday night. The capital injection is nearly equal to the amount Pfizer paid to nab equity in the company earlier this summer as part of the duo’s vaccine tie-up.