David Southwell (L) and Christoph Westphal

Har­vard spin­out kicks off 2021 with a crossover round and sights set on the clin­ic

Sev­er­al months af­ter strik­ing an al­liance with No­var­tis, TCR ther­a­py-fo­cused TScan Ther­a­peu­tics has reeled in a crossover round that should hold it over for the next two years as it eyes a pub­lic de­but.

The Christoph West­phal port­fo­lio com­pa­ny had been ar­rang­ing the crossover for the last few months, CEO David South­well said. Just be­fore Christ­mas, they nailed down what he called a “re­al­ly blue-chip” syn­di­cate of four new in­vestors, in­clud­ing Black­Rock, RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment and two undis­closed funds. They closed on the $100 mil­lion Se­ries C just over a week ago, and wait­ed un­til Mon­day morn­ing to an­nounce it.

“I think it’s like­ly that we’re go­ing to go pub­lic at some point,” South­well told End­points News. But for now, the Se­ries C cash gives them flex­i­bil­i­ty through 2022.

The Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty spin­out is build­ing a repos­i­to­ry of clin­i­cal­ly-ac­tive TCRs us­ing its high-through­put whole genome dis­cov­ery plat­form. The com­pa­ny had com­pared it to a vend­ing ma­chine or a li­brary of sorts, be­fore fi­nal­ly set­tling on the term “bank,” South­well said.

The process be­gins with T cells from pa­tients’ tu­mors. Re­searchers use the dis­cov­ery plat­form to find out ex­act­ly what tar­gets the T cell is hit­ting, then clin­i­cal­ly val­i­date the TCR to see if it has any off-tar­get ef­fects. When the TCR is val­i­dat­ed, it gets added to the bank. Know­ing a pa­tient’s HLA type and tu­mor tar­get, re­searchers can then take TCRs out of the bank, “grow them up, and put them in­to the pa­tient,”  South­well said.

“Those T cell re­cep­tors are of­ten there in the pa­tient, but the prob­lem is that they’re not there in suf­fi­cient abun­dance to re­al­ly at­tack the tu­mor,” he added.

The ap­proach comes from the lab of Har­vard pro­fes­sor Stephen Elledge, who set out years ago to screen anti­gen-TCR match­es in a faster, more sys­tem­at­ic way. He spent 7 years putting to­geth­er the tech for a plat­form that could run mul­ti­ple TCRs against anti­gen epi­topes and pin­point the ex­act pairs that ap­pear to in­ter­act. Now, what be­gan as 96 plates in Elledge’s lab has trans­formed in­to a com­pa­ny that has raised $180 mil­lion to date and at­tract­ed the likes of No­var­tis.

Back in April, the No­var­tis In­sti­tutes for Bio­Med­ical Re­search put down $30 mil­lion to kick off a new TCR im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­gram with TScan. The part­ners are work­ing on dis­cov­er­ing tar­gets in a “se­lect sol­id tu­mor in­di­ca­tion,” TScan re­vealed. NI­BR pitched in­to TScan’s Se­ries B round, along­side the phar­ma’s ven­ture fund.

“There’s a lot with this dis­cov­ery plat­form that we can do, that we’re not go­ing to de­vel­op on our own,” South­well said, in­clud­ing Covid-19 work.

Com­ing up in 2021, TScan plans on fil­ing INDs for two liq­uid tu­mor TCR T cell ther­a­pies — TSC-100 and TSC-101. It has an­oth­er three sol­id tu­mor can­di­dates ex­pect­ed to hit the clin­ic in 2022.

While the com­pa­ny cur­rent­ly has 60 staffers, South­well pre­dicts they’ll have well over 100 in the next six to nine months as they build out their man­u­fac­tur­ing and cell pro­cess­ing units.

The feel­ing at TScan? “We’re re­al­ly ex­cit­ed,” South­well said.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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