Hear hear! Ear gene ther­a­py play­er Ak­ou­os draws $105M in fresh cap­i­tal

Come on, come on, lis­ten to the mon­ey talk.

Thriv­ing on the mo­men­tum of biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies work­ing on ther­a­pies to ad­dress hear­ing loss, Boston-based Ak­ou­os has scored $105 mil­lion in an over­sub­scribed Se­ries B fi­nanc­ing, less than two years af­ter an NEA, 5AM Ven­tures-backed $50 mil­lion haul.

Man­ny Si­mons Ak­ou­os

Ak­ou­os — Greek for ‘to hear’ — is de­vel­op­ing gene ther­a­pies en­gi­neered to re­store, im­prove or pre­serve hear­ing. Along with its part­ners — the world’s largest hear­ing re­search cen­ter Mass­a­chu­setts Eye and Ear, as well as Swiss Alps-based vi­ral gene and cell ther­a­py mak­er Lon­za — Ak­ou­os is at the cusp of tak­ing its lead ther­a­py in­to the clin­ic.

The pro­gram, AK-OTOF, is de­signed to help in­di­vid­u­als with sen­sorineur­al hear­ing loss due to mu­ta­tions in the otofer­lin (OTOF) gene.

Led by Man­ny Si­mons, who con­sid­ered be­com­ing a mu­si­cian while at­tend­ing Har­vard, Ak­ou­os has an­oth­er Har­vard man on the ros­ter — co-founder and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Michael McKen­na. On Mon­day, the com­pa­ny added a third Har­vard voice to its board — Vic­ki Sato — who pre­vi­ous­ly served as pres­i­dent of Ver­tex Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. Heather Pre­ston of Piv­otal bioVen­ture Part­ners, which led the fresh cap­i­tal in­jec­tion, al­so earned a spot as di­rec­tor.

Oth­er in­vestors in the round in­clud­ed Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, Cowen Health­care In­vest­ments, EcoR1 Cap­i­tal, Fi­deli­ty Man­age­ment & Re­search Com­pa­ny, Po­laris Founders Fund, Pags­group, Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal (a Citadel com­pa­ny), Wu Cap­i­tal, 5AM Ven­tures, New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates, No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund, Part­ners In­no­va­tion Fund, RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment and Sofinno­va In­vest­ments.

Michael McKen­na Ak­ou­os

Hear­ing aids and cochlear im­plants do ad­dress ear dam­age caused by ge­net­ics, noise, ag­ing, or drugs, but noth­ing quite cures or in­deed tar­gets the bi­o­log­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of hear­ing loss. Vy­ing to fill that gap, a pletho­ra of de­vel­op­ers are work­ing on ther­a­peu­tics in a bur­geon­ing field.

Al­so in Boston, Ak­ou­os’ home, is Deci­bel Ther­a­peu­tics, work­ing on re­gen­er­a­tion by tar­get­ing tiny hairs that grow in the in­ner ear to ad­dress con­gen­i­tal hear­ing loss or age-re­lat­ed bal­ance dis­or­ders. Fre­quen­cy Ther­a­peu­tics has a mid-stage hair cell re­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram us­ing prog­en­i­tor cells.

Across the At­lantic, UK-based Rin­ri Ther­a­peu­tics is work­ing on treat­ing hear­ing loss by trans­plant­i­ng ot­ic neur­al prog­en­i­tor cells in­to the in­ner ear. Am­s­ter­dam-based Au­dion Ther­a­peu­tics has a com­pound in-li­censed from Eli Lil­ly, which is de­signed to turn on a chem­i­cal switch to pro­duce new sen­so­ry hair cells from oth­er cells in the in­ner ear to im­prove hear­ing.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Chris Sheldon, AstraZeneca's former VP and head of investor relations

As­traZeneca files law­suit against for­mer ex­ec as he jumps to GSK

AstraZeneca and GSK are once again wrangling over talent.

The British pharma giant has filed suit against former VP and head of investor relations Chris Sheldon as he prepares to start a new job at its rival next month. AstraZeneca argued in a London court filing that Sheldon would be violating a non-compete agreement, which he was paid more than $774,000 in shares to sign back in 2021, Bloomberg reported.

Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Bosch Health Campus)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs since 2020.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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