Help want­ed: CEO need­ed to run a new $330M fund in search of break­through biotech ideas

Right now, sea­soned biotech teams with good con­nec­tions and a sol­id de­vel­op­ment plan for risky but com­mer­cial­ly promis­ing drugs are op­er­at­ing in a world with rapid­ly ris­ing lev­els of cash chas­ing a lim­it­ed num­ber of top prospects. But the Well­come Trust still sees a crit­i­cal lack of seed fund­ing for bright, pre­clin­i­cal ideas on the side­lines.

Je­re­my Far­rar

And they aim to fill part of it with a new $330 mil­lion fund that can be se­lec­tive­ly bril­liant.

Their Leap Fund is look­ing to iden­ti­fy projects in­side and out­side of acad­e­mia that need some mon­ey to check out promis­ing ther­a­peu­tic leads. Go­ing ear­ly, the goal is to find a few that can go on to be­come break­throughs in 5 to 10 years.

Well­come Trust Di­rec­tor Je­re­my Far­rar put it this way in a blog post:

This grad­ual build­ing of the knowl­edge base lays a crit­i­cal foun­da­tion for mov­ing sci­ence ahead. But sci­ence al­so ad­vances in un­ex­pect­ed ways, dri­ven by dis­cov­er­ies that come out of left field and lead to a sud­den leap for­ward. We want to take ad­van­tage of the sur­pris­ing, left-field ideas that pose the ques­tion “what if?” and sup­port them in a new way that com­ple­ments our ex­ist­ing fund­ing struc­tures.

Far­rar — who’s look­ing for a CEO to run the project— doesn’t ex­pect every­thing to suc­ceed. That nev­er hap­pens in biotech funds. But af­ter see­ing break­throughs in Ebo­la vac­cines and cell imag­ing and more, he is con­fi­dent that this is the kind of fund that can make a dif­fer­ence.

The Well­come Trust has been pump­ing cash in­to a broad range of UK bio­phar­ma, of­fer­ing a vi­tal source of re­search sup­port in the coun­try. This new fund is in ad­di­tion to their £900 mil­lion an­nu­al in­vest­ment in the field. Not­ed Far­rar:

We hope that by 2030, the Leap Fund will have pro­duced a small num­ber of break­throughs on a vast­ly ac­cel­er­at­ed timescale. These may open up en­tire­ly new ar­eas of re­search, al­low new sci­en­tif­ic ques­tions to be an­swered, change ex­ist­ing prac­tice with­in a field or de­liv­er trans­for­ma­tive health ben­e­fits.


Im­age: Well­come Trust. SHUT­TER­STOCK

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

Why would the FDA ap­prove an­oth­er con­tro­ver­sial drug to spur a woman’s li­bido with these da­ta? And why no ex­pert pan­el re­view?

AMAG Pharmaceuticals’ newly approved drug for spurring women’s sexual desire may never make much money, but it’s a big hit at sparking media attention.

The therapy — Vyleesi (bremelanotide) — got the green light from regulators on Friday evening, swiftly lighting up a range of stories around the world, from The New York Times to The Guardian. Several headlines inevitably referred to it as the “female Viagra,” invoking Pfizer’s old erectile dysfunction blockbuster.

But the two drugs have little in common.

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Which top 10 big phar­mas have the most to gain — or lose — over the next 5 years?

When Evaluate Pharma crunched the likely drug sales numbers for the big 10, 2 stood out. 

Takeda, with its big Shire buyout under its belt, is set to almost double its worldwide sales record for 2018 over 5 years, putting it in the big 10 — the 9th spot, to be exact — which is exactly where CEO Christophe Weber wants to be. 

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Roger Perlmutter. Merck via webcast

'Our lega­cy mat­ter­s': Mer­ck maps out Keytru­da king­dom while spot­light­ing ad­vances in vac­cines, hos­pi­tal care

“You can for the mo­ment stop tak­ing notes. You can put down your pens and your pad. I have no slides. I have no sub­stan­tive da­ta. I have no pitch.”

So be­gan Roger Perl­mut­ter’s brief ap­pear­ance on­stage at Mer­ck’s first in­vestor day in five years, where he dived in­to the com­pa­ny’s his­to­ry dat­ing back to 1933. The first em­ploy­ees at Mer­ck Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ries, hand­picked by founder George W. Mer­ck, were crit­i­cal to Mer­ck’s abil­i­ty to achieve clin­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.

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John Chiminski, Catalent CEO - File Photo

'It's a growth play': Catal­ent ac­quires Bris­tol-My­er­s' Eu­ro­pean launch pad, ex­pand­ing glob­al CD­MO ops

Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Maze in­ter­im chief Charles Hom­cy pass­es ba­ton to Ja­son Colo­ma; William Col­lier tapped as CEO of Ar­bu­tus

→ Four months in­to Maze Ther­a­peu­tics’ launch, Charles Hom­cy is pass­ing the start­up’s reins to an­oth­er Third Rock col­league. Ja­son Colo­ma, the cur­rent COO, is leav­ing his role at the VC firm to be­come full-time CEO on a mis­sion to trans­late ge­net­ic in­sights in­to new med­i­cines. Equipped with a whop­ping $191 mil­lion with sup­port from Arch, Maze’s big idea is to find and tar­get ge­net­ic mod­i­fiers that play a role in Mendelian dis­eases caused by an­oth­er gene. Colo­ma, a Roche/Genen­tech vet sea­soned in busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, was CBO at Corvus Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals be­fore join­ing Third Rock in 2017.

Re­gen­eron/Sanofi's an­ti­body un­der­whelms in asth­ma study — shares of ri­val Anap­tys­Bio pay the price

Al­though ex­pec­ta­tions were mut­ed, Re­gen­eron $REGN and Sanofi’s $SNY ex­per­i­men­tal IL-33 an­ti­body has un­der­whelmed in a proof-of-con­cept mid-stage asth­ma tri­al. Al­though the drug sig­nif­i­cant­ly im­proved the loss of asth­ma con­trol and lung func­tion as a monother­a­py com­pared to a place­bo, its ef­fect was nei­ther su­pe­ri­or to the es­tab­lished Dupix­ent, nor of val­ue when com­bined with the IL-4/IL-13 treat­ment.