His way: Greg Ver­dine is build­ing a new kind of drug, with back­ing from a dif­fer­ent kind of in­vestor

Af­ter help­ing spear­head the launch of a long string of biotechs over the years from his pres­ti­gious perch at Har­vard, Greg Ver­dine is now de­vot­ing the bulk of his time to lead­ing the ef­fort on grow­ing two biotechs from scratch. And he’s just chalked up a $66 mil­lion round to move one of them — Fog­Phar­ma — in­to the clin­ic next year with a new tech­nol­o­gy he’s con­vinced can break its way in­to ther­a­peu­tic ter­ri­to­ries that have re­mained off lim­its to de­vel­op­ers up to now.

Fog­Phar­ma has been en­gi­neer­ing a new kind of ther­a­peu­tic class, one that com­bines the cell-pen­e­trat­ing ca­pac­i­ty of small mol­e­cules with the tar­get-en­gag­ing tenac­i­ty of bi­o­log­ics in­to what he calls CPMPs — cell pen­e­trat­ing minipro­teins. 

The big idea here — if you strip it all down to the chas­sis — is that Ver­dine and his crew have de­vel­oped a struc­tur­al “brace” that promis­es to make their polypep­tides ef­fec­tive against tough tar­gets like β-catenin. The brace — Ver­dine’s “se­cret sauce” — locks the struc­ture in place and amps up its abil­i­ty to pen­e­trate a cell, ze­ro in on the spe­cif­ic tar­get and main­tain a high lev­el of the drug in blood for a sus­tained pe­ri­od. And he says that each suc­ces­sive it­er­a­tion of their drugs in pre­clin­i­cal test­ing has proven bet­ter at the big job they’re de­signed for: drug­ging the un­drug­gable.

Leon Chen

This new mon­ey in the B round gives Fog­Phar­ma the op­por­tu­ni­ty to take its β-catenin pro­gram — which in­volves Wnt path­way ac­ti­va­tion — in­to a Phase I/II pro­gram in the sec­ond half of next year while lin­ing up an IND on a Cbl-b in­hibitor pro­gram, with a third undis­closed ef­fort com­ing up the line. The dis­cov­ery plat­form in­cludes “three ad­di­tion­al, dis­tinct and dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed forms of cell-pen­e­trat­ing minipro­teins.” 

“The en­tire fi­nanc­ing is three-and-a-half years worth of mon­ey,” Ver­dine tells me. Add that to the $11 mil­lion in Se­ries A cash raised at three sep­a­rate points be­gin­ning in ear­ly 2016, and Ver­dine has round­ed up a to­tal of $77 mil­lion for Fog­Phar­ma.

But it could have been more if he had need­ed it.

Ge Li

Much of the seed mon­ey for Fog­Phar­ma came from Deer­field and WuXi’s cor­po­rate fund, over­seen by Ge Li, a man with ac­cess to a vast amount of cap­i­tal around the world. That kind of fi­nanc­ing al­lowed Ver­dine to cre­ate Fog­Phar­ma with­out be­ing forced to adopt the short-term tac­tics of tra­di­tion­al VCs in the busi­ness.

“We built the com­pa­ny on a dif­fer­ent mod­el,” says Ver­dine. “I want­ed to do this one from soup to nuts. For that rea­son in the Se­ries A we didn’t turn to ven­ture in­vestors who would come in and have a sig­nif­i­cant role in build­ing the com­pa­ny.”

With­out even a hint of boast­ing, Ver­dine be­lieves that with his re­la­tion­ships among elite biotech in­vestors, at this point in his ca­reer of de­vel­op­ing new drugs, he could raise a bil­lion dol­lars if need­ed. There’s an ap­petite for tru­ly pi­o­neer­ing drug de­vel­op­ment work, says Ver­dine, that looks to vault ahead on crit­i­cal, break­through ther­a­pies.

He has the re­sume to back it up. And he’s built a plat­form com­pa­ny which has the ca­pac­i­ty to find and eval­u­ate new tar­gets and prospec­tive new ther­a­pies in a mat­ter of months.

Jeff Leerink

It’s no ac­ci­dent that Ver­dine’s lead pro­gram forms a junc­tion with check­point ther­a­pies; the β-catenin/Wnt path­way dis­rupts im­mune re­spons­es and an ef­fec­tive push here holds the promise of over­com­ing ini­tial re­sis­tance to im­munother­a­py as well as the de­vel­op­ment of drug re­sis­tance to an ef­fec­tive treat­ment. And it’s the first such ther­a­py to make it to the thresh­old of a clin­i­cal tri­al.

But Ver­dine is a proud pa­pa to mul­ti­ple pro­grams, and he is just as ex­cit­ed, if not more so, by the Cbl-b im­muno-on­col­o­gy drug that’s com­ing up be­hind the lead.

“What we’ve seen is that these mol­e­cules can be tol­er­a­ble at rel­a­tive­ly high dos­es, with a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on tu­mor growth,” he says.

Kr­ish­na Yesh­want

Ver­dine has been a cel­e­brat­ed sci­en­tist in the field of drug dis­cov­ery for more years than many of his stu­dents have lived. Along the way, he’s earned some close ties to a new breed of biotech in­vestors who have now come in to back Fog­Phar­ma and well as his sec­ond ven­ture, LifeM­ine.

The sci­en­tist and se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur owes much of his suc­cess in rais­ing cash to close ties with Asian groups that have be­come ac­tive play­ers in biotech.

Rick Klaus­ner

Ver­dine’s ex­pe­ri­ence in Chi­na has led him to Boyu Cap­i­tal — an in­flu­en­tial pri­vate eq­ui­ty group led by co-founder and part­ner Sean Tong — and Blue Pool. The Chi­nese ven­ture group 6 Di­men­sions Cap­i­tal came in with oth­er new in­vestors, in­clud­ing Google’s GV, Hori­zons Ven­tures, Nan Fung Group and Leerink Part­ners. Deer­field Man­age­ment came back with Boyu Cap­i­tal, WuXi AppTec Cor­po­rate Ven­tures and “a promi­nent in­ter­na­tion­al group of non-in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors” to com­plete the syn­di­cate.

That kind of back­ing al­lowed Ver­dine to build his board with in­di­vid­u­als who are all in on his R&D strat­e­gy, with Leon Chen from 6 Di­men­sions, Leerink’s Jeff Leerink, GV gen­er­al part­ner Kr­ish­na Yesh­want and Rick Klaus­ner, a founder at Juno Ther­a­peu­tics, join­ing the group.

The new mon­ey will al­low Fog­Phar­ma to grow from 26 staffers to­day to north of 40 by the end of the year. And it’s still ear­ly days.

On the heels of promis­ing MCL da­ta, Kite hus­tles its 2nd CAR-T to the FDA as the next big race in the field draws to the fin­ish line

Three days after Gilead’s Kite subsidiary showed off stellar data on their number 2 CAR-T KTE-X19 at ASH, the executive team has pivoted straight to the FDA with a BLA filing and a shot at a near-term approval.

In a small, 74-patient Phase II trial reported out at the beginning of the week, investigators tracked a 93% response rate with two out of three mantle cell lymphoma patients experiencing a complete response.

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Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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As­traZeneca joins Mer­ck, Bris­tol-My­ers in Chi­na's check­point race as reg­u­la­tors OK first PD-L1

AstraZeneca has made a stride toward realizing its ambitions in China as regulators greenlight Imfinzi as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer.

In particular, the PD-L1 agent is filling a void for immunotherapies in Stage III unresectable case, the company said, where the cancer has not spread to the rest of the body. It is to be used, with curative intent, in patients whose cancer hasn’t progressed following concurrent platinum-based chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Cor­re­vio is putting it­self up on the auc­tion block af­ter FDA re­view pan­el points to an­oth­er re­jec­tion

For 13 years, the Canadian biotech Correvio tried to get the FDA to accept a heart drug since abandoned by Merck and Astellas. Yesterday, the agency’s outside experts voted 11-2 against approval, all but assuring another rejection for the atrial fibrillation compound vernakalant.

And today Correvio announced that Correvio may soon be no more. The company said it is looking to sell itself as its stock plummets into penny-stock territory $CORV and its potential moneymaker sputters once more.

Psilocybin mushrooms (via The Denver Post)

In a key step for psy­che­del­ic re­search, mag­ic mush­room com­pound clears first clin­i­cal safe­ty hur­dle

Exasperated with the often-ineffective existing slate of antidepressants, COMPASS Pathways set up shop in London 2016 — and made a beeline for psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms.

On Wednesday, the startup said its man-made version of the chemical — which is illegal across geographies in its natural fungi form — had been well-tolerated in an early-stage, placebo-controlled trial in 89 healthy volunteers.

Al­pham­ab On­col­o­gy rounds out HKEX's sec­ond biotech IPO year with $230M raise and high lo­cal in­ter­est

Alphamab Oncology has inspired a surge of local interest in what will likely be the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s last biotech run of the year, pricing its IPO on the high end of the range and raising over $230 million (HK$1.83 billion).

After rejigging the offering structure and making up to 50% available for enthusiastic local investors, the biotech sold 179.4 million shares at $1.31 (HK$10.2) and saw its stock rise to $1.77 ($13.8) on the first day of trading.

For sale: Long-act­ing PhI­II GLP-1 di­a­betes drug that’s way be­hind ri­vals, now spurned by Sanofi

Almost exactly 4 years ago Sanofi came to the bargaining table with South Korea’s Hanmi bearing $434 million dollars in cash and offering about $4 billion in milestones to in-license their once-weekly GLP-1 injectable. The pact was intended to revive their ailing diabetes division. Instead, it turned into a very expensive grave to mark the end of Sanofi’s R&D ambitions in the field.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson used efpeglenatide’s demise — while committing to paying hundreds of millions of more dollars to push it through 5 late-stage studies — as a marker of the company’s determination to stay focused on first and best-in-class drugs.

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What does $6.9B buy these days in on­col­o­gy R&D? As­traZeneca has a land­mark an­swer

Given the way the FDA has been whisking through new drug approvals months ahead of their PDUFA date, AstraZeneca and their partners Daiichi Sankyo may not have to wait until Q2 of next year to get a green light on trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201).

The pharma giant this morning played their ace in the hole, showing off why they were willing to commit to a $6.9 billion deal — with $1.35 billion in a cash upfront — to partner on the drug.

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Parkin­son's trans­plants emerge as stem cell pi­o­neer Jeanne Lor­ing joins R&D race

Jeanne Loring hadn’t studied Parkinson’s in 22 years when she got an email from a local neurologist.

The neurologist, Melissa Houser, didn’t know Loring had ever published on the disease. She was just looking for a stem cell researcher who might hear her out. 

“I think I was just picked out of a hat,” Loring told Endpoints News. 

At a meeting in Loring’s Scripps Research office, Houser and a Parkinson’s nurse practitioner, Sherrie Gould, asked her why there was so much research done in stem cell transplants for other neurodegenerative diseases but not Parkinson’s. They wanted to know if she would work on one.